U.S. evangelicals who traveled to Paris for the COP21 United Nations climate conference are considering what they learned and how to continue advocating for climate justice as the gathering draws to an end.
They will return home soon and help explain to fellow evangelicals the importance of climate change and the expected climate agreement.
Brian Webb, sustainability coordinator at Houghton College (a Wesleyan school in New York), told EthicsDaily.com he travels back to the U.S. with “a new and greater depth at how important it is to speak up and act.”
“The biggest takeaway is that real people will be impacted by climate change and many of them have little or no influence on how the world approaches this problem,” he explained. “And I feel like, as a Christian, as someone from a majority world country, I must stand up and say that what’s happening is not right. It is something I can do. I can speak up and I can act.”
“I’m here because somebody needs to take up the banner of climate change in the evangelical movement,” he added. “This is something I want to do because of my faith.”
Webb remains optimistic about a deal emerging from COP21 but recognizes even more work remains.
Calling the likely agreement from the talks “better but not perfect,” he said that what is really needed is greater Christian mobilization on the issue.
“No matter what, the deal is going to be an improvement that is still far short of what we need, so my hope is that Christians will respond with a sense that this is consistent with our faith,” he argued.
Webb also serves as the director of Climate Caretakers, a new initiative seeking to engage evangelicals on climate change. The goal is to help Christians discern “how to live our lives faithfully as Christians” in terms of caring for creation.
“Climate Caretakers is a campaign that aims to mobilize Christians to respond with prayer and action on climate change,” he explained. “We provide Christians with very specific, concrete things they can do on a regular basis.”
Webb referenced a quote from the movie, “Spider-Man”: “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” He sees that as relevant to Americans.
“We have been blessed so tremendously in our country and with that blessing comes great responsibility,” he said. “The question is how are we going to use that blessing? Are we going to use that for our advantage? Or are we going to use it in a way to elevate the concern for others in the way that Christ did?”
John Elwood, a Presbyterian elder and organic produce grower from New Jersey, is hopeful about what he heard and learned at COP21.
“I’ve been captivated by a sense of optimism that we are on the cusp of a world in which climate pollution is clearly named and understood by an overwhelming number of people in the world as something that needs to be addressed,” he explained to EthicsDaily.com.
Elwood hopes evangelical Christians – especially in the U.S. – will take a more involved role in fighting climate change.
He particularly praised the work of evangelicals from the global South, who are working for climate justice.
“I think there’s an opportunity – maybe unique to evangelical Christians – to create a … negotiating platform whereby Christians from around the world could come together to look for truth and reconciliation and for a climate solution,” he stated.
Elwood added, “I would like for U.S. evangelicals to know that the evangelical world is here in Paris, hoping for success. And much of what is being passed off in the U.S. as speaking for the evangelical world has little to do with the global evangelical perspective here.”
Lowell Bliss, director of Eden Vigil, stayed in Paris for two-and-a-half weeks to run a “base camp” for Christians who came to Paris for COP21.
Around 40 Christians – mostly evangelicals – stayed at the site, with numerous other Christian leaders scattered throughout the city.
A member of an Evangelical Free church in Kansas, Bliss also provides international climate coordination for the Lausanne Creation Care Network, an initiative of the Lausanne Movement started by Billy Graham and other global evangelicals, which helped sponsor a Christian conference on climate change held in Paris last week.
“Our big goal was to see a coalition of global evangelicals emerge on climate change and I think that’s definitely happened,” he told EthicsDaily.com about the effort in Paris.
“We are seriously going to look at replicating base camp, possibly at future COPs with a view at mobilizing those Christians who regionally can make it to a COP,” Bliss added.
He hopes those experiences will provide “a discipleship center,” especially for young people, and “expose them to climate action and help them debrief it in terms of ministry and the mind of Christ.”
Bliss, who led a morning devotion each day at the base camp, particularly appreciated the “wonderful prayer times” in Paris.
He appreciated opportunities to pray “fervently and with discernment with a group of people about climate change.”
He noted “the real work begins when we all go back” and attempt to share with other Christians why climate change is a moral concern.
He expressed hope that U.S. evangelicals can move from being known for opposition to climate science to taking action to reduce climate change.
“Here’s our chance to redefine what it means to be an American evangelical,” he explained. “I think we’re turning the corner. The pursuit of Christ-likeness and the pursuit of climate action, they’re going to merge.”
Editor’s note: Kaylor is in Paris for the COP21 United Nation’s climate change conference. Pictures and videos from his trip are available here. Previous news stories on COP21 are:
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Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.