The World's Three Largest Christian Denominations Speak Out On Climate Change

Part 1 in a series on voices of faith and climate change.

Over the next few days, I plan to make several posts highlighting the efforts of faith activists on issues surrounding the environment, climate change, and the need for renewable energy. Their (our) efforts matter not only because the environment is an important progressive cause, but also because, like labor and women's rights groups, the interfaith movement is poised to become an integral part of the progressive coalition.

This first post serves to highlight recent statements from the leaders of Christianity's second and third largest denominations, the (Eastern Orthodox) Ecumenical Patriarch and the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury, urging world leaders to care about the upcoming Copenhagen conference. In addition to these two recent statements, Newsweek has dubbed Catholic Pope Benedict XVI "the Green Pope" and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released numerous statements on the issue. What this means is that, for all James Dobson may have to say about it, the leaders of the globe's three largest Christian denominations have all spoken out against environmental destruction and called for quick action on climate change. They are joined by a growing chorus of American Evangelicals that includes former Christian Coalition president-elect Joel Hunter, former National Association of Evangelicals vice president Rich Cizik, liberal-ish publisher Jim Wallis, and even Pat Robertson. Oft-divided Christianity is beginning to speak with one voice on environmental stewardship and climate change.

Future posts will include faith-based videos recorded for the Repower Wall (including my own), a round-up of faith-and-environment headlines and links, and if they are made publicly available, video and resources from last night's greenfaith.org interfaith panel on climate change. These posts will not be limited to Christianity, but will also highlight Jewish and Muslim stories.

As I was saying, on October 25th, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, "first among equals" for the world's 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, began an aggressive lobbying campaign with a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Our Indivisible Environment":

It may seem out of character for a sacred institution to convene a conference on so secular an issue. After all, Jesus counseled us to "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's"... What does preserving the planet have to do with saving the soul?

A lot, as it turns out. For if life is sacred, so is the entire web that sustains it. Some of those connections--the effects of overharvesting on the fish populations of the North Atlantic, for example--we understand very well. Others, such as the long-term health impacts of industrialization, we understand less well. But no one doubts that there is a connection and balance among all things animate and inanimate on this third planet from the Sun, and that there is a cost or benefit whenever we tamper with that balance.

Moreover, just as God is indivisible, so too is our global environment. The molecules of water that comprise the great North Atlantic are neither European nor American. The particles of atmosphere above the United Kingdom are neither Labour nor Tory. There can be no double vision, no dualistic worldview. Faith communities and nonbelievers alike must focus on the common issue of the survival of our planet. The natural environment unites us in ways that transcend doctrinal differences.

Since publishing this op-ed, the Patriarch has held separate meetings with President Barack Obama, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, former President Bill Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He is not alone. Below the fold, a summary of a recent speech by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury (the symbolic leader of the Anglican Communion), the highlights of other Anglican and Episcopal actions, and links to active Jewish groups.

Disclosure: I am an employee of an Episcopal Church youth service program that pays me to work part-time for a non-profit of my choosing and part-time for a local church. For my non-profit, I chose to work with Repower America as their Nebraska faith outreach coordinator. Blogging is entirely on my own and my views do not necessarily represent those of The Episcopal Church or of the Alliance for Climate Protection.)

On October 14, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and symbolic leader of us 77 million members of the Anglican Communion, delivered an urgent lecture on the issue at London's Southwark Cathedral. From his webpage's summary:

Beginning with the story of Noah and the Flood, Dr Williams highlights the "burden of responsibility for what confronts us here and now as a serious crisis and challenge".  Our relationship with the rest of creation is intimately bound up with our relationship with God... "To act so as to protect the future of the non-human world is both to accept a God-given responsibility and, appropriately, to honour the special dignity given to humanity itself."

Drawing parallels with the financial crisis, Dr Williams argues that we are in danger of losing touch with what makes us distinctively human.  We urgently need to revise some of our assumptions, including those that are incompatible with our duty of care for the whole of life...  

The Archbishop urges leaders to take bold decisions at the Copenhagen summit in December.  He encourages the taking of effective collaborative local action to reduce carbon emissions and to maintain pressure on local governments and businesses to do the same.  And he encourages the small actions which mark a break with destructive patterns of consumption and waste and help "to make us more aware of the diversity of life around us".

Dr. Williams is hardly the only Anglican leader to tackle environmental issues; the DC-based Episcopal Public Policy Network's latest action alert addresses mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States has testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the Anglican Communion Environmental Network has released a statement in preparation for Copenhagen, many (regional) dioceses have started local "green" ministries and lobbying efforts, and the Episcopal Ecological Network is constantly at work, among others.

This post clearly has a Christian slant. To balance that out, if only a little, I encourage you to take a look at the websites of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Future posts will be more balanced with Jewish and Muslim stories. If you want to see even more voices included, please, send me relevant articles and links and I will happily take a look.

Tags: christianity, Climate change, Copenhagen, Environment, Episcopal Church, Evangelicals, faith and politics, religion (all tags)

Comments

7 Comments

Interfaith

Again, if you want to see non-monotheistic voices o faith included in my next few posts (Buddhists, the Native American Church, etc.), please, send me relevant articles and links and I will happily take a look and consider including! I'm sticking with Christianity, Judaism, and Islam only because those are the stories and links I have come across in regular outlets.

by Nathan Empsall 2009-11-12 09:53PM | 0 recs
How do we expand the message?

Nice piece, Nathan.  In your future posts, I'd be interested to know what strategies you think would work to extend this initiative far into the Evangelical fold that has thus far chosen to champion the fate of the Republican Party over the fate of the planet.

For example, what do you say to the far right religious fanatics who believe that Armageddon is around the corner and addressing climate change is therefore moot?

Better yet, how can we inspire a rift within Evangelicals over climate change so that they spend more of their time battling each other over climate change than battling Democrats over other matters like whether or not gays should have the right to marry?

And what makes some Christians get it while others remain so clueless?

by Georgeo57 2009-11-12 10:53PM | 0 recs
Re: How do we expand the message?

A post addressing the different Evangelical approaches to the subject - not a bad idea! I'll probably add a post like that to the series, thanks.

by Nathan Empsall 2009-11-13 07:25AM | 0 recs
Denominations Speak Out On Climate Change
 Been giving lip-service to caring for the poor for a couple thousand years. (I actually participate in feeding the homeless with my church, which makes me and the other suburbanites in the group feel a little better about ourselves.) I wish we had a few real prophets (radical clerics) to stir up the shit, not that it would be any more effective, but I love a good old radical communistic sermon once in a while -  it reminds me of Jesus.
 
by QTG 2009-11-13 02:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Denominations Speak Out On Climate Change

Some churches do far more than lip-service. Most mainline denominations have very aggressive advocacy/lobby offices on Capitol Hill that seek to help craft policy. The Episcopal Church and ELCA have been very involved in trying to pass the Jubilee Act and forgive the debt of underdeveloped nations. I'm also familiar with a good number of church-run affordable housing ministries.

As for preaching, it's not exactly communist, but I would commend to you the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. He can give some real barn-burners. I love his quote, "If my priests aren't getting into trouble with their congregations every once and a while, I have to question if they're really preaching the Gospel!" I had one such priest for whom liberation theology is alive and well...

by Nathan Empsall 2009-11-13 07:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Denominations Speak Out On Climate Change

If you hope they do as good a job on Global Climate Change as they have on Global Poverty, then I'll rest my case on that sad note.

by QTG 2009-11-13 12:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Denominations Speak Out On Climate Change

No, they haven't ended poverty, but it's a heckuva lot better than it would be without their efforts. It was churches and non-profits far more than the government that helped the Gulf Coast the first few years after Katrina, and that's just one example.

by Nathan Empsall 2009-11-13 01:06PM | 0 recs

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