Last month I had the privilege to moderate a panel of faith leaders who are concerned about climate change. The four panelists included Dr. Steven Colecchi (Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), Rachel Lamb (National Organizer and Spokesperson, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action), Joelle Novey (Director, Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light) and Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, an Episcopal priest, author, retreat leader, and climate activist. We gathered for the Citizens Climate Lobby annual conference in DC.
In a short hour we covered a lot of ground. Anyone of these panelists could have shared for the full hour and the audience members had a lot of valuable things to contribute too. To help focus the discussion I asked the four panelists in advance two questions:
What role(s) do you see faith communities take on in times of crisis?
What tools does your faith tradition offer that can be used to address climate change?
Carrying on the conversation
The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas has continued to contribute to the conversation with a full, rich blog post listing out many of the possible roles for faith communities in a time of climate change and the crises that already mark our lives and communities.
The entire essay is worth reading and taking to your faith community, if you have one. In considering these various roles, faith communities can determine where they wish to grow and serve in the coming years.
From Rev. Bullitt-Jonas’ essay, here are two possible roles for faith communities in time of crisis.
What can a faith community do?
• Give moral guidance
The climate crisis raises existential questions about the meaning, purpose, and value of human life. What is our moral responsibility to future generations? What does it mean to be human, if human beings are destroying life as it has evolved on this planet? How do we address the anger, self-hatred and guilt that can arise with this awareness? How can we live a meaningful life when so much death surrounds us? How determined are we to radically amend our personal patterns of consumption and waste? What does living a “good” life look like today, given everything we know about the consequences of over-consumption, inequitable distribution of resources, and being part of (and probably benefiting from) an extractive economy that depends on fossil fuels and unlimited growth?
Faith communities provide a context for wrestling with these questions, for seeking moral grounding, and for being reminded of such old-fashioned values as compassion, generosity, self-control, selfless service, simple living, sacrifice, sharing, justice, forgiveness, and non-violent engagement in societal transformation.
Maybe we should think of the climate crisis as our doorway to enlightenment. The climate crisis challenges us, individually and collectively, to expand our consciousness and to live from our highest moral values. As Jayce Hafner points out in an article published in Sojourners, “I’m Ready to Evangelize…About Climate,” “The act of confronting climate change calls us to be better Christians in nearly every aspect of our lives.”
I expect that this is true not only for Christians, but for people of every faith.
• Offer pastoral care
Faith communities can provide practical and spiritual assistance during climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Congregations can make “disaster preparedness plans,” prepare a response in collaboration with local agencies, and develop networks of communication. One leader involved in this kind of preparation comments that congregations can be “sanctuaries of hope in times of disasters.”
In some areas of the world, the need is already urgent: at least five Pacific islands have disappeared under rising seas since the Paris climate talks last December. The Anglican Church in that area is developing “a clear resilience strategy.”
Faith communities can also provide comfort and solace day by day. We can develop networks of pastoral care and spiritual outreach to address the rising rates of depression, anxiety, and other psychological challenges that are associated with climate change, being mindful that low-income communities may be particularly vulnerable to climate-related stressors.
There is much more. Read the essay for yourself, share with your friends and colleagues, and carry on the discussion!