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Category: Faith

The Church’s Role in Climate Change

Church + Climate Change = Action

image1Hi there! Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the church’s role in climate change, and to what degree – if to any degree – the church should get involved.

It’s a rather touchy topic that can get too political and scientific real fast. From my understanding as a figuring-out-life-and-religion young adult, Christianity comes back time and sermon again to one unwavering concept: love. God loves us, and it is for some of us, our constant goal to love Him, His people, and His creation.

From these basic values, we derive our outward expressions of religious laws. This leads to unbelievably positive outcomes like political activism and social change and evolution of society towards doing what’s right.

On a Mission

img_2053Take the rise of mission trips, for example. Growing up in the church with a Lutheran pastor for a father, I heard my share of missionary stories. I learned that not only do missionaries spread the good word, but they also address social, political, and economic issues.

Throughout history, members of the church have been at the forefront of trying to right injustices… all because groups of people recognize the importance of taking action and sharing God’s love they have experienced. It’s rather remarkable.

This doesn’t have to be your interpretation, no doubt the church and global missions can be criticized for some of what they have done, but I see a direct link between social injustices brought upon by climate change and taking action as a Christian.

Privilege and Climate Change

There’s a fascinating study called the Global Climate Risk Index 2016 that looks at countries most affected by a changing climate. The top ten countries are developing countries, with Honduras, Myanmar, and Haiti topping the list.

Essentially, the poorest and most under-privileged people are impacted the most by climate change, and they are seeking ways to amplify and multiply their voices, particularly seeking help from people in developed countries. Why? Because in reality, people in developed countries have more privilege and more power and more weight in the world. Especially we Americans.


That is why for believers like me, we need to care as a church, to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. In this time of climate change it is up to each one of us to figure out our roles. For believers it is important to understand to what degree does God plan for us to become environmentally or politically active.

What does Action Look Like?

I’ve realized that my ways of becoming active seem to include public speaking on these issues, writing constituent letters supporting climate action, meeting with representatives to find common values, and the involvement goes on. There are individual efforts we make, but get magnified as we do them as a church group. In my case I’ve also adopted a vegan diet  to reduce my resource intensity and carbon footprint and have begun to speak out about it.

At the end of the debate, climate change is not a political issue. It’s not a scientific issue, and it’s not even an environmental issue. It’s a social justice issue, and it just makes sense to take action.

Have a great week and don’t be trashy.



Faith, Values, and Comedy — A Religious Climate Presentation

Faith, Hope, and Climate Change

img_5244Last week I had the privilege to spend a few days at Villanova University as a guest of the office of sustainability along with the following sponsors.

  • Villanova Student Live
  • Villanova Campus Ministry
  • Villanova’s Center for Peace and Justice
  • Department of Geography and the Environment
  • Department of Sustainable Engineering
  • Waterhouse Family Institute
  • PA Interfaith Power and Light

The Greatest of these is Love

img_4973I guess it is the intersectionality of the work I do that so many diverse groups came together to host me. The visit led up to a public performance of Climate Change–What’s Faith Got to Do with It? This is a performance lecture I give to faith communities and universities. I look at the issue in ways that are unexpected and consider climate denial in part as a stage of grief over the massive changes that we see on the planet. I distinguish skepticism from outright deception. And I offer lots of hope–not false promises that things are not as bad as we are hearing–but hope in humanity and our ability to respond to crisis and care for each other.

The 55 minute lecture covers lots of ground related to responses to climate change for people of faith and faith leaders including:

  • Pastoral Care
  • Personal Devotion
  • Human Rights
  • Resiliency
  • Service
  • Hope

But ultimately it is about love–love for each other, love for the world we live in, and love for ourselves during this awesome and terrible time of climate change. We have roles on this new planet and need much support as we step into them.

What’s Faith Got to do, Got to do with it?

img_4266Back in June I led a panel of faith leaders at the Citizens’ Climate International Conference and they covered some of these topics.

Villanova asked my permission to record my presentation, and I agreed. Here it is for you to see and share. I’d love to hear your thoughts about faith responses to climate change.


Faith Community: What is your role on a new planet?

Prophet Sharing

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?

 Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

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?

Anglican Church service, Mkhonjane village near the Ncome River in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa (credit: Toscano)

Anglican Church service, Mkhonjane village near the Ncome River in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa (credit: Toscano)

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
IMG_4276Faith 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!

Forget the Technicolor Dreamcoat, check out Joseph’s Climate Change Plan

We are always looks for weird climate connections, and this one is a doozy. In a short, lively monologue, Marvin Bloom shares his climate change reading of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, well the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. There was a famine and a successful adaptation plan. Pharaoh sure liked it, but was it a just plan?

Have a listen (full transcript below).

Hi, This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin

pharoahsdreamHave you ever seen the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. I like the book version better, in the book of Genesis, in the Bible. It has more details and less singing.

So Joseph is one of the youngest kids in a large blended family. His father Jacob, who changes his name to Israel has at least four sexual partners, I mean wives, I mean I don’t understand that lifestyle at all. Anyway there is a lot of tension in the family about inheritance rights; who’s gonna get all the stuff?

Since Joesph is the favorite son, and a bit of a brat, his brothers get rid of him. They ship him off to Egypt where he becomes a slave. He then gets in trouble, does jail time and ultimately becomes 2nd in command of the whole kingdom. And then he saves his family from starvation.

And that is the part that is interesting to me—the climate part of it. You see Pharaoh was having weird dreams. They hauled Joseph out of prison to interpret them. It was his thing. He said there would be 7 years of amazing weather with huge harvests. Then he warned of 7 years afterwards of horrible drought, famine, and potential starvation. He predicted temporary climate change AND he came up with an adaptation plan.


Joseph’s plan saved the people, but did it open the door for oppression of the poor?

He suggested that Pharaoh grow as much grain as possible and stash it away in storage for a rainy day, well, many days with no rain. Then when the people are hungry and needy, there is food for them. And it was a successful plan. The famine hit and Pharaoh had mountains of food to feed a starving nation.

It was an effective plan, but it was not a just plan. It wasn’t fair. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In order to get Pharaoh’s grain, people had to sell everything they had and give it to the ruler. This turned Pharaoh into the ultimate 1% leading to oppression and slavery.

So what lesson do I get from this? In coming up with solutions to address the physical needs of people in a time of climate change, we need to calculate how the plan affects people’s right. Because climate change is a human rights issue.

This is Marvin and this has been your moment with Marvin.

Climate Stew podcast is available on iTunesStitcherTuneIn RadioSoundCloudSpreaker Radio, or Listen here  on our site. In whatever format you use, please rate and review! It makes a big difference. You can follow us on Twitter. Also check out our Facebook page where you can give your ideas of what you want to hear on the program.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirt & Climate Change

Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

When I was a tender young Christian in a Pentecostal Church in New York City, the absolute most terrifying passage in the Bible was one that warned us we could commit a sin that was so bad, it was unforgivable. As a Christian struggling with homosexuality at the time, I assumed the worst iniquity of them all had to do with gay stuff. And while my pastors insisted that my gayness was a major problem for them, they pointed to another more deadly sin: Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. 

After hearing repeated sermons about this spiritual threat, my fellow believers and I got it into our heads that we had somehow committed this sin. After frightening the snot out of us, Pastor Willy (that was his name) had to talk us down and assure us that there was no way we could have committed this sin. Confusing. He told us it was a really dangerous sin. It was hard to explain, and hard to commit, but once you did, you could not be forgiven.

Rev Dr Leah Schade in Biblical drag

Rev Dr Leah Schade in Biblical drag

Fast forward a few decades and I sit down with the Rev Dr Leah Schade, a Lutheran minister and the author of the new book: Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit. Leah is also a member of the Climate Stew Crew. She shared with me her creative interpretation of the controversial passage about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12:31 and Mark 3 verses 28-30) To do so she needed to do a word study to tease out the various meanings of the word spirit including breath and air. She also has some other passage that help explore climate change themes.

As a Bible scholar, I know there are many ways to interpret a passage in the Bible. By putting on different lenses we draw meaning from it that can help us better understand the world around us today. For those of us seeking ways to communicate climate change to our neighbors, some of whom look to the Bible for guidance, having an interpretation of a text that highlights our current climate crisis can open up the discussion.

Smart, funny, and a super storyteller, Leah will no doubt give you some fresh insights.

Music by the amazing Chenard Walcker. Check out the show notes from Climate Stew Ep 44 to learn more about Leah and hear more other Bible approaches to Climate Change.

New England Quakers Respond to Climate Change: Faithfulness & Jutice

Last spring met at Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center in New England and spent time in silent contemplation and worship regarding our current climate crisis. These Friends released an epistle based on this spring gathering discussions. It is a beautifully worded letter that communicates a faith-centered and justice-centered view of global warming.

They write:

IMG_2182It is clear to us that our precious earth is facing enormous destruction as a result of human over-consumption of fossil fuels and other resources, particularly in our own country and other highly developed nations. The consequences of the earth’s systemic response are already exacerbating issues with which Friends are concerned, including peace, justice, equality, and right use of resources. Climate change now permeates our societies, our politics, and our moral condition. The poor and marginalized are and will be the most deeply affected by the climatic and ecosystem changes under way, and the social instability and conflict which is resulting.

God is calling us to respond as a community of faith. Climate change is not just one concern among many to be carried by only some among us. We all live on this planet and are contributing to its destruction. It is incumbent upon every Friend and every Friends Meeting to seek actively to discover how God is leading us to do our part to reverse this great crime. Recognizing that we, gathered here, are shaped and limited in our understanding by our economic and social position, nevertheless the divine Witness challenges us, in compassion and in love for our brothers and sisters, and for the beautiful earth, to pray, wait, and act with a focus and fearlessness appropriate to the urgency of the times. Truth requires it of us.

They go on to list specific ways that we can act including:

  • Friends are feeling led under religious concern to travel among us, to provide prophetic ministry around these concerns and to help meetings prayerfully reflect on climate change. We ask Friends to open their doors to such visitors and provide opportunities for them to share their witness amongst us and with our surrounding communities. To encourage these leadings to travel, meetings can provide minutes, elders, and financial support to such Friends.

  • Growing numbers of Friends are led to engage in civil disobedience and other forms of prophetic witness against the destruction of the earth, such as voluntary carbon tax. When Friends act they are not alone. They act for the whole community. We can provide minutes of support and help with legal fees, fines, jail support, and support for the families of those carrying out such actions.

You can read the entire epistle on the New England Yearly Meeting website: Epistle from the Second New England Climate Spring Gathering: A Call to Corporate Faithfulness in a Time of Climate Change 

Blessed are the Parasites for they may benefit the Earth

Anyone who has heard even one episode of Climate Stew knows my mind goes in weird directions and makes bizarre connections. When dealing with our climate crisis, I believe we need to think outside the bin and take on fresh approaches.

As a Christian who is a Bible scholar and a member of a Quaker meeting, I sometimes look at climate change as a faith issue and a theological one. While I have lots of material about Queer Theology, I am still working out my thoughts about global warming issues and the Bible. Usually I hear Jewish and Christian believers insist that we are to be good stewards of the planet.

Questioning Stewardship

In Episode 28: Reeking of Faith–Religious Communities and a Warming Planet, I interviewed Rachel Winner at the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. We chatted about lots of things including the stewardship view of the world. I pushed back, but still hadn’t worked out all my thoughts.

Last month I heard Father Joe Schwab, a Franciscan priest concerned about climate change. He spoke at a rally in Phoenix, and in his short address raised the issue of stewardship and then challenged it. Are we really these outsiders overseeing the care for creation or are we an part of a system that we need more than it needs us?

The next day in Quaker meeting for worship my mind turned over Fr. Joe’s statements on stewardship. Then my mind travelled to weird places, particularly my intestines and the many microbes swimming in it, many of which are beneficial parasites.

Below is audio of both Fr. Joe’s short remarks and my oddball reflection. (see full transcript below)

Main Section: Stewardship Revisited

As part of my epic tour of the the American Southwest earlier this fall, I attended a climate change rally in Phoenix Arizona. The organizers, mostly faith-based groups, focused on the moral imperatives to act to address climate change. I recorded most of the speakers, and in future episodes will share some of what they had to say. But for this episode I have for you the public comments of Father Joe Schwab of the Franciscan Renewal Center, which you can visit at

Father Joe Schwab

I admit that when the priest approached the microphone wearing his flowing brown Franciscan robe, similar to the one my childhood parish priest wore, I did not expect too much. At best I thought I would hear the same old talking points about how we are required to be good stewards of the planet. Instead Father Joe surprised me with his twist on the stewardship message. I’ll play you what I recorded and then share the thoughts it dislodged in my head the following day in Quaker meeting.

Here is some of Fr. Joe’s message:
Inspired by Pope Francis, the Franciscan Renewal Center decided to amplify his call for decisive action at the United Nations Paris Climate Talks in December. To this end, we invited a variety of organization to join together to speak with one voice on the moral imperative that we act NOW to address global climate change. For Franciscans and Franciscan- hearted people this is not a new focus. We have been dedicated for the last 800 years to understanding St. Francis’ call to be brothers and sister to all of creation. St. Francis saw himself in a kinship relationship with the rest of creation. This kinship relationship is like the workings of a family. He did not see himself as something separate, like a steward standing outside the created world striving to guard it. Rather he saw himself on the inside, one of the created world and protecting it as he would protect his own mother, sister or brother. This stance of St. Francis created a different relationship with the rest of the world, a more humble one. As in a family, he saw his relationship with the rest of the world as being mutual, with each being having something to offer and each having something to learn.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word, Steward, no concrete image comes to mind. Well, other than Stewie from the Family Guy. I can’t think of a person I know who is a steward.. A friend of mine for a time was the warden of the Friends Meeting in Oxford England. In America we would call that person a Caretaker or a Super or Manager of Buildings and Grounds. But I don’t anyone who is a steward.

Steward is an archaic word like covenant and kinship. These old timey words have a formal weight to them but do not resonate like the words barista, guidance counselor, or caretaker. A caretaker is in charge of things and land. But when we are talking about being stewards of the earth we know that also includes looking after many living things, animals and people. Some words that might apply then are Caregiver or the British term, Carer, for someone who assists a person with medical needs. We also have the word attendant and assistant.

All these terms though I find problematic when talking about climate change and the earth. There is a distance, an othering about them. I care for you. You need me. But is that really the relationship we have to the natural world and the atmosphere?

I am not a touchy feeling granola new age environmentalist, but even I can see that there is an interconnectedness. When I breath out, I release a little bit of carbon dioxide and a lot of nitrogen. The carbon dioxide is in turn absorbed by plants and ultimately gets transformed and released as oxygen.

I am not a distant other caring for a needy planet. Rather I am part of a system, one that I need for food, air, and life.

Gretchen in eco-drag

If I were to be cynical about it though, the actual relationship I see that humans have with the planet is parasitical. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. We have a negative connotation to the word parasite. It can be used as an insult in an argument, “I tell you Leonard, I can’t take any more. You are sucking the life out of you. You are an emotional and financial parasite!”

My husband is writing a novel that includes a character that is a tape worm, so over meals and before going to sleep, I have heard a far too much about parasites. Now there are actually good parasite, beneficial parasites. Researchers have begun to point out that many intestinal parasites actually help us.. These microbes swimming in our guts might be responsible for activating our immune system and staving off problems caused by intestinal inflammation. There is a give and take with these parasites in our systems. We benefit each other.

While it doesn’t sound terribly appealing, I believe that instead of seeing ourselves as stewards of the earth, we should think about how we can be downright neighborly beneficial parasites on this planet.

parasiteThe reality is we need the earth far more than it needs us. As we alter the chemistry of the atmosphere and harm multiple species, ultimately the earth will move on and reorganize itself to the new conditions it faces. It will adapt. If need be, it will do so without out, ejecting us from the system.

While I do not see us as stewards or caretakers or caregivers brought in to manage and save a sick planet and eco-system, I do think we have our part in undoing the damage that we have done, well as much as we can. If like St. Francis preached, the natural world and all in it is family to us, sisters, brothers, and others, kin, we can right the relationship where we have been cruel, selfish, or thoughtless. We can take our part.

As St. Francis said, Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in God’s sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.

Music credits:

An interfaith response to climate change

I recently sat down with Rachel Winner from the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development in Jerusalem (although we spoke in Central Pennsylvania.) Not only does she share with me the work they do at the center, but we talk about various models of addressing climate change and ecology from an interfaith perspective.

 Rachel Winner, Project Manager, ICSD and Director of Outreach and Events, UPFSI

Rachel Winner, Project Manager, ICSD and Director of Outreach and Events, UPFSI

The idea of Environmental Stewardship came up. This is the concept where believers are reminded that they are stewards of the earth and have a responsibility to take care of it. I admit I am not a huge fan of the stewardship approach; it sounds tepid in the face of a climate crisis. Rachel and  I talk about this as she tries to get me to better understand and appreciate the concept.

What do you think of Stewardship? I’d love to start a discussion about this.

Also, I got my husband, Glen Retief, to share a story about his home country of South Africa. There is a recent rise in renewable energy projects. He tells us about this in his jaunty adorable fashion. (replete with a variety of accents too!)

Finally, I travel to the future and unearth a news report that reveals the stunning roles faith communities are about to take in addressing climate change.

Have a listen to Episode 28 of the Climate Stew Podcast! Climate_Stew_Logo_Square1400x1400

South African author, Glen Retief on the banks of the wild Susquehanna River.

South African author, Glen Retief on the banks of the wild Susquehanna River.

Black and Latino American Christians more Concerned with Climate than Whites.

Who is concerned about climate? Rev. Leah Schade, who will be a guest on next week’s Climate Stew, showed me the following report: Believers, sympathizers, & skeptics Why americans are conflicted about climate change, environmental policy, and science: Findings from the PRRI/AAR Religion,Values, and Climate Change Survey

The study is well organized and packed with useful information. I was surprised to see that white Christians (Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical) appear far less concerned about the climate than Black and Hispanics believers.

More than 7-in-10 Hispanic Americans are very (46%) or somewhat (25%) concerned about the impact of climate change. Similarly, nearly 6-in-10 black Americans are very (36%) or somewhat (21%) concerned about climate change. By contrast, less than half of white Americans are very (23%) or somewhat (20%) concerned about climate change.


Check out the entire survey here: