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United Church of Christ Declares a New Moral Era

By Rev. Dr. Jim Antal
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The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal leads the 360 UCC churches in Massachusetts and is a national spokesperson on climate change for the UCC.  He is a member of the Blessed Tomorrow Advisory Council. The day after President Trump pulled out from the Paris Climate Accord Antal wrote an Emergency Resolution that came before the national Synod of the UCC a month later.  Click here for the Boston Globe article on the UCC Emergency resolution on climate change.  

It was a big claim: “Imperatives for a New Moral Era.”

It was a big ask: to “resist all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and demand new sources of renewable energy that are accessible to all communities” and to write a new story for America – “a story that is not dependent on fossil fuel or on wealth for the few and misery for the many.”

It demands that the church itself “bear witness.” Unlike so many resolutions passed at Church gatherings, instead of criticizing the injustice of others, this resolution is directed to the church and its members, asking them to "prayerfully engage" three imperatives by taking action.

Nevertheless, on July 3, 2017, the national Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) voted not only to declare a new moral era but to name the current climate crisis as “an opportunity for which the church was born.”

The 700 delegates were voting on an Emergency Resolution responding to President Trump’s announcement on June 1, 2017, that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. In less than a month, the resolution had been endorsed by almost half of the regional Conferences of the UCC, so it was not surprising that it passed the national gathering by 97%.

However, many will be surprised by the three moral imperatives named in the resolution.

Urging clergy to preach on climate change is the first moral imperative. As EcoAmerica has shown in poll after poll, clergymen are regarded by their congregations as trusted messengers, and when they speak out, it matters. God’s creation is in jeopardy. The resolution declares that “those who follow Jesus will not back away from God’s call to protect our common home.” It’s up to clergy to provide moral leadership so that church can be a safe enough place for people to share their deepest fears and hopes and then take action.

The second moral imperative – to “incarnate the changes we long for” – echoes one of Gandhi’s well-known principles: we need to “be the change we long to see.” But it calls for more than personal witness. It recognizes what 292 mayors representing more than 60 million Americans also recognize – that the units of resilience going forward are towns and cities. When tens of thousands of congregations stand with their community leaders, committed to transition to a safe and sustainable future for their children, the Church will re-introduce hope to a world gripped by fear and despair.

In keeping with the decades-long opposition by the UCC to environmental racism, the resolution calls upon congregations and people of faith to undo “the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of color, indigenous communities, and poor white communities around the world even as we commit to holding all our religious, political, corporate, and global leaders accountable to do the same.”

The truth is the focus of the third moral imperative – noting that we are now living in a John 18:37 moment. For the UCC, the role of the church in the public square is to provide a bold and courageous witness that fearlessly holds to the truth “we understand from our two Testaments and from the sacred book of nature, recognizing that when the truth is compromised, only power prevails.”  

UCC congregations and members are urged “to resist all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and demand new sources of renewable energy that are accessible to all communities.” How? “In the streets, at the State House, in the halls of power, with our phones, emails, technology and social media by committing our time, financial resources and prayers.”

Altogether, this resolution calls for the church to embrace a new vocation. God’s great gift of creation – the foundation for all life and the context in which the church endeavors to make God’s love and justice real – is in jeopardy. It falls to our generation to make the changes science says we must. To accomplish that, the church (together with the synagogue, mosque, temple, and all people of faith) must hear God’s cry to preserve the planet, and embrace these moral imperatives as “an opportunity for which the church was born.”