Earlier this month, I attended the first annual Sojourners Summit, a national gathering of over 300 prominent faith leaders that included an outstanding list of speakers, discussions, and trainings.
The summit addressed social justice challenges many faith communities are championing, such as immigration, mass incarceration, and international development. Right alongside these issues on the agenda was climate change.
Below are three faith and climate takeaways from the Sojourners Summit.
1. Connect the Dots
For many faith communities, the challenge in inspiring action on climate change is not in its recognition as a problem; it’s in its recognition as a priority in the face of so many other worthy causes. Solving this does not always mean creating space for one more issue. Rather, it is helping people to see how climate is impacting their current missions.
For example, faith communities have been instrumental in addressing global poverty. At the summit, World Relief President Stephen Bauman pointed to the success in cutting child mortality in half since 1990 – a change due in no small part to religious organizations like his own.
Climate change threatens to reverse this progress by creating new health challenges and disrupting the agriculture systems so many depend on. These pressures raise concerns about additional refugees and forced immigration.
But it is not enough to connect problems. Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and a member of the Blessed Tomorrow Leadership Circle, presented a vision tying health, climate, economic, and recidivism solutions together.
His church is exploring a project that would be the largest urban garden in Chicago. It would provide healthy food to a community surrounded by food deserts as well as education and jobs for returning citizens in growing and transporting the food.
2. Find New Allies
Seeing how seemingly unrelated issues connect creates opportunities for new alliances and partnerships. Organizations tackling immigration and global poverty can be powerful messengers capable of putting a human face on an issue that is too often an abstraction.
Another unexpected ally is the World Bank. During the Sojourners Summit, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim described his organization as having a “preferential option of the poor,” meaning that they are committed to caring for and protecting the most vulnerable worldwide. During a panel, he explained that the poor are going to suffer the most from climate change, a problem they did not create.
In response, the World Bank is financing new ideas and technologies that will address climate in conjunction with other challenges facing developing nations. However, Dr. Jim Yong Kim cautions that while they can provide funding and data, they do not have a “department of movement building” and will rely on allies, such as faith communities, to create the public support needed for lasting change.
3. Tell a Compelling Story
Success on climate change rests on telling a different story – one grounded in real-life impacts on individuals, tangible solutions, and scripture. Though science and statistics are important, they can be a barrier to connecting with what people value most.
This change has been crucial in the national immigration debate. The Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition Sojourners helped found, has helped convert many religious conservatives on the issue by focusing on a Biblical message and stories of actual devout families being torn apart. This has helped to make the plight of immigrants more identifiable.
In order to build a mainstream climate movement, we will need similar stories to ground the call for action in our faiths and make real the people whose lives are being impacted climate change.
This piece was written by Tim Fink, Director of Blessed Tomorrow
Image credit: Brandon Hook / Sojourners
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