Faith communities around the world are inextricably linked by a concern for the poor. With 36 million poor people being displaced by climate change in 2009, and an estimated 50 million by 2050, climate action is undeniably an issue of social justice that requires the response of faith leaders. Erin Lothes Biviano explained in her essay, Come with Me into the Fields: Inspiring Creation Ministry Among Faith Communities, that, “Ministers, pastoral leaders, and congregations…have a critical role to play in advocating for the changes that will advance an abundant future.”
Social communication is a crucial tool for empowering congregations to act for the climate. Engaging ‘the mind and heart’ of practitioners will enable leaders to ‘renegotiate world views’ that address both concerns of spirituality and social justice. Biviano explains that the move to environmental action is grounded in one’s faith tradition, their sense of community, and their relationship with their fellow congregants.
Blessed Tomorrow and Biviano agree that social engagement plays a crucial role in people of faith being able to advance climate concerns into methods of action. But first, faith leaders must help to expand the idea of social justice to include creation care by demonstrating how it relates to care for the poor.
Every year, the Venetian doge sails out into the lagoon from San Marco Square to throw a jeweled ring into the waters, ceremonially sealing the marriage of Venice with the sea. For centuries Venice’s fortunes rose and fell with the maritime commerce that surged through its customs house. Even today this ritual continues, honoring the city’s union with water through the visible symbols of the marriage ring. Today, Venice’s acqua alta rises and falls not only with its famous floods but also with the slow rise of sea levels as earth’s climate changes, the ocean expands, and glaciers melt. As the ring sinks through the waters, its historical meaning may seem quaintly outdated, but the power of the earth’s changing physical systems has never been more relevant to human wellbeing.
Powerful symbols command consciousness, direct a society’s attention upon the realities of their world, and—most critically—summon action. Like the Venetian tides, climate change is a dominant reality of our time. Yet arguably the central symbols of Christian faith are not yet consciously intertwined with this reality in the ways needed to command attention and summon appropriate action relevant to Christianity’s deep concerns for the poor.
Why is climate change relevant to Christian faith? There are many reasons, but the impact on the most vulnerable suffices. Climate change will alter grow- ing seasons, crop yields, and storm patterns. It will also create surges of dis- placed peoples. These physical changes to the earth are clearly documented in the Fifth Assessment Report, the authoritative summary of the research of thousands of scientists worldwide sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations.1
Ministers, pastoral leaders, and congregations thus have a critical role to play in advocating for the changes that will advance an abundant future, the abun- dance of the wedding feast recounted in Jesus’ parables of the reign of God (Matt 22:1-10; Luke 14:15-24). Yet how can ministers best lead their congregations to environmental awareness, concern, and action? In other words, how can they invite them to understand the critical relevance of environmental ministry and, in the words of the popular hymn of discipleship, “come with me into the field?”