Climate change is the great equalizer of faiths. Similar to a subway car lined with people from all walks of life, our changing climate strips away differences, leaving only a single moral call to act. Much like Howard Zinn famously suggested, neutrality is impossible on this moving train as faith communities barrel ahead seeking solutions through collaboration.
Interfaith work is nothing new to the religious landscape, as there are thousands of instances throughout religious history in which Muslims, Jews, Christians, etc., have not only worked together but also worshiped in the same facilities. While the climate movement is less about communal worship and more about collective concern for God's creation, there is a shared reverence for the gift that we have been given.
"Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years." – Pope Francis (LS)
Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, a document that will celebrate its one-year anniversary on June 18th, exemplifies this inclusive approach. An edict so widely anticipated it was leaked like a Beyonce album, the proclamation read with an inclusive tone that welcomed all people of faith to form climate solutions. While the text harkened back to the universal and all-embracing definition of what it means to be Catholic, it simultaneously maintained a salient and clear Papal message: we must care for our “common home.”
For many faith communities, climate change remains the great bond between their own tradition and the traditions and beliefs of their neighbors. The climate issue has bridged schisms formed through a myriad of disagreements and differences, putting an end to centuries of conflict (even if momentarily). In Gaza’s West Bank, Muslims and Jews have come together to work on solar projects, replacing an intergenerational conflict with a responsibility to care for God’s creation. Pope Francis himself used the opportunity of climate change to reconnect with the Orthodox Catholic Church, citing the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Laudato Si, bridging a near two-thousand-year-old division over Peter’s rock (Matthew 16:18).
Global instances are helpful but let's not forget the local interfaith communities working daily to remedy the impact of climate change. In South Bend, Indiana, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Mennonite, a Methodist and a Unitarian forged an alliance with our partner Interfaith Power and Light to develop solar projects in their communities. Hoosier IPL Executive Director Larry Kleiman shared, “In all of the various faith traditions we are encouraged to develop that consciousness and mindset to be more aware of the things we can do to make the environment healthier.”
These examples happen every day with faith leaders coming together on a shared moral responsibility. I saw it first-hand during last year's Coming Together in Faith on Climate in Washington, D.C. America's most influential faith leaders gathered to share their moral imperative to care for God's creation and provide key steps forward. The leaders’ respective messages were both unique and universal, highlighting the specific ways in which their faith encouraged them to act on climate.
The huge audience listened to their stories, and a handful of us were also lucky enough to sit in on their conversations during a reception beforehand. I listened to Rabbi Gutow, Rev. Antal, and Imam Magid share their unique scriptural imperative to act. Coming together wasn't simply a public show; it was genuine, powerful, and personal. The room was abuzz with solutions flying faster than the coffee could pour, which may have contributed to the lighting speed at which the leaders collaborated. It was inspiring.
While it is important to reflect on past accomplishments, at the end of the day, climate action is about moving forward on a train too full to accommodate neutrality. And this is what we hope to accomplish in the coming year, to maintain a forward movement on climate action and offer real solutions to the world's most pressing issue.
Moving forward on climate action
To further our efforts to take action on climate, on September 14th, 2016, ecoAmerica, along with The Nature Conservancy, Climate Reality, and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArther Foundation, will host 250+ thought leaders from business, health, faith, higher education, communities, government, culture, and climate, in Washington, D.C. at the Sixth Annual American Climate Leadership Summit, an invitation-only event. This leadership summit will be followed by The National Faith and Climate Leadership Forum on September 15, 2016.
The goal of the National Faith and Climate Leadership Forum is to advance public support and political will for climate solutions by bringing together a diverse body of climate faith leaders with other national leaders. Attendees will develop strategies to lay the groundwork to accelerate climate solutions in 2017 and beyond. This meeting will enable us to provide resources for building visible climate leadership – highlighting the work of denominational and communal bodies of interfaith organizations dedicated to the stewardship of our climate.
Purposefully timed to prepare for COP22 in Morocco, and to advance climate solutions in the 2016 Presidential election, the National Faith and Climate Leadership Forum will allow faith leaders to collectively amplify their moral message to influence America's political arena.
Among the many paths available at the Forum for Climate Solutions, faith leaders will advocate for further endorsement of the Green Climate Fund, a movement already supported by over 120 faith leaders and countless nations around the world. We must make the Green Climate Fund a priority of the 2016 election and carry the moral message to act on climate into the coming year. The National Faith and Climate Leadership Forum is an important way that faith leaders, and the faith community, can keep moving forward on caring for our common home, and to remove the option of neutrality.
To learn more about National Faith and Climate Leadership Forum, or to become a partner, contact Blessed Tomorrow Program Director, Kara Ball.
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside. Click here to email Ryan.