Having three children usually means that I take one of them to conferences or meetings with me. My children are now getting used to "tagging along". I started taking my oldest to religion conferences when he was three months old. Because our home in the Lehigh Valley is located close to the venues for the Union Theological Seminary's Religions for the Earth and Religions for Peace's Interfaith Summit on Climate Change, my oldest teenage son joined me for one day of the meetings.
As we were rushing to get ready to leave the hotel for the conference, my son quickly asked, "What has religion got to do with climate change?" to which I quickly responded, "Everything!"
My son's quick question keeps haunting me even after the meetings have ended. His question provoked me to realize that many of our church members may be asking the same question. Many local churches are not be addressing issues about the environment and climate change. It feels like a scientific or a governmental issue and not something that the church needs to tackle.
However, we are slowly seeing more and more religious and church groups who take climate change seriously. Union Theological Seminary held their "Religions for the Earth" meeting and the World Council of Churches (WCC) held their Interfaith Summit on Climate Change . Local, national, and international churches and organizations now recognize that climate change and religion have everything to do with each other.
The People's Climate March in New York, the related events held in 162 countries around the world and the interfaith service held on 21 September at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine provide the invocation as people of faith seek to live justly and work towards sustainability. The Reverend Anders Wejryd the former archbishop of the Church of Sweden says,
"Religions involve a longer term perspective than today's politics does. That is why our voice is so important to show our responsibility and the need for a just distribution that also crosses generational borders."
Climate change affects all people but it especially endangers the lives of our sisters and brothers who live in poverty around the world. Because of this, climate justice is an economic, social, and political as well as environmental issue. As Christians, if we are to respond faithfully to Jesus' command in Matthew 25:35, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in", then we must take climate change seriously. The poor, the least of our brothers and sisters are at grave risk. And Jesus expects us to act.
There are many things that we can to do to help save the earth. We need to invest in ways that protect the earth and support sustainable development. The Reverend Henrik Grape, Officer of Sustainable Development at the Church of Sweden, states,
"If you are serious about the climate as an important issue, you can't work with climate justice and at the same time have investments pushing development in the opposite direction. This is why it's important that churches and faith communities allow their words to translate into action in order to turn development in a more sustainable direction. To us, divestment is given. The next step is to direct investments that build the new sustainable society."
These are not only words but it is "faith in action". The Church of Sweden decided to divest from fossil fuels. Other churches have done the same, like the United Church of Christ in the US or the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. At the global level, the World Council of Churches, in its last Central Committee decided to explicitly exclude fossil fuels from its investment portfolios. This request came from younger Central Committee members who, according to Dr Guillermo Kerber, WCC Programme Executive for Care from Creation and Climate justice, recognized the general ethical guidelines for investment that the WCC follows, but wanted to see fossil fuels explicitly mentioned. Kerber says,
"There are strong intergenerational aspects to climate justice, and it is encouraging to see that young people all over the world are taking a stand."
At the UN Climate Summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "asked leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to crystallize a global vision for low-carbon economic growth and to advance climate action on five fronts: cutting emissions; mobilizing money and markets; pricing carbon; strengthening resilience; and mobilizing new coalitions."
Our actions, or lack of actions, will affect generations to come. But we must continue pushing the news of our agenda onto the public stage. Over three hundred thousand people participated in the People's Climate March in New York City on 21 September, but the major broadcast news stations did not feel the need to cover the historic march.
Maybe this is a reason why my son and the younger generation do not see the relevance of religion to climate change: people's mobilizations and religious denominations and organizations' efforts to care for creation and address climate change are not in the headlines. As a result, people fail to hear the urgent cry to do something about the damage we are doing to this earth.
Hopefully our mistakes and assaults on the earth, the waters, and the sky will not be left for our children to fix. Hopefully we can take steps to make a safer, cleaner and more sustainable future for our children. Our investments will affect our future. Let's invest in our children's future of a bright and clean world.