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The Faith-Climate Connection

Our teachings convey that nature is a reflection of the divine; through it and through the world's sacred scriptures we can learn of God's attributes and work to mirror them in our own lives.
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Through sermons, discussion groups, prayer gatherings, dramatic readings, video screenings and postcard-writing sessions to their U.S. Senators, people of diverse faiths across the country recently arose to proclaim the urgent need to address climate change. Interfaith Power and Light's annual preach-In campaign over Valentine's Day weekend prompted some 1,700 congregations to action on this topic.

If you've read my other Huffington Post pieces, this angle is one that you're familiar with: people of faith proclaim the moral dimensions of climate change. So why am I writing about the faith-climate connection again?

Well, for one thing, it's a message that isn't going away. More and more faith groups are getting involved, roughly in sync with the steady increase in what scientists tell us are symptoms of climate change. As the reality of climate change hits home through repeated extreme weather events and other impacts, it's becoming a personal issue for many.

For another, we're not likely to respond much to our climate dilemma until more and more of us feel it in our gut and connect it to our deepest values. The golden rule, common to all faiths, pretty much spells out the problem and the solution: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Humanity's carbon emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels and deforestation, are reaping havoc across the world and threatening the lives and livelihoods of all people.

But the central issue here is this: Those who are the most vulnerable to climate change are the ones who least contributed to the problem -- the poor and future generations. Climate change is less an environmental problem than it is a matter of justice, fairness and equity. Our faith traditions hold these values high and specialize in fostering them.

Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder and president of Interfaith Power and Light, offers some insightful reflections on this matter in a short video the U.S. Bahá'í community recently produced to help spur involvement in the preach-In. Citing the Book of Genesis, she reminds us, "God put us into the garden to till it and keep it." It's one of the "first bits of instruction" imparted in that sacred book. In a related passage, she notes, God gives us dominion over all living things.

"Properly translated," Sally explains, "dominion means stewardship -- of the water, the land and the air. If we don't take care of those things, we ourselves won't be healthy." In Sally's words, "Taking care of creation is a matter of faith. It's as important as love, justice and peace." Recognition of the relevance of these principles to the unsustainable path humanity has been traversing drove Sally many years ago to take to the pulpit and make caring for creation the central focus of her ministry.

She notes that every major movement in America (e.g. the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the education of women and children) has been influenced in a big way by the kind of moral authority that comes with religion. Sally's dream is for more and more people to come to the recognition that caring for creation is "a moral, spiritual and religious issue."

My perspective, informed by the Bahá'í teachings, sees it that way. Our teachings convey that nature is a reflection of the divine; through it and through the world's sacred scriptures we can learn of God's attributes and work to mirror them in our own lives. The central Bahá'í principle, the oneness of humankind, calls for a change in the present day order, the likes of which we have yet to see. When we begin to see all of humanity as constituting a single family, drawing upon the forces of love and justice, it will have profound implications for our approach to the climate issue.

It's time to summon all our spiritual attributes and apply our most creative thinking toward the resolution of the climate crisis. We can do this best when we are guided by both solid science and our deepest religious principles. That's what motivated so many to take part in the recent preach-In, and that is what will empower us to find the solutions we seek as stewards of creation.

To learn more about what the U.S. Baha'i community is doing at the national and local levels to combat climate change, visit the U.S. Baha'i Office of Public Affairs website.

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