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Commentary & Opinion

Religious Voices on the Environment

I called recently for religious voices on climate change to ring out more strongly. I’m not alone. As Christiana Figueres wrote in the Guardian, “It is time for faith groups and religious institutions to find their voice and set their moral compass on one of the great humanitarian issues of our time.”

I promised to return to those religious voices who have spoken out about climate change.

Forest Clingerman teaches religion at Ohio Northern University and wrote we are “laying siege” to what Psalm 19 calls “God’s glorious ‘handiwork.’” Zayn Kassam, a chaired Pomona College professor of religious studies, warned that mishandling the environment brings the Earth “a little closer to the fires of Hell,” citing the Qur’an as well as the Bible’s Book of Micah. Love Sechrest, teaching the New Testament at the Fuller Theological Seminary, invoking Jesus’ call for “service … to the common good,” warned that rolling back sustainable “climate policies … threaten the health of the planet.”

Warnings have come from the Irish Council of Churches, leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the United Church of Christ, the Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the Church World Service, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the AME Zion Church, The Episcopal Church, and United Methodist Women.

Across the globe calls have come from Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Jain, Shinto, Sikh and Tao leaders and interfaith groups, underlining our obligation to protect the environment which gives us life.

One listener kindly sent me a link to Pope Francis’ Encyclical, on Care for our Common Home, which reads in part, the earth “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” Pope Francis pointed to the “sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. … [T]he earth herself, burdened and laid waste … ‘groans in travail’….” He quoted Pope Paul VI, that by its “exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying” the work and blessings of God.

And on September 1st, Pope Francis, Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby joined “to address together the urgency of environmental sustainability” and, citing Deuteronomy, called on “every person of good will … to choose life, so that you and your children may live … [by] play[ing] a part in changing our collective response to the unprecedented threat of climate change and environmental degradation.”

Reports about polar bears and ice flows or rising waters and storms aren’t enough, nor endless scientific reports with measurements that boggle ordinary minds. Religious and other moral voices must ring in our ears to invigorate the crusade about the great moral crisis of our time. As men and women of faith helped drive the abolition movement, so their message must help drive the movement to protect the environment we depend on, lest we come “a little closer to the fires of Hell.”

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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