A Prayer for Earth
For many people of faith, environmental issues fall outside the realm of religion. But that is beginning to change. It turns out that religions have a large role to play in protecting what we refer to as God’s Creation. A religious movement is underway in the United States that brings the powerful message of values and moral integrity into the dialogue to halt the catastrophes caused by a warming planet.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, I spent an equal amount of time in both church services and Environmental Defense Fund board meetings. In church I learned that God put humans in the garden to “till and to keep,” yet I could see that we weren’t being very good gardeners. There was a disconnect between what we say we believe in – what we prayed to protect – and how we behaved toward our neighbors and how we treated Earth. Somehow, people in the pews were missing the real meaning of the Scriptures’ urging to have “reverence for the Earth.” A longing to bridge that disconnect and help religious people understand that we are the stewards of Creation was so powerful that I became consumed by the notion that things had to change. The love, justice, and peace taught by all major religions were lacking something so important that we just might not recover in time to save ourselves from ourselves. I couldn’t sit still knowing that the climate is changing, that humans are responsible, and that global warming is hurting poor people all over the world.
But I feared that, as a layperson with only my passion to guide me, I wouldn’t be taken seriously in this endeavor. I had to go to seminary and become ordained to begin preaching and teaching that people who say they love God have a responsibility to be caretakers of Earth. I needed to be grounded in theology and to find allies who agreed. I was not alone on this journey, but there were few others who were bold enough to bring what was perceived to be a hot political issue into the pulpit. That was 15 years ago.
The journey since my ordination as an Episcopalian priest has not been easy, but the message of Creation Care has been well received by most mainstream religions. In fact, today many religions have statements on climate change and are calling for reductions in greenhouse gases. Some religious leaders have denounced the ways oil, natural gas, and, particularly, coal are extracted. Renewable energy is becoming a popular source of electricity for congregations, and congregants are finding creative ways to finance solar for their roofs. Congregations are beginning to serve as examples to their communities – showing the way for parishioners to implement a religious response to global warming. Across the United States we have 40 state programs and more than 15,000 congregations that are, in some way, responding to God’s call to be the caretakers of Creation.
To move people to embrace that role of caretaker, one of the most effective passages from Scripture is the first and great commandment to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. If you love your neighbor, you don’t pollute your neighbor’s air. It is as simple as that. Still, most people of faith say, “I never thought about it that way before.” So begins the dialogue that makes stewardship of Creation a priority for religious people.
As people of faith we are also called to serve the poor, not harm their resources. The poor here in the US and around the world have contributed little or nothing to the climate problem, but are suffering the most. They are the least able to recover after weather disaster strikes or crops dry up from years of drought. Jesus said: “What you do to the least of us, you do to me.” That commitment to serve the poor moves many Christian people.
Global climate change is a justice issue, a moral issue, and, most importantly, a spiritual issue. How we respond to climate change demonstrates our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. Will we continue to live for ourselves alone or will we take some responsibility for others and for future generations? I am convinced that, with everyone working together on the shared purpose of survival, we will win this most important moral challenge.
The Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham is president of Interfaith Power & Light and the lead author of Love God Heal Earth.