While climate change has become politicized in Congress, religious leaders – Presbyterians as well as Christians of many diverse backgrounds – have expressed more agreement than discord on the need to address climate change.
Many lay and ordained leaders within the Presbyterian Church USA acknowledge the scientific consensus that human actions have caused the planet’s warming, and PCUSA has a long-standing policy about taking action on climate change. Sometimes, however, it can be harder to translate that knowledge into action at a congregational level.
A new book, Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect Earth’s Climate (New Society Publishers, 2012), brings together stories and strategies of how churches are confronting climate change, the greatest moral crisis of our time. Edited by Mallory McDuff, Sacred Acts includes the writings of national leaders such as Bill McKibben, the Rev. Sally Bingham, founder and director of Interfaith Power & Light, and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and evangelical.
The focus of this anthology is on voices from local congregations that are harvesting food from church gardens, weatherizing parish halls, installing solar panels on sanctuaries, and advocating against mountaintop removal. Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, for example, has completed 76 energy audits of religious facilities, saving congregations 20 percent of their energy budgets: 200 more congregations are in the pipeline. Many of these are Presbyterian congregations.
Sacred Acts is organized around four avenues for addressing climate change – stewardship, spirituality, advocacy, and justice – with three chapters in each section. Writing about stewardship, the Rev. Fletcher Harper describes his work with congregations on projects such as installing solar panels at the United Methodist Church in Red Bank, NJ, which now generate 30 percent of the congregation’s energy or conducting an energy audit at Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, NJ, with $7,000 in annual savings. Dr. Norman Wirzba at Duke Divinity School examines our theological and spiritual connection to gardening, which can bring us in closer relationship to God and his Earth. Through advocacy, LeeAnne Beres and Jessie Dye tell the story of how churches working with Earth Ministry in Washington State led to legislation that will transition the only coal-fired power plant off coal. And Peggy Shepard, the executive director of the grassroots group WEACT, describes how congregations and communities have focused on justice to address the disproportionate health impacts of global warming on the poor.
Some skeptics might protest that churches are unprepared to confront global warming when memberships and budgets are shrinking. Others might say people of faith lack the capacity to act with consensus around a politically divisive issue.
But history tells us that Christians have mobilized around key moral and political issues such as the anti-slavery and civil rights movements. Climate change has brought together diverse religious denominations that often disagree about issues such as abortion or gay marriage.
On April 24, in Washington, DC, people of faith will gather to remind us of this legacy for an Interfaith Day for Climate Action. The gathering will include a service, vigil and meetings with elected officials to advocate for policies to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.
Likewise, the voices in Sacred Acts reveal that we must reinvigorate churches through climate action that reflects loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our worship prepares us for such sacred acts of resistance that can reconcile us with the earth, each other, and ultimately with God.