Earth Day, April 18: Climate Change and Faith

Readings from Scripture adapted from “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson

And God stepped out on space,
And looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled, and the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in God’s hand,
And rolled the light around until God made the sun;
And God set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between the darkness and the light
God hurled the world; and God said: That’s good!

Then God stepped down-and the sun was on God’s right hand
And the moon was on the left;
The stars were clustered about God’s head,
And the earth was under God’s feet.
And God walked, God’s footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then God stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And spat out the seven seas—
God batted eyes, and the lightning flashed—
God clapped, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out her arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again, and the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around God’s shoulder.

Then God raised arms and waved hands over the sea
and over the land, and God said:
Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop the hand,
Fishes and fowls and beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around on all that God had made.
God looked at his sun, God looked at his moon,
God looked at his little stars; God looked on his world
With all its living things, and God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down-on the side of a hill where God could think;
by a deep, wide river God sat down;
With head in heads, God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river, God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river, God kneeled him down;
This great God who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the furthest corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God, like a mamma bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in God’s own image;

Then into it God blew the breath of life,
and man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.

Katharine Hayhoe – Climate Change and Faith

From Wikipedia: Katharine Anne Scott Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center. She is also the CEO of the consulting firm ATMOS Research and Consulting. In 2021, Hayhoe joined the Nature Conservancy as Chief Scientist for the organization.

Hayhoe is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her father, Doug Hayhoe, was a science educator and missionary. When Hayhoe was nine, her family moved to Cali, Colombia where her parents served as missionaries and educators. (more information on the link below!)

Katharine Hayhoe: Climate Change Evangelist
One is the first times that we went to church in Texas I met a couple and we were introducing ourselves. They asked, “What do you do?” I explained that I study global warming, and they said, “Oh that’s wonderful, we need somebody like you to tell our children the right things…you would not believe the lies that they’re being taught at school! They told us that the ice in the Arctic is melting and it’s threatening the polar bears!” And I said, “Well, I’m afraid that that’s true.”

There’s often a perceived conflict between science and faith, it’s a little like coming out of the closet: people admitting to people that you are a Christian and you are a scientist. My husband, he is the pastor of an evangelical church, and many people would approach him to ask him questions about climate change. If anything there’s even more questions in the Christian community because we are targeted by so much of the disinformation that’s going on.

So that’s why my husband and I decided to write a book together, a scientist and a pastor, on what a faith based response to this problem looks like. With climate change, much of our response is emotional. The fear of how our lives would be irrevocably changed if we uprooted our economy, and how our rights to enjoy the luxuries of energy and water might be ripped away from us.

Well, as a Christian, we’re told that God is not the author of fear. God is love. When we’re acting out of fear, we’re thinking about ourselves. When we act out of love, we’re not thinking about ourselves, we’re thinking about others. Our global neighbours, the poor and the disadvantaged, the people who do not have the resources to adapt. And so I believe that we are called, first of all, to love each other, and second of all, to act.

Am I a Climate change evangelist? The evangel means ‘good news.’ Climate change is not really good news right now, but at the same time, I think it is good news that we have choices. And by making wise and responsible choices now, we can ensure that we protect the things that we care about the most on our planet, for the benefit of the people who we know personally and those who we don’t.

Religion has nothing to say about Climate change, right?
In June, 2015, the Pope issued a formal report, called an Encyclical, on climate change. Some were puzzled, he’s not a scientist, they said. Why is a religious leader weighing in on climate change? Climate change isn’t just a scientific issue. It is also a question of right and wrong.

And for more than 80% of us around the world, we often get our sense of what is right and wrong from our faith. That’s why leaders from across the entire spectrum, have issued statements on climate change. And on the importance of caring for creation and for other people on this planet. Informed by our science, it’s our hearts that tell us we must act.

I’m a scientist, and as a scientist I can tell you science is awesome. But it can’t do everything. When it comes to climate change, here’s what science can tell us. That climate is changing. Science can also tell us that for the first time in history, humans, not natural cycles, not the sun, are the main cause of this change. Science can also tell us that the choices we make going forward will shape our climate future. If we continue to depend on old, dirty, polluting fossil fuels for most of our energy, we’re going to be following a much higher and faster pathway to change. On the other hand, if we can transition, in a sensible, sustainable way, to clean sources of renewable energy that don’t produce heat-trapping gases and other pollution, we’re going to be heading much more slowly towards a safer future that will be easier to prepare for. Science can tell us what’s likely to happen. To our food, our water resources, our health, even our economy depending on how much fossil fuels we burn. But this is where the science stops. Science can’t tell us what’s the right thing to do.

Should we put a price on carbon? Or should we cap emissions and allow polluters to trade? If so, how much and how fast? Should we shut down the fossil fuel industry or encourage it to transition as well? Invest in new technology or help poor countries to adapt? Ideally, all of the above, but practically we can’t do it all. We have some tough choices to make.

And for that, we need to engage our hearts

And for many of us here in North America and around the world, what’s in our hearts has a lot to do with our faith.

Faith and science are not in competition. They are not two alternate and mutually exclusive systems of belief. As one atheist put it, “Scientists do not join hands “every Sunday and sing ‘yes gravity is real, “I will have faith.'” In the same way, sacred texts like the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, they’re not science textbooks. These books are intended to serve as guides, giving us a perspective on where we came from, where we’re going, and how to live our lives here and now. That’s why we need our science and our values when it comes to difficult thorny issues, like climate change.

Speaking for myself, I’m a Christian. And I believe that as a Christian, I’m called to help people who are suffering. Who is most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate? The poor, the world over. From the single mother in McAllen, Texas who can’t afford to keep her family’s apartment cool as the summers get hotter. To an elderly fisherman in the Maldives who will soon have to find a new place to live as sea level rises. To the Syrian family in the refugee camp. Their land and their home long gone, desperate to just find a safe place to live.

But here’s the good news when it comes to climate change, the desire to care for and help others is not exclusive to any one denomination, or religion, or even faith. Atheists, agnostics and humanists share these values too. How do I know? Because when it comes to making statements about climate change, it’s not just the Pope.

Nearly every major Christian denomination, and world religion has something to say about it. From the Episcopal church, they say,

“We are painfully aware, that those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere are responsible for the majority of climate change. Accordingly, we hold a particular responsibility for the changes that will reverse the trajectory of atmospheric warming,
and safeguard the sanctity of what our God calls ‘very good.'”

From the other side of the world, here’s part of the Hindu declaration on climate change.

“We must consider the effect of our actions, not just on ourselves, and those humans around us, but on all beings. We have a dharmic duty for each of us to do our part,
in ensuring we have a functioning, abundant and bountiful planet.”

There’s even an Islamic declaration on global climate change.

“Our species, those selected to be a caretaker or steward of the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it, that we are in danger of ending life as we know it on our planet. This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained,
and the Earth’s fine equilibrium may soon be lost.”

Faith and science, data and sacred texts, on climate change, they’re painting the same picture. Unless we’ve signed up for that trip to Mars, this is the only planet we have. It just makes sense to care for it.

And to care for our brothers and sisters who share it with us, particularly those who are less fortunate than us, and who are already suffering the impacts of a warming world.

I truly believe, that just about every single one of us no matter our religious background or lack thereof, we have all the values we need to care about climate change built into us. Every human on this planet is born with a sense of responsibility, appreciation for our world, and often an instinct to care for others too.

And that’s exactly what we need to make good choices and to inform our actions on climate change today. As scientist Jane Goodall says, “It’s only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony, that we can achieve our true potential.

One Comment

  1. So many parts resonated with me from this service and everything was spot on the theme. And yes that opener from the landfillharmonicorchestra from FACEBOOK has been on 60 min. and other TV shows in its entirety. (Wouldn’t it be nice if those youth had an opportunity to experience a large symphony orchestra in person!) Mary Oliver’s poetry, Wild Geese, was another winner as well as the Apple
    Earth demonstration and of course It’s a Song of Praise to the Maker which also lifts the spirit. Kudos to you, Rev Chris, and your work to make this Earth Day Service so meaningful.

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