Interfaith “Pray-In” Honors Dr King’s Birthday With Demand for White House Leadership on Climate


By Catherine Woodiwiss, Special Assistant for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative

A crowd filled New York Ave Presbyterian church in Washington DC yesterday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday with a demand for the White House: take action on climate change.

The interfaith “pray-in”, which ended as a rally outside the White House, drew strong connections from Dr. King’s fight for racial justice 50 years ago to the ongoing fight for environmental justice today.

“Fifty years ago, we faced a racial crisis,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr of the Hip Hop Caucus to the crowd gathered in the rain. “We all came together, we all made a difference. We can again. The time is now.”

Many credit Dr. King with planting the seeds for the environmental justice movement, and his well-known speech on moral urgency was quoted by several at the event.

“Dr. King said ‘We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now… Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”’, said Bob Edgar, CEO of Common Cause, calling these words “prophetic” in relation to the challenge of climate change.

The choice to hold the rally on what would have been Dr. King’s 84th birthday was symbolic of the moral seriousness needed to address climate change, said Lise Van Susteren, an organizer of the event. “People talk about climate change as weather. This is not about weather. This is a human rights issue that requires a moral attitude – to think otherwise is inhumane.”

The event – organized by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and representing diverse coalitions including Buddhist Global Relief, The Shalom Center, Judson Memorial Church, and Occupy Sandy – follows on previous public demonstrations that looked to Congress for action.

Yesterday, on the eve of the Inauguration, they took their message to the President.

“We are now facing a climate cliff that will not wait for gridlocked Congress,” said Yearwood. “If we go over the climate cliff now, our grandchildren will face suffering.”

The organizers believe President Obama is in a unique position to show leadership on climate issues. They publicly called on the President to “break the silence on climate change” through actions including permanently refusing permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, hosting a national climate summit, publically support and advocate for a carbon fee, and ending subsidies to coal, oil, and gas.

“This is a pressure point, and we aim to be relentless,” said Van Susteren, pointing to the growth in numbers at yesterday’s rally. “These weather events are relentless – so are we.”

6 Responses to Interfaith “Pray-In” Honors Dr King’s Birthday With Demand for White House Leadership on Climate

  1. catman306 says:

    I listened to this interview with Katharine Hayhoe:
    (She’s a climate scientist, professor, researher, and a Christian who has written a book for Fundamentalist Christians which explains climate change in their terms.)
    Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe discusses her Christianity in the context of her academic career… and her marriage to a one time climate skeptic. She also reflects on whether or not the Anthropocene might have begun with Adam & Eve’s exodus from the Garden of Eden.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    I’m working to overturn Citizens United through a constitutional amendment stating corporations are NOT people and money is NOT speech. I’m suing the US Senate to break the gridlock and fighting to preserve a free and open Internet. I’m Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, ask me anything.

  3. Paul Klinkman says:

    Yes, it’s important to cover religious faith and climate. Lots of young people will go out and protest, but only occasionally will older people join them unless they’re getting paid a salary to do so. Those people are usually acting out of their belief that God wants them to work on climate change.

  4. Paul Klinkman says:

    Saul started out as a farmer with a team of oxen. When he heard that part of Israel was falling apart from gross injustice, he killed his perfectly good team of oxen, dismembered the bodies and sent huge chunks of rotting meat to all the tribes of Israel.

    One message is that if you cut off part of an ox, you don’t simply get a smaller ox. You get a big chunk of rotting meat. The same goes for a country. You can’t cut off part of a country through gross injustice and still have a country.

    In a time of climate change, you can’t just cut off a part of the world, either. All of the carbon dioxide goes into the same atmosphere.

    Saul’s second message is that if you don’t help, it’s going to be your ox that’s gored.

  5. I’m heartened to see this.

    Climate change is most definitely a civil rights issues of the first magnitude. None of us has the right to impose a degraded future on anyone to maintain a lifestyle. And I’m not talking about future generations. I’m talking about anyone under 60.

    I’ve often compared climate change inaction to slavery: an egregious first-order moral wrong justified by second-order moral arguments (e.g., the economy). The difference is that we’re not slavers. But like the crinolined belle in the Savannah drawing room, we benefit from the structure we live within.

    As with slavery, or segregation, or repressing women, or pollution, or accommodating second-hand smoke, we have to decide we’re not going to do this anymore. That’s where religion can really help. Once that commitment is abroad, then leadership can channel the commitment. It’s impossible to lead people where they don’t want to go.

    Religion is a two-edged sword, though. It can also be used to justify the status quo. “Climate change is God’s will” is no different than “The superiority of white men is God’s will.” Worse, as the weather gets weirder, many will see manifestations of the Book of Revelations. Let’s be vigilant for those distortions.

  6. Climate change is caused by the billions of banal decisions we make every day. Especially for so-called food. Factory farming of animals is the number three cause of climate change. A plant-based diet should be on everyone’s lips.