Faith Groups Add Their Voices To The ‘Forward on Climate’ Chorus

Sojourners and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action at the rally. Credit: Sojourners

By Catherine Woodiwiss

Eighteen months after the first major protests in DC against the Keystone XL pipeline made headlines for weeks and saw hundreds of protestors arrested, Sunday’s”Forward on Climate” rally gathered the “NO XL” faithful for what organizers called the “biggest climate rally by far in history.”

And as with anti-Keystone protests past, faith groups lent visible support; their banners, prayers, and chants joining the estimated 40,000 peaceful protestors calling on President Obama to show climate leadership in his new term by vetoing the Keystone XL pipeline.

Kevin Mason, a young man with The Catholic Worker hospitality house in DC, saw protesting the pipeline as a matter of justice and solidarity. “One person is hurt, we all are hurt,” he said over chants of “That’s not kosher!” from the assembled crowd. “Charity and resistance go hand in hand. There’s a huge need to get back to the Genesis idea of stewardship and beloved community.”

Faith groups have grown bolder in their pro-environment positions, and are gaining some momentum in joining and helping shape protests against fracking and tar sands removal. The shift hasn’t been easy — climate change is still a challenging conversation in many faithful communities, and remains completely off the radar in others.

Yet in the last year alone, several new groups and initiatives like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action and the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate have sprung up, major faith mobilizers like Sojourners have more publicly stepped in, and longstanding interfaith climate organizing networks like Interfaith Power and Light have redoubled their efforts.

“It’s great to see this interfaith energy,” said George Hoguet, a former Catholic now part of The Stillworkers, an engaged Buddhist community in Pittsburgh. “It’s great — there needs to be more.”

Tim Kumfer, representing Interfaith Power & Light at the rally, expressed hope for the direction of faith involvement. “I’ve seen, even today – there are more and more young people here who are publicly identifying with faith, connecting it to this issue,” he said, noting a common disparity between young climate organizers and older interfaith activists. Increasingly at climate actions, Kumfer noted, “there’s all ages and denominations joining in.”

In 2011, Keystone XL protests helped prompt a delay from the Administration on pipeline construction. This time, protestors want a full stop, and took their message directly to the man they see as the ultimate decider: the newly re-elected President.

Bill McKibben, founder of, issued a challenge to thunderous applause from the crowd. If the President were to veto the pipeline, he would, in McKibben’s words, “become the first leader in history to veto legislation because it was bad for the climate. And he can put an end to that with a single stroke of his pen.”

Van Jones, President of Rebuild the Dream, echoed McKibben’s charge. “Today, I direct my message to [the President]: all the good you’ve done, everything you’ve fought for…will be wiped out if you fail to act now. The decision is in your hands.”

He added, “If the pipeline is built, the first thing it runs over… will be your credibility.”

This stern charge came just days after 48 XL protestors were arrested in front of the White House, and President Obama’s State of the Union speech featured climate change as a pressing issue for his second term.

That the rally occurred over President’s Day weekend was no coincidence. “We’re showing [the President] visible support for his efforts,” said one woman in the faith march, identifying as Unitarian. “He needs it more than Congress. We need to show him we agree and want him to keep going.”

Reverend Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus and a host for the Forward on Climate rally, urged the crowd to remember the values that unite the climate movement.

Citing the influence of money and power in Washington, Lennox said, “We have other currencies to work with: passion, spirit, creativity. A love for the future is what brought us here today.”

On Sunday, protestors made it clear they are looking to the President to demonstrate his share in these values and veto the pipeline.

Catherine Woodiwiss is a special assistant on the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

5 Responses to Faith Groups Add Their Voices To The ‘Forward on Climate’ Chorus

  1. Brian R Smith says:

    As an atheist & carpenter who loves my neighbors and every creature on the planet without moral assistance, here’s a glass to the Faithful who rally to the cause, carrying or not carrying a banner higher authority. Just so we’re clear, though: this time, everybody gets on the Ark or nobody gets on. Including half the earth’s species and billions of doomed humans, soon to return to His bosom if we fail to get this boat in the water.

  2. Paul Klinkman says:

    Because we are God’s, we render ourselves unto God. This includes our minds, which we can develop into whatever works best for God’s needs and for humanity’s needs. I’m a solar inventor.

    The earth is also the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. So we humans help to take care of it.

    Serving money and worshiping money? I’m not really into that. I must admit that it drives my wife a little crazy. Sorry.

    The billionaire fossil fuel titans who will toss out $100 million to deny climate change and so make more billions for their empires, I kind of pity what they’ve chained themselves to. They’re poorer than they think.

  3. In the Jewish community as well, a number of organizations have in the last year taken much more vigorous action to demand healing of our wounded planet — wounded by global scorching, not just “warming.”

    The Shalom Center, a long-time organizer on climate issues, was joined in this rally by some members of the Green Hevra (a coalition of eco-Jewish organizations, by members of several Washington congregations, and even 19 students from a ninth-grade class of a synagogue in St Louis.

    These responses grow not only from a sense that the climate crisis is now the greatest danger to the web of life on Mother Earth, but from a growing realization that many strands of Torah are focused on the knowledge of shepherds and farmers — an indigenous people — of the interweaving of Earth and human earthlings. Sometimes these teachings come in allegorical stories like the Eden and Flood stories; sometimes in agricultural policy like the call for a seventh year of rest for the land (Lev 25) and dire warnings of danger if the Earth is not allowed time for rest(Lev 26); sometimes in the provisions for offerings of food as the way of coming close to God; sometimes in poetic celebrations like the earthy delight of the Song of Songs.
    Shalom, salaam, paz, peace — Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center , and member of the steering committee of IMAC (Interfaith Moral Action for Climate).

  4. Missing from almost all public discussions of the Keystone XL pipeline and climate crisis: the idea that climate change is about BOTH the environment AND community. This is NOT an issue of polar bears vs. jobs. It’s about respectful and grateful response to the gifts we share. People of faith have long understood their charge to care for the downtrodden and the vulnerable, and that’s a vital part why we’re showing up, speaking up, and changing our own energy use.

    When climate change is posed as an “environmental problem” it limits our energy and our response to whatever portion we allocate to The Environment. The military aptly calls climate change a “threat multiplier.” Climate change is a malicious magnifier of nearly all the urgent problems faced by people around the globe. THe climate crisis is certainly an indication of the appalling lack of stewardship of the environment that we have thus far shown, and it certainly is a ballooning threat to the environment, but it is a far, far greater challenge than that.

    Casting climate change as an environmental issue limits both audience and response. Please cast the net wider, ThinkProgress.

  5. Ray Kondrasuk says:

    Head-vise time:

    This comment just appeared at

    # brycenuc 2013-02-22 10:30
    “…The fatuity of the climate-change hysteria is on full display with opposition to the pipeeline. The pipeline itself releases no CO2 and the CO2 will not be released until the refined oil is burned. The CO2 release to the atmosphere will be the same no matter where the oil is ultimately refined, which it will be. Unfortunately, this is only one minor aspect of the gross fatuity of the climate change fraud…”

    I need another clamp…