Climate

Episcopal Presiding Bishop, A Former Oceanographer, Makes Religious Case Against Climate Denial

CREDIT: AP Photo/ Tony Avelar

Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, right, told The Guardian that denying climate change is akin to turning one's back on God's gift of knowledge.

One of the most powerful women in American Christianity is condemning the path of the climate denier.

In an interview with the Guardian published Tuesday, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said people who reject climate science are turning their backs on one of God’s most generous gifts: knowledge.

“Episcopalians understand the life of the mind is a gift of God and to deny the best of current knowledge is not using the gifts God has given you,” she said. “I think it is a very blind position.”

Jefferts Schori — the first woman elected as a primate in the Anglican Communion and a former oceanographer — also called climate change a “moral issue, in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”

“It is in that sense much like the civil rights movement in this country where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place,” she said.

Jefferts Schori’s comments to the Guardian come as the Episcopalian church is strengthening its voice in the fight against human-caused climate change, a phenomenon that is expected to have the worst impacts on developing countries. On Tuesday, the church is holding a 90-minute webcast to discuss both the regional impacts of atmospheric warming and the moral implications of those impacts.

The webcast also kicks off a 30-day campaign by the Episcopal church to raise awareness of climate change, called 30 Days of Action. The campaign calls on Episcopalians to address the issue in some way each day for the next months — to “learn, advocate, act, proclaim, eat, play and pray.”

“Focusing on environmental change on a personal, community and global level for 30 days can help Episcopalians proclaim a commitment to caring for God’s creation,” the church’s website reads.

Generally seen as a group aligned with conservative values, Christian groups have been taking up the cause of climate change in recent months, often because of the disproportionately negative impacts scientists predict it will have on poor communities. Patricia Bruckbauer, an eco-justice fellow at Creation Justice Ministries, said this summer that “those who have consistently contributed the least to our changing climate are generally the ones who suffer the most … low-income communities, communities of color, the elderly and children.”

Christians have also pointed to preserving God’s Creation as a reason for acting on climate. Most notably, Pope Francis has repeatedly made the religious case for tackling global warming, telling a crowd in Rome that “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”

Leaders from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, and Baptist congregations have also spoken out in strong support of climate action, with most calling it a moral obligation to God.

“Before man was asked to love his neighbor, love God, or care for the least of these, he was asked to love the earth,” Rev. Marjani Dele, the minister of missions at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, said at an EPA hearing last summer. “You could say that it was a type of first commandment.”

For her part, Jefferts Schori agrees. Though she is stepping down from her position as head of the Episcopal Church later this year, she told the Guardian she still hopes to drive Episcopalian action on climate change.

“I really hope to motivate average Episcopalians to see the severity of this issue, the morality of this issue,” she said. “Turning the ship in another direction requires the consolidated efforts of many people who are moving in the same direction.”