Close to 100 faith leaders are calling for lawmakers to act on climate change, urging elected officials to heed the words of Pope Francis and pass legislation that can help slow the advance of global warming.
On Tuesday, a group of religious leaders took out a full-page advertisement on the back page of Politico to offer resounding support for Pope Francis and his recently-released encyclical on the environment, a landmark work of Catholic teaching which argued that governments have a moral obligation to address human-caused climate change.
“As Catholic and evangelical leaders, we are deeply inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical addressing our shared responsibility to be prudent stewards of creation,” the ad reads. “As citizens of the most powerful nation in human history, we have a unique responsibility to promote sustainable development, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and build a thriving culture of life that protects human dignity.”
— Faith in Public Life (@TheRealFPL) June 23, 2015
The advertisement listed around 90 prominent faith leaders, particularly Catholic college presidents such as Villanova University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, as well as two former heads of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Sister Simone Campbell, a Catholic nun and leader of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK. People from other faiths were also listed, such as Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, President & CEO Evangelical Environmental Network, Brian McLaren, prominent Christian author, Jim Wallis, an evangelical pastor who heads up the faith-based advocacy organization Sojourners, and famed protestant theologian Walter Brugemann.
“We urge elected officials to reflect on the pope’s words and recognize that climate change, poverty and extreme inequality –- interconnected issues that can’t be understood in isolation –- are defining challenges of our day,” the leaders argued. “In a spirit of solidarity, we encourage presidential candidates, Members of Congress and governors who have raised doubts about the seriousness of climate change to consider the moral dimensions of this issue.”
Although the religious leaders claim inspiration from Francis’ encyclical, faith-based environmentalism is anything but new. Catholics have been working for years to protect the earth, as have other religious organizations such as Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, Interfaith Power and Light, and Evangelical Environmental Network. Various Christian denominations have also taken environmental stances, such as the Church of England, which divested from fossil fuels and tar sands earlier this year.
Still, the move appears to be geared toward riding the energy sparked by Francis’ encyclical, a nearly 184-page document that made a robust, faith-based case for protecting the earth and taking action on climate change. In addition to surprisingly vigorous discussions of climate science and environmental issues, the letter specifically refuted old conservative religious arguments that God gave humanity the earth to exploit at will. Instead, Francis encouraged his fellow Catholics and other Christians to be good stewards of the earth, especially since the people most impacted by climate change are the poor and dispossessed.
“It is important to read the biblical texts in their context, with the right hermeneutics, and remember that these invite us to ‘cultivate and care for’ (Gen. 2:15) the garden of the world,” the encyclical reads. “While ‘cultivate’ means to plow or work a plot, ‘to care for’ means to protect, heal, preserve, conserve, to watch over.”