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Climate emergency: faith-based groups pledge to amplify prophetic voice

Climate emergency: faith-based groups pledge to amplify prophetic voice

Mindahi C. Bastida Muñoz, diretor, Original Caretakers Program, Center for Earth Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, honors the land as the event opened in New York City. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

25 September 2019

In a daylong meeting on 24 September entitled: “Climate Emergency: Faith-based Organizations Raising Ambition - Leaving No One Behind,” representatives from dozens of churches and organizations from across the world gathered to explore their role in stemming climate change and the human suffering it is already causing.

Reflecting on the gathering, a side event during the UN Climate Change Summit in New York City, Rev. Dr Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, president of Brot fur die Welt, said she believes renewing spirituality - both personal and collective - is the key to making a difference in climate change. That means asking a question that is very difficult for many people: “What are the parts of our spirituality that belong to the market economy?”

She added: "We need to do a critical self-examination in renewing our spiritual roots,” she added. “I think we really can and need to do that.”

Füllkrug-Weitzel believes that, only by drawing together across faith lines can religious communities find a path of truth when it comes to climate change. “There is no future that has the truth unless we rely on each other, joining hands with other religions, and understanding jointly the spiritual power of affirming creation,” she said.

“But what do we do,” asked Olivia Wohlgemuth, a 17-year-old climate justice activist from Brooklyn, New York. “We are all taking whatever action we can,” she said. “World leaders just aren’t getting it. They’re not understanding the urgency of he situation.”

Mark MacDonald, archbishop of the National Indigenous Anglican Church of Canada and president of the World Council of Churches for North America, defined climate change as one of the most compelling moral issues that has ever faced humanity. “It is clear that indigenous people are the caretakers of the world’s intact ecosystems that are very much threatened by climate change.”

It has also become very clear that there is no livable future for a planet on which indigenous people’s rights are not respected, said MacDonald. “Indigenous wisdom holds the pattern to a livable future.”

Considering the questions

Dennis Frado, director for the Lutheran Office for World Community, outlined three questions that small groups then explored together before reconvening. "Where are the gaps? What is it that we - that is the faith community - have to offer? What can we commit to do?”

In a workshop on “Climate Change Loss and Damage,” Sabine Minninger, policy advisor on climate change for Brot fur die Welt, gave examples of communities already suffering because of the rise in the earth’s temperatures.

From the island of Tuvalu, where residents have invested in a massive rock shelf in an attempt to stabilize the coastline, to the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan caused loss of life and economic devastation, climate change is causing trauma and leaving grave humanitarian needs, said Minninger. “Climate change is pulling people back into poverty who actually made it out of poverty,” she said.

In discussions on climate migration, Jillian Abballe, head of the Anglican Communion office at the United Nations, said there are parts of the Anglican Communion that will completely disappear under rising seas. “Yet in the context of these UN meetings, it’s a challenge for people from those areas to even get here,” she said. “How do we represent this constituency?”

Andrew Fuys, senior director of Global Migration for Church World Service, said it’s important for faith communities to be very clear about communicating the principles they share with the people they are accompanying. “Are there ways that we might be able to get more of an impact than what we are already achieving?” he asked. "There is a lot that we are still learning about the way that climate change intersects with other factors that are forcing displacement.”

Christian Wolff, migration and displacement program manager for the ACT Alliance, said questions about economics and finance are at the heart of the messages of faith-based communities. “The question for us is, can we have a message where we say this is a moral issue? The survival of people affected seems to depend on resources that no government is willing to commit.”


In the end, the gathering yielded ambitions, plans, visions - and concrete action steps. “We came up with a list of measurable goals, concrete actions church can take,” said Janine Walsh, communicators coordinator for the Franciscan Action Network. “It starts big - going carbon neutral or carbon negative - and goes to small: planting a victory garden.”

The faith-based leaders vowed to keep the momentum on an action-oriented movement. “We want people to ideally have recommendations for what they can do in their daily lives,” said Brett Nadrich, communications director for GreenFaith. “We also want to make sure groups can advocate within their institutions.”

"As Climate Summit begins, churches call for action now!" - WCC news release 23 September 2019

“Do you love me?” It’s a question about global warming - WCC news release 22 September 2019

"WCC joins global climate strike with throngs of young people" - WCC news release 21 September 2019

Learn more about WCC's work on Care for Creation and Climate Change