Church-based activists in action to "Get Finance Out of Fossil Fuels" at COP22, 2016. © Ryan Rodrick Beiler/LWF

Church-based activists in action to "Get Finance Out of Fossil Fuels" at COP22, 2016. © Ryan Rodrick Beiler/LWF

Climate justice isn't a policy that can simply be thrown away by any president - it’s a moral decision that affects the well-being of millions of people and future generations across the world.

Thousands of people are communicating this message via statements, posts and tweets on social media, and even with earnest conversations with their neighbors. Many are from the World Council of Churches (WCC) fellowship, humanitarian groups, churches and communities, and they are bringing a clear - and unified - voice of justice after US President Donald Trump announced on 2 June that his nation would leave the Paris climate accord.

From initial cries of dismay, a strengthened resolve toward hope, action and change has emerged.

Trump’s decision removes the USA from the global coalition that has the potential to make significant changes necessary to address the threat of climate change, said Harriett Jane Olson, CEO of the United Methodist Women (USA). “Now it is all the more urgent for us to work in our communities and in the corporate sector to make the needed changes,” she said.

Trump’s decision is disheartening and will worsen the state of a planet already exacerbated by overconsumption and misuse of resources, said Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church (USA). “The decision further isolates the United States from critical and essential climate and energy use conversations and negotiations.”

Yet even though Trump’s statement is a disappointment and represents a setback to the work of interfaith and ecumenical groups on the issue of the environment, people will not be deterred, said the Rev. Dr J. Herbert Nelson II, stated clerk for the Presbyterian Church (USA). “We will continue to work toward building an environmentally safe world, creating jobs and a new economy based on clean air and building on a more environmentally safe nation and world.”

In fact, this is a time of opportunity for the collective church, noted an ecumenical statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts (USA) and the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. “Even as we grieve the death-dealing trajectory of this decision, we rejoice that many people and institutions are taking creative steps locally, regionally, and nationally to build a more just and sustainable future,” the statement read. “This historic moment provides Christian communities with a powerful opportunity to bear witness to the sacredness of God’s creation and the urgent call to preserve it.”

Caring for God’s creation was a common thread in many statements released by churches and organizations. “We know that caring for God’s creation…is not only good for the environment, but also good for the health and welfare of our people,” stated Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA). “In spite of hardships and setbacks, the work goes on. This is God’s world.  And we are all his children.”

In the United Kingdom, the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) - a forum for the Baptist Union, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Church of Scotland - reminded people that the Paris climate treaty came about as a result of the action of citizens and governments across globe. “In December 2015, the UN Climate Chief, Christiana Figueres, was moved to tears when taking delivery of a faith-based petition; a collection of almost 1.8 million signatures from people of all faiths across the world,” read a JPIT statement. “The Paris agreement represents an expression of the demands of people from across the world to protect our precious global commons from unbridled capitalism.”

The Church of England's lead bishop on the environment, Rev. Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, said he condemned Trump's decision.

"I am, frankly, very disturbed by President Trump's decision to revoke the United States' commitment to the Paris Agreement, which was a global commitment made in good faith,” he stated. “Climate change is one of the great challenges of our times. There is a moral and spiritual dimension with a strong consensus built among the faith communities about the care of our common home. The scientific, economic and political arguments point in the same direction.”

Rev. Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Board of the Church of Scotland, emphasized the need to uphold Americans at this time.

"We know that many in America, including in churches, do not share President Trump’s views. We will work to support them and partner churches around the world by redoubling our commitment to respond to climate change in Scotland."

Messages of solidarity came from as far away from the Pacific – a region that is especially vulnerable to climate change.

“The Paris Agreement brought about global recognition of human interdependence with the biosphere and churches are taking action for the transition…Defaulting from this accord flies in the face of care for earth, our common home. The Churches Climate Network joins with others in Aotearoa New Zealand and with Pacific and global church partners in pressing forward for policies and action on our climate responsibilities,” said Rev. Dr Betsan Martin, convener of the Churches Climate Network in New Zealand which includes Methodist, Anglican, Catholic, Quaker, Presbyterian, and Salvation Army members.

Religious leaders also used Twitter to add to the call to keep pursuing environmental justice no matter what. Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archdiocese of Chicago (USA), sent a 2 June tweet that read: “The president’s misguided decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord does not diminish our responsibility to care for the planet.”

He followed up with: “Environmental stewardship is a global issue and requires a spirit of cooperation, not the national individualism sadly displayed yesterday.”

As messages continue to be released, they show the global pilgrimage for justice and peace occurring at every level, from church leadership to the grassroots, said Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive for economic and ecological justice.

“Although we see Trump’s decision as one that hurts millions of people by threatening their land, their food and water supplies and their way of life, we also see an incredible outpouring of determination and hope that will overcome injustice and begin to walk toward a world in which we all have enough,” she said. “I urge everyone who has been communicating on this issue: keep talking! Ask yourselves how we can support one another in life-giving, sustainable and climate-resilient communities.”

CJM and NCC Lament Withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement (National Council of Churches USA press release of 5 June 2017)

“United Methodist Women Opposes U.S. Withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord” (United Methodist women press release of 1 June 2017)

“UMC bishops ask Trump to reconsider decision to withdraw U.S. from climate accord” (United Methodist Council of Bishops press release of 2 June 2017)

“Interfaith leaders speak out on White House decision to withdraw from Paris climate accord” (Presbyterian News Service article of 2 June 2017)

“Presiding Bishop responds to Trump’s decision to pull U.S. out of worldwide climate accord” (Episcopal News Service article of 1 June 2017)

“The implications of Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate deal” (Joint Public Issues Team statement)

“Paris climate deal: Lead bishop on environment condemns Trump's decision” (Church of England press release of 2 June 2017)

“US decision to abandon climate agreement is ‘deeply regrettable’” (Church of Scotland press release 2 June 2017)

“Church leaders join those galvanizing for climate action” (Churches Climate Network press release of 5 June 2017)

Climate justice must be prioritized, say ACT Alliance, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches (WCC press release of 2 June 2017)