Climate Action CDA presented a panel on Faith and Climate Change at NIC October 19, 2017, to an audience of fifty people including community members and students. Panelists represented Catholic, Jewish, Evangelical Lutheran, and Episcopal faiths. The Islamic leader had to cancel unfortunately. Although the traditions had some differences in theology, practice, and emphasis on the environment and climate change, they all shared the idea that the earth was created by God and that humans should value it and be a good stewards of it, guided by science.
Ron Eberly, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, has a Masters degree in Pastoral Ministry and serves in the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and the Diocese of Spokane. He said that all of humanity bears responsibility for the well-being of the earth and cited the 2015 Encyclical by Pope Francis as a clear statement of the faith’s position. He pointed out that the Pope, when asked about caring for the earth and the climate change challenge we face, said we should look to science to understand how to protect and sustain nature. In Genesis, humans were tasked with dominion over the earth, but since humans were endowed with intelligence they should care for, not destroy the creation.
The Jewish perspective was presented by Dr. Hugh Lefcort, former Vice-President of Temple Beth Shalom in Spokane, and currently Professor of Biology at Gonzaga University. His research is on the effects of rising CO2 levels in aquatic animals and he teaches course on climate change. He explained that although many American Jews are probably environmentally conscious and active, the faith is based historically on a simple, agrarian people who saw the environment practically and for its use by humans for agriculture. It could be termed a utilitarian view. Care for nature so humans can make use of it. They don’t have a tradition of nature just for nature’s sake. However, some Jewish law did protect humans and animals based on justice and caring for the poor and the weak. The belief and action on justice enables people of the Jewish faith to care for the earth and act for its protection and preservation.
Pastor Dan Forsgren was ordained into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 2008, served six years in Minnesota, and serves at Trinity Lutheran in CDA now. He opened with a Martin Luther quote—“If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I’d plant an apple tree,” to demonstrate the Evangelical Lutherans’ value for nature and taking care of it. He said that the words dominion and subdue used in the Genesis instructions to humans regarding nature have been misinterpreted and have resulted in the abuse of land, plants, and animals. It should mean that people need to care for the earth and even improve it for the next generations. The Evangelical Lutherans have educational materials about “Earth Keeping” that churches may use if they choose. He also spoke of his feeling of the sacredness of nature when he took 7th graders to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and how that sacredness moves him to protect and care for the earth and its plants and animals as well as people.
Rev. Patrick Bell spoke for the Episcopal faith. He is from a 6th generation farming family in Idaho and felt privileged to be “a person of the land.” He grew up seeing the earth as for the use and benefit of people—an agricultural view similar to the utilitarian view of the Jewish tradition in that way. However, in his 7th decade he has come to see things differently. He related a recent Episcopal Bishops’ trip to Alaska to visit the Gwich’in people who still maintain traditional lives. It struck him during the visit how his (and our) activities in Idaho can hurt these Athabascan people’s lives as climate change has affected the time when Spring and Fall arrive, when the river flows, the snow levels, and more. For them, climate change may destroy their very livelihoods, while here people complain about a poor ski season. Rev. Bell sees the creation as sacred and he is advocating caring for it, and leaving it better so future generations may enjoy and live well.
All the faiths represented here saw science as a valuable way to understand nature and the effects of climate change. Their various religious traditions have the capacity for respecting and caring for the earth so that all people and living things may survive and prosper.