In telling my story about how I became a creation care activist, I shared how I felt a call to action to work for environmental sustainability and justice. After 10 years in this ministry, I feel the “urgency of now,” to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now is the time for all of us to act, for we are all stewards of God’s creation.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Capetown stated at the Trinity Institute on Water Justice in March, “We have lived our lives assuming that what is good for us is good for the world. We must change our lives so that we live as if what is good for the world is good for us. We need to live for the good of community, not for our own personal end, living the ‘we’ instead of the ‘me.’” He called for courageous conversations in churches, urging us to “educate, illuminate and elevate.” Educate our congregations about climate change and its effect on our world. Incorporate environmental justice into our Bible study and the education of our children. Illuminate our leaders and elected officials about the realities and consequences of climate change. Help them understand the gravity of the threat and work with them on solutions. And elevate awareness of this issue until we come together to work on it.
Makgoba said that we have separated the cry of the poor from the cry of the earth. Activists focus on Exodus and the need for liberation from oppression. The marginalized and the poor are affected first because they don’t have the resources to adapt their way of living. Those who are passionate about the environment focus on the beauty of creation and the need to protect it. Where is the critical breach that we all need to bridge, so that we can work together to find solutions?
Our work on creation care must be interfaith and bipartisan, because the Earth is our common home
Former senator Barbara Boxer and other speakers at the Trinity Institute laid out some of our challenges. Last year was the hottest year on record, for the third year in a row. Weather extremes are causing devastating droughts, flooding and wildfires. Five hundred children die each day in sub-Saharan Africa from disease caused by lack of access to clean water. Children were poisoned by lead in the water in Flint, MI, because community leaders put money before human lives. An algal toxin in Lake Erie contaminated the drinking water used by Toledo and many of its suburbs in 2014, prompting the city to issue a “do not drink” advisory for three days.
The polar ice is melting quickly. Nine of the 10 worst storms in our country’s history have occurred since 2010. By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans, when measured by weight. The sea level rose by one foot in the last century and is predicted to rise by six feet in this century. Large coastal storms such as Super Storm Sandy will increase, causing temporary flooding and destruction. The world’s major coastal cities are at risk of being permanently flooded. Contamination of our water supply from the chemicals used in our agricultural system negatively affects our health. Crops are dying on a widespread basis. Birds must adapt their migratory patterns and thus fight harder for survival. This incomplete litany of disruption to life as living things have known it is just the tip of the iceberg, according to the experts. As Archbishop Makgoba said, “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Scientists are agreed that this dramatic shift in our climate is due in large part to human activity. So what can we do? Educate, illuminate and elevate.
• Educate yourself about the issues and their language, and share your knowledge with others. Adapt your everyday behavior to reflect your love of God’s creation and your neighbor. Form a Green Team at your church. Ban the use of Styrofoam and plastic bottles at church and in your life. Have energy audits of the church and your home, and use the results to take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of both. Contact Ohio Interfaith Power & Light to learn about its programs and services.
• Illuminate your community leaders and elected officials about the serious issues that we face. Share your knowledge with them. Thank them for what they are doing to protect the environment. Ohio’s Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman are fighting to restore funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), since its $300 million annual budget was zeroed out in the President’s budget request. Ask your senators and representatives to stand up for the EPA, to fight against its proposed 31% budget cut and the elimination of much-needed regulations to protect our air, water and land. Advocate for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Agreement and to keep in place the programs and standards that will allow the U.S. to reach the goals it agreed to. Advocate for funding for wildlife refuges and conservation programs. Fight for whatever is dear to your heart.
• Elevate the conversation about climate disruption. Get together in small groups and work to raise awareness of issues that matter to your neighborhood and area, and mobilize people around them. Keep going until everyone believes that developing clean energy and protecting the environment are top priorities, until we all act as stewards of God’s creation.
Our work on creation care must be interfaith and bipartisan, because the Earth is our common home. Boxer said that her hope is with religious leaders. We are trusted and are not associated with politics. The urgent need to fight for God’s creation and all of its living things is a moral issue. It’s time for us to come together and have the political will to speak truth to power.
The Rev. Meribah Mansfield is a deacon serving at St. John’s, Columbus. She participated in the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. in April.