The pope’s message is important not just for Catholics, Christians and those who support reducing the emissions that are changing our climate. It draws on shared values like stewardship, compassion and fairness to help all humans connect with our universal responsibility to protect one another and the natural world from harm – in this case, by moving away from fossil fuels and further towards a clean energy future.
The pope draws on the key components of a powerful narrative – challenge, choice and opportunity – to deliver one of the most powerful moral messages on climate change to date. He describes the problem of climate change in grave terms, blaming "unethical consumerism" and naming the “inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.” Yet he is ultimately hopeful, inspiring followers by telling them he knows change is possible and outlining a number of steps individuals and decision makers can take towards a solution.
On the day of the encyclical’s release, Interfaith Power and Light hosted a discussion with religious leaders from across America about what the encyclical means for people of all faiths. The conversation focused on the how “the religious imperative to protect the world’s faith must take precedence over political views.”
Reverend Canon Sally Bingham, founder and president of Interfaith Power and Light, spoke about how Laudato Si’ can inform the teaching and preaching of the moral dimensions of climate change. Rev. Bingham suggested that by changing the hearts and minds of people, politics would follow. Catholic and religious politicians in the U.S. who have previously opposed action on climate change for political reasons now have the support and framing to call for climate action too. By using the framing that they recognize the moral leadership of Pope Francis and the integrity of God’s creation, conservative politicians have the ability to call on being commanded to steward and protect our home.
Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley, a Baptist minister at Providence Missionary Baptist Church and civil rights leader spoke about how environmental protection has become a priority within his church and the wider black community. That previously while climate impacts were being felt by communities of color, climate was not a priority for action by community leaders. Rev. Durley spoke about the importance of living ‘Earth Day’ every day and making climate justice for communities of color a top priority.
Others, including Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership, Imam M. A. Azeez from the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, and Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, leader of the Adat Shalom congregation in Bethesda, Maryland, all commended the pope’s strong message and called on fellow religious leaders (and followers) to uphold the common tradition all religions have of caring for the earth.
Faith groups have long played an important role in catalyzing support and action around climate change. In 2012, more than a thousand congregations in 49 states took part in a "National Preach-In on Global Warming," educating one another about the impacts of climate change and collecting signatures for approximately 37,500 postcards that were sent to U.S. Senators asking them to support clean air legislation. Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light’s dialogue-based approach to community engagement (inspired by the success of the Freedom to Marry conversation campaign) has shown how helping people connect through shared values and interests is often more inspiring than just sharing information, enabling them to build the connections needed to respond to climate change as a community.
These are lessons we all can learn from. The pope’s encyclical reminds us that climate change is not just an environmental issue; solutions lie in our ability to work across movements, religions and ideologies towards a better future for everyone.
image via (cc) flickr sterte