More churches speaking out about climate change, calling it a moral issue
ST. PAUL - The Rev. Tim Johnson is proud of the solar panels that blanket the roof of his church, Cherokee Park United in St. Paul.
He says they’re like a billboard, advertising a commitment to ease global warming. It’s an environmental cause that is spreading among Minnesota churches.
Earlier this year, 77 Minnesota churches joined a “National Preach-In on Climate Change” — twice as many as the year before. The event, organized by the group Interfaith Power & Light, drew 1,500 congregations nationwide.
At least one Minnesota nonprofit is realizing it has a new ally.
“Environmental groups have not always worked with churches. But this year has been an awakening for the religious community,” said Hanna Terwilliger, the clean-energy associate for the nonprofit Environment Minnesota.
“They are bringing an important perspective to the table. They are now rolling up their sleeves.”
Historically, churches get involved in a public issue when they define it as a matter of morality. In the 1960s, many united around the issue of civil rights — when they saw it as a moral issue. In the 1980s, churches became a political force when they united in opposition to abortion.
With global warming, they might do it again.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said the Rev. Beth Donaldson, lead minister at the New Brighton United Church of Christ, which participated in the Preach-In.
“This is intrinsic to our faith. We are asked to be good stewards of our creation,” she said.
Churches’ participation in the issue of global warming interjects them into the realm of politics, where elected officials are divided. Many conservatives argue that no one knows why the Earth is warming or how quickly. The proposed remedies, they say, could economically cripple the world.
The Rev. Amy Wick Moore, associate pastor at the New Brighton church, said liberal churches were encouraged by their 2012 victory against a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage. That success left them confident and energized — and they are channeling that energy into global warming, she said.
“We are seeing ourselves in a different light,” she said. “It’s a public witness. We have a place in the political world.”
A moral dimension to the issue of climate change is seen by those who envision rising oceans and worsening weather disasters.
“The life of Jesus was intimately connected with humankind, and humankind is in danger,” said the Rev. LeeAnne Watkins, the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul.
“Poor people are suffering from climate change more,” she said. “If you care at all about following Jesus, you care about the disenfranchised.”
Faith and politics mingled at a rally last month opposing an oil pipeline in Minnesota. About 150 protesters gathered in downtown St. Paul, then marched to a hearing on the pipeline proposal at the state Capitol.
The rally was led by men in theatrical orange outlet-heads, and protesters in animal costumes carrying a four-piece replica of a black pipeline. Shoulder-to-shoulder with them were newcomers — representing at least eight local churches.
“People are starting to wake up to the fact of global warming,” said Harry Mueller of Eagan, a former Lutheran pastor.
He had no trouble merging religious beliefs and politics. “People don’t realize how political the Bible was,” he said.
Kathy Hollander, a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, said climate change is an urgent concern.
“How is this not an issue of God’s love for creation?” she said. “We think this is an issue of faith.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.