Interfaith Climate Change Campaign Expands To 16 States
May 12, 2000, NEW YORK CITY -- An interfaith campaign designed to help people of faith see global warming as a religious issue and to encourage individuals, congregations and governments to do something about it has recently expanded to 16 states.
The momentum to proclaim global warming a religious issue has caught on, said the Rev. Richard Killmer, Environmental Justice Director for the National Council of Churches. People are realizing that this is not a dry or irrelevant policy issue. It is about what we will give to our children and grandchildren. It is also about protecting life and about justice for the most vulnerable all over the world.
The NCCs Eco-Justice Working Group, consisting of Protestant and Orthodox communions, is partnering with Catholics, evangelicals and Jews for this latest stage in a strategy that was kicked off in August 1998 to organize faith-based support for initiatives on climate change.
An initial campaign was tested in Ohio in 1998 including educational, lifestyle, public policy and media strategies. In 1999, with the Ohio campaign as a model, the effort was expanded to four additional states - Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Iowa. With campaigns still ongoing in those five states, recently 11 new states began organizing around the climate change issue: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.
The 16-state initiative is being carried out through state ecumenical agencies. In each state, local religious leaders form an interfaith planning committee, hold a two-day training event, develop a Religious Leaders Statement and implement an ongoing interfaith climate change campaign.
The campaigns, after the training events, involve educating in congregations and judicatories; enabling congregations to use less energy, educating the public through the media, and organizing visits with elected officials, including United States senators.
The Rev. Killmer emphasizes the truly interfaith character of the campaigns. Its been a priority of the campaigns in each state to include evangelical Protestants, Catholics, mainline Protestants including the historic Black churches, eastern Orthodox and Jewish participants. Several states are beginning to include Muslims in their efforts, and we had a traditional Native American participant in West Virginia. These efforts reflect the depth of religious experience and the religious teachings of as many faith groups as possible.
In the states where campaigns have been underway, Rev. Killmer says inroads have been made. In Ohio, for instance, Members of the Ohio Interfaith Global Warming Campaign, organized through the Ohio Council of Churches (based in Columbus, Ohio), testified in the Ohio State legislature against a bill calling upon members of the U.S. Congress from Ohio to vote against the proposed Kyoto Protocol of the Framework Convention on Climate Change a treaty ratified by 160 nations including the U.S. Senate. Much to the surprise of legislators, these people of faith ended up being the strongest voice in support of Kyoto.
In Michigan, the interfaith campaign has offered energy efficiency seminars for members of the faith community, partnered with the Michigan Environmental Council and the World Wildlife Fund and placed five regional coordinators throughout the state. Though Michigan is a big and challenging state, were being noticed more, said Kim Winchell, of Freeland, Mich., coordinator of the Michigan campaign and an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America layperson. We will sit down face-to-face with our legislators to try to convince them that this is a time for bold action on the issue, Ms. Winchell said. Also, its an ongoing challenge to be heard by all corners of the religious community in Michigan, but those of us involved in this work plan to keep up a steady, and growing, drumbeat, until we are heard.
Since our training event in December, 1999, we have had good success in getting congregations to do a Bible study on the issue and to become energy stewardship congregations, said Marcia Leitch, from Talcott, W.V., a Presbyterian educator who coordinates the West Virginia Interfaith Global Warming Campaign. On May 22, members of the campaign will meet with U.S. Representative Robert Wise and with Senator Birds state staff person in Charleston, W.V., and West Virginia religious leaders have already been doing letter writing campaigns around significant issues in the state.
Each state builds their campaign to suit the needs of their area, but everywhere, the constituency concerned about this issue has expanded and become more motivated, Rev. Killmer said. Now that the theological work has been done to ground these efforts in many religious traditions, the conversation has changed and more people are participating in it.
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