1998 NCC News Archives

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NCC Spurs Four-Pronged, Interfaith Global Warming Strategy
Plan Includes Letters to President and Senators, Midwest Interfaith Conference

State Coordinators of NCC Interfaith Global Warming Campaign See "Upwelling of the Spirit" in Local Environmental Ministries

NEW YORK, August 18, 1998 ---- Susan Harlow, the Indiana coordinator for the nine-state interfaith global warming campaign spurred by the National Council of Churches (NCC), would rather not be pigeonholed by being called an environmentalist.

"Everything that I am is contained in saying that I am a Christian," she said. "As a Christian, I am a person of justice, of peace and of caring for the environment. My parents were Christians who taught us that the earth is holy." Ms. Harlow is a divinity student at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana who is pursuing ordination in the United Church of Christ and considers work on environmental issues to be her "call."

Likewise, Kim Winchell has found through her involvement in the grass-roots group Michigan Ecumenical Consultation on Christianity and Ecology (MECCE) that "it has been a journey for me to see the Biblical basis for earth-keeping. I have a science background and have found that the two halves, science and theology, are really tied together for me now," she said. "For instance, in ecology we know that everything is connected. There is a verse in Colossians that says 'all things hold together.'"

"When we hold our conferences, the laypeople who come often say that they thought they were the only one who thought that caring for the earth was a spiritual issue," Ms. Winchell said. "They are encouraged to be around a lot of other people who feel the same way."

Ms. Winchell will be the Michigan coordinator for the NCC project. She is a hospital laboratory technologist and actively involved in her local synod, the Northwest Lower Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

Ms. Harlow and Ms. Winchells' faith-based work on environmental issues is shared by the network of environmental justice coordinators and other leaders that the NCC is counting on to carry out its four-pronged strategy on climate change. One piece of that strategy is an interfaith project in nine states designed to raise awareness and increase advocacy about climate change through media placements, congregational resources and visits to Senators.

The targeted states include: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"My task is to empower people of all faiths in Indiana and to convince our Senators to support the Kyoto treaty," Ms Harlow said. "I will do that by contacting the media, our church judicatories and the major denominational bodies to say that it is important for anyone of faith to take this issue seriously, and also by encouraging congregations to use several resources."

"In my conversations with people, I realize that people feel really disempowered," Ms. Harlow said. "They feel that the issue is too big. When they learn that there are specific things they can do, their attitude changes."

"A lot of times, it is only one person in a congregation that gets passionate about these issues, but that is a start," Ms. Winchell said. "I think it is wonderful that there are all the national structures in place, but from my perspective, I am greatly heartened by what I see as an upwelling of the spirit (at the local level). People are coming to spiritual realizations about caring for the earth on their own."

Ms. Harlow concurred. "Just in talking to people, I can really feel a groundswell. People are excited that people of faith are coming together in one voice. They think it is unjust the way the political machine has kept us from caring for the environment the way we should."

Ms. Harlow said the argument frequently made insisting that we will suffer economically if we comply to the Kyoto treaty is simply untrue. "Studies have shown the U.S. can reduce energy use by 20% or more at net economic benefit because it will result in cutting emissions, increasing efficiency, adding jobs, reducing waste and reducing oil imports."

Ms. Harlow said she is placing a special emphasis on reaching out to youth groups on the climate change issue, for two reasons. "If you have 15 to 20 really charged teenagers, they can really lead a congregation," she explained. "Also, they are our future voters and future leaders of congregations. If they adopt this issue, then it will not die."

In Michigan, Ms. Winchell said she will use the existing network and mailing list developed from the MECCE conferences as one starting point. "Basically, we plan to network, network and network some more, and then pray a lot," she said.

The goal is to get at least 50 congregations in each state to use an editorial "Global Climate Change: A Religious Issue" by NCC General Secretary Joan Brown Campbell as a bulletin insert and to distribute the five-session Bible study entitled "It's God's World: Christians, the Environment and Climate Change."

The coordinators will work over a four-month period, although both Ms. Harlow and Ms. Winchell emphasize that this is neither the beginning nor the end of their work around these issues. "This is not something we are going to quit caring about after the four months is over," Ms. Winchell said.

"I always think of the line from the poet Gustav Thibon which says, 'Dig in the narrow place which has been given you and you will find God there,'" Ms. Harlow said. "This work is the narrow place which has been given me."

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Note: The NCC's climate change strategy packet (EJ9800) is available for $1 from Environmental Justice Resources, NCC, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, Indiana, 46515; 800-762-0968.

NEW YORK, August 18, 1998 ---- The National Council of Churches (NCC) is coordinating a multifaceted, interfaith strategy on global warming "to provide a new level of determination and concrete plans to see the Kyoto Protocol submitted by the President and ratified by the Senate," according to the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, NCC General Secretary.

"We are continuing our decade-long efforts to undergird the scientific consensus about global warming with a religious and moral consensus. We are initiating specific measures to encourage national debate about the international Kyoto treaty," Dr. Campbell said. The NCC is working closely with Roman Catholics, evangelicals and Jewish bodies, all of which are undertaking study and making outreach efforts on the issue of global warming and the Kyoto treaty in particular.

"Our first strategy is a letter to President Clinton urging him to persuade the American people that the Kyoto Protocol to the Climate Convention is in our national interest and will serve our global well-being," Dr. Campbell explained. "We are also reaching out to U.S. senators – all of whom count as constituent members of the NCC communions. Twenty-four heads of communion signed these letters, which is a very strong response and shows that this issue is broadly supported by our churches, including the Orthodox and historic Black communions."

"Archbishop Spyridon, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, put it best in his own letter to the President in which he said 'the Kyoto Protocol calls us to be grateful to God by being responsible to the environment'," Dr. Campbell said.

The Kyoto treaty calls on developed countries to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases that come from burning fossil fuels. The U.S. would be required to reduce 1990 levels by 7 percent over the next 10 to 15 years.

"Although the rich of the world – the industrialized nations – are primarily responsible for the increase of greenhouse gases, it will be the poor in the developing world, and in the industrialized nations, who will be the first affected by heat waves, storms, floods, and disease," Dr. Campbell said.

"In the church, we are structurally tied to people of faith in developing countries," she said. "To everyone else in this debate, they may be outside parties. To us, they are extended family. When they tell us our actions have an adverse impact on them, we need to listen. The U.S. government needs to understand that the faith community will be advocates for the legitimate needs of developing countries."

The four-pronged strategy is the latest evidence that the religious community is becoming increasingly aware and involved in environmental issues as a number of key international events are heating up in the next year. The next U.N. Climate Change Treaty Conference will be held in Buenos Aires in early November, 1998 and the Kyoto Protocol is in the process of being ratified by governments.

"We were told by Vice President Gore that when he arrived in Kyoto, he saw more postcards from the faith community than from environmental organizations," Dr. Campbell said. "This activity is not being generated at the national level. It is as much a local groundswell as it is a national campaign. National religious leadership is responding to the concern from people in the pews across the country who believe this is something on which we should be working."

In addition to the letters, the other parts of the NCC's strategy are:

A strategy packet sent to 540 environmental justice coordinators in NCC communions throughout the country. The packet includes an op-ed article by Dr. Campbell entitled "Global Climate Change: A Religious Issue" and a public service announcement by Maya Angelou on global warming. The network of faith-based environmental justice coordinators is being urged to place the op-ed in their local newspapers and to place the PSA on local TV stations. Congregational materials about climate change are in the packet, including a five-session Bible Study and church bulletin insert, which the coordinators will work on distributing in their local churches. The coordinators also are encouraged to organize a visit of church leaders and members to their U.S. senators to encourage them to act on the issue.

A nine-state effort employing coordinators to organize statewide interfaith efforts. Participants include the communions of the NCC, Roman Catholics, Jews and evangelical Christians. The targeted states include: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. These industrial and agricultural states have been chosen because there is significant concern from industries there likely to be impacted by the Kyoto Protocol.

A Midwest Interfaith Climate Change conference, to be held October 25-26 in Columbus, Ohio for environmental leaders from NCC communions, evangelical Christian, Jewish and Catholic congregations. The conference will provide current information and strategies about global warming and will prepare for the Midwest Interfaith Global Warming Campaign, to continue beyond the conference. It will also prepare religious environmental leaders to bring the message about global warming to their U.S. senators.

Dr. Campbell said part of the NCC's effort focuses on states in the Midwest because "they are important states for the religious community, but also states where industries have not behaved in a way that indicates they believe global warming is a real issue. We are concentrating on states with legitimate needs to be protected and whose senators will be pivotal in the global warming debate. We are going where the problems are and where the votes are."

"Climate change is already evident. Studies show that during this century there has been an increase in worldwide precipitation, a decrease in polar ice caps, and a rise in sea level," Dr. Campbell said. "The first five months of 1998 were the warmest ever."

"Climate change will affect the health and safety of all living things," Dr. Campbell said. "Heat waves will happen more often and diseases that thrive in warmer climates – malaria, encephalitis, cholera, dengue and yellow fevers – are apt to spread."

"Polls have shown that most American people believe that global warming is a reality and that the U.S. government should do something about it," Dr. Campbell said. "We are responding to that sentiment."

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