Why do we organize people of faith?
When it comes to environmental destruction and climate change, we need meaningful change at all the different levels of society. That means we need to bring many more people into the environmental and climate justice movement.
All of our faiths/values say that God/the divine cares for the earth and people. That God is on the side of people who are vulnerable or marginalized. That people of faith take action in favor of God/the planet/people. Action looks different for different faiths/regions.
And: people of faith have always played a key role in successful social movements. We bring powerful moral values and authority to make the world more just and compassionate. We bring people and resources together, and we make up about 84% of the world’s population. That’s why GreenFaith organizes people of faith.
What do people of faith bring to movements that is unique?
- Faith leaders hold moral power and are listened to by their congregants and many people in power.
- Around the world politicians need support from religious leaders in order to get elected.
- People of faith have often shaped how the majority of society define what is right and what is wrong. If people of faith, in large masses, continue to say that building new fossil fuel projects and funding those projects is wrong, that sentiment will be adopted by many more people. Resisting fossil fuels will become the norm.
- People of faith are already part of communities and congregations that can be organized.
- People of faith are able to look inside of ourselves and find spirit or “God” to sustain us in the work.
- Bringing people of faith into a secular campaign for climate justice can have a huge impact on the outcome. We legitimize campaigns. We are trusted spokespeople. We assist already existing coalitions who are fighting for climate justice when we bring our people with us.
How can we best engage with people of faith around action on climate?
We can best engage with other people of faith and spirit around climate by starting with the religious and spiritual teachings and resources that ground our collective work in faith.
Here are some starting points from a variety of faiths, listed in alphabetical order.
Christianity: The Bible (the most sacred text in Christianity) teaches that God created all things and said it was good, and then God told humans to take care of the planet and other people. We’re meant to take care of the most vulnerable members of our world, and that means working for climate justice.
Earth-based Spirituality: Every part of the earth carries the divine in it. We are all connected to each other and we must protect each other and all creatures. The earth, waters, creatures, plants – everything matters. Anything that hurts creation must be stopped. One resource here.
Islam: In the Koran (the holy text for Muslims), the Prophet (peace be upon him) teaches that the earth and all that is belongs to God. To be faithful, we must take care of the earth and other people, and allowing climate injustice (which harms the most vulnerable) is haram. More resources on Islam can be found here.
Judaism: Jewish teachings are rooted in the relationship between the divine and G-d’s chosen people, a community meant to follow the Law and the teachings of prophets and rabbis. In this context, the phrase tikkun olam is understood to mean “repairing the world” and has become synonymous with social action and social justice activities, including climate justice. More resources on Judaism can be found here.
What teaching or resource guides you in working for climate justice?
How do we utilize our faith to the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and other fossil fuel projects?
In order for the EACOP to get built, the government has to approve the permits, people need to sign away their land rights, and banks and financial institutions need to give Total the money that they need to finance the construction.
This project is wrong. It pollutes the air, the water, and the farmland that many depend on for food and subsistence.
When we organize the religious leaders in the communities that are threatened by construction to understand the health and climate impacts that the construction will have on their communities, and get them to speak out against the project, it will be a lot harder for the government officials to give their permission. It will also make individual land owners pause before they sign away their rights to their lands. We can speak about this injustice in the terms of our religions. People of faith who share in our spiritual beliefs around the world will also be moved to take a stand in solidarity with the people of Tanzania and Uganda. For example, when a Pastor, or an Imam, or a lay person talk about why they’re resisting the pipeline, they can cite a verse from the Bible or the Quran, and Christians and Muslims across the world will understand why they must be in solidarity with the fight also.
Examples of Faith Leaders who have had a big impact
Wangari Matthai (Kenya/Christian/Earth-based)
Wangari Maathai’s story begins in Ihithe, a small village in Kenya’s highlands where she was born in 1940. Wangari’s parents had converted to Christianity, and they were part of the Kikuyu tribe, one of the main Indigenous people groups who live in Kenya. Although Wangari grew up Catholic, her family’s traditional Kikuyu beliefs still informed how they lived and thought about God. The Kikuyu believe that God, called “Ngai” in the Kikuyu language, dwells on Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain on the African continent. The Kikuyu built their homes to face Mount Kenya, which reminded them daily where all good things come from.
Later, she started the Green Belt Movement, an organized effort to plant trees led mostly by poor, rural Kenyan women…. “Planting trees is a kind of ecological form of civil disobedience,” Wangari later reflected. She faced all kinds of resistance from the politicians in charge who only wanted economic development, the kind of development that would lead to their own pockets being lined with money… Collectively, Wangari and the many women who joined her have now planted over 51 million trees in Kenya and many other countries.
In Kenya, a tree is a sign of peace, so it’s especially fitting that Wangari received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of her work. In her acceptance speech, she explained that many conflicts around the world are actually caused by ecological crises. Planting trees and paying attention to the balance in nature helps reduce major conflicts that often turn violent. (Excerpted from https://www.holytroublemakers.com/wangari)
Chipko Movement (India/Hindu)
The Chipko movement, now known worldwide, grew out of Gandhian nonviolent social action or satyagraha, “truth-force.” After Indian independence, Mira Behn and Sarala Behn, English women who had been close co-workers of Mahatma Gandhi, settled in different areas of the Himalayas. As they worked for village development they identified growing environmental problems. They were joined by Gandhian activists Sunderlal Bahuguna, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and others who in the 1960s formed the Uttarakhand region Sarvodaya movement or “upliftment of all,” applying the Gandhian principle of swadeshi or self-reliance. Most of the activism by this movement included barring the cutting of trees and “ordaining” the trees as priests in order to protect them. Chipko workers also began reforestation projects early on. The movement spread through the Himalayan region and then to other parts of India, adapting its methods to other cultural and ecological contexts. (Excerpted from https://fore.yale.edu/World-Religions/Hinduism/Engaged-Projects/Chipko-Movement)
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (United States/Black Christian)
With the goal of redeeming “the soul of America” through nonviolent resistance, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established in 1957 to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South (King, “Beyond Vietnam,” 144). Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the organization drew on the power and independence of black churches to support its activities. “This conference is called,” King wrote, with fellow ministers C. K. Steele and Fred Shuttlesworth in January 1957, “because we have no moral choice, before God, but to delve deeper into the struggle—and to do so with greater reliance on non-violence and with greater unity, coordination, sharing and Christian understanding” (Papers 4:95).
The catalyst for the formation of SCLC was the Montgomery bus boycott. Following the success of the boycott in 1956, Bayard Rustin wrote a series of working papers to address the possibility of expanding the efforts in Montgomery to other cities throughout the South. In these papers, he asked whether an organization was needed to coordinate these activities. After much discussion with his advisors, King invited southern black ministers to the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration (later renamed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The ministers who attended released a manifesto in which they called upon white southerners to “realize that the treatment of Negroes is a basic spiritual problem.… Far too many have silently stood by” (Papers 4:105). In addition, they encouraged black Americans “to seek justice and reject all injustice” and to dedicate themselves to the principle of nonviolence “no matter how great the provocation” (Papers 4:104; 105). (Excerpts and full citations here: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/southern-christian-leadership-conference-sclc)