While most faith communities are vocal on their opinions about same sex marriage and abortion rights, the Environmental Coalition of Faith Communities (ECOFaith) met at the Trinity Episcopal Church on May 26 to discuss what they see as the most pressing moral dilemma of the generation: global climate change. Lois Capps, who helped create ECOFaith in 2007, spoke about needing the energy and voice of religious groups to aid in her environmental efforts in Washington. Sally Bingham gave a keynote address that used scriptural and moral arguments for why people of all faiths should work to protect the environment. Their mission is to put faith communities at the forefront of environmental reform by educating congregations on how to live more ecologically conscious lives while making places of worship more energy efficient.
Dr. Karen Quimby explained how ECOFaith had its beginnings in a meeting in Capps’ office in 2005, where evangelists voiced their concern that their faith had been co-opted by the political right, who ignored concerns about poverty or the environment. After finding similar concerns from various faith groups in Santa Barbara County, Capps put together “Faith Day,” a meeting between 25 leaders of different faiths and Democrats in D.C. who said that their own spiritual beliefs are what inspired them to become public servants. They discussed how to mix beliefs with politics without violating the separations of church and state.
After a sermon from Reverend Emanuel Cleaver about the importance of caring for the environment, the group returned to California and, with the help of the Santa Barbara qqq Community Environmental Council (CEC) and a grant from the James S. Bower Foundation, founded ECOFaith.
Dr. Ed Bastian, President of ECOFaith, explained how the pilot project is a four-step process involving the Grace Lutheran Church, Second Baptist Church, Holy Cross Catholic Church, and the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara. First, they revisit scripture and find new interpretations to find moral imperatives for protecting the environment. Next, experts are brought in to audit and determine how the group fares with energy usage and make a plan for how to make the places of worship as eco-friendly as possible. Finally, a budget and action plan is created for how to proceed.
After the success of the first four groups, which now have energy efficient bulbs and water saving toilets and sinks in the bathrooms, ECOFaith wants to expand to new faiths. Eventually, Bastian explained, they want to make it to all spiritual groups in the area.
In her speech, Capps spoke how Democrats usually avoid reaching out to faith-based communities due to what the see from the religious right. The difficulty, she said, is that many hold to the old tradition that the earth is man’s subject, while others come from areas where their livelihood and jobs depend on coal and outdated fossil fuels. She noted how she agrees with the Clean Energy and Security Act, which aims to create new jobs in renewable energy, but has already been watered down a great deal just to get past the committee. “We could have used a stronger moral voice,” she said, “and we need support from the faith community to get it past Congress and the Senate.”
Reverend Sally Bingham, president of the California chapter of Interfaith Power and Light, spoke on the role religion plays in dictating moral voice and leading the direction for faith communities to act. “Clergy preaching environmentalism from the pulpit,” she said in her keynote address, “will have a greater impact than science or politicians.” She said that everyone must work together to fix the problem and argued that there needs to be a coalition between environmentalists, business, faith, and science.
She continued by giving moral arguments for why faith communities should recognize global climate change as the biggest challenge in modern days, and related it to Christian involvement in the abolition and civil rights movements. She spoke of the universal belief of all faiths that people are a part of something larger than themselves, and they have a duty to protect it. “It is insulting to God to continue to destroy creation, and immoral of us to destroy life sustaining systems,” she said.
Although she gave many frightening statistics, Bingham remains hopeful that enough people are aware of the problem now to bring about a change. She is excited that spiritual dialogues about the environment are now replacing talking about abortion and same sex marriages, and that many congregations have green teams in place. She concluded by urging people to continue voting for legislators that will fight for environmental causes.
The event organizers were pleasantly surprised by the turnout at the event, which was completely filled with few empty seats remaining. The CEC, who co-hosted the event, was there to give energy efficient light bulbs to anyone who pledged to follow the steps they provided to live efficient and fossil free lifestyles.