LET THERE BE SOLAR: Faith communities are taking action--both personal, like installing solar panels on church rooftops, and political--as the moral implications of climate change become more apparent. Image: iStockPhoto
Give us all a reverence for the Earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.
The prayer was recited regularly by a young Sally Bingham growing up in San Francisco.
Only years later, as an ordained Episcopal Church priest, did Bingham realize something was amiss with the childhood supplication.
"There was this terrible hypocrisy," she said. "This disconnect between what we said we believed in and how we behaved."
This bothered her for years until 1998 when, in her 50s, she finally took action.
Bingham founded what today is Interfaith Power and Light, a national campaign promoting "a religious response to global warming" that works with 10,000 congregations in 38 states.
"Climate change is one of the most challenging moral issues of our time," she said in an Earth Day sermon at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral where she is now Reverend Canon for the Environment.
Faith communities around the world are taking action - both personal and political - as the moral implications of climate change become more apparent.
While politics is split on climate change and governments worldwide have failed to pass meaningful climate legislation, faith communities are becoming a powerful force in the transition to green energy. By focusing on values rather than politics, they are transcending partisan pigeonholes and taking care of what they see as God's creation, and the people - particularly the poor - who depend on it.
"If you are called to love your neighbor, you don't pollute your neighbor's air," Bingham said.
More than 300 evangelical leaders have signed the Evangelical Environmental Network's climate call to action, including mega-church leaders like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. A 2007 poll commissioned by the group found that 84 percent of evangelicals support legislation to reduce carbon emissions.
While mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics and Reformed Jews may have a stronger environmental presence, according to religious political scholar John C. Green, evangelicals - 26 percent of the U.S. population - are the most influential religious environmental faction.
"As evangelicals become more vocal on climate change, they have the potential to alter the position of the Republican party," said Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics for Religious Studies at the University of Akron and senior fellow at Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
But it's not there yet.
Religious political sway wasn't enough to push climate legislation through Congress this year. And a Pew Research Center Poll of 3,000 respondents found that most religious environmentalists do not derive their green leanings from their faith. Solid majorities of all major religious traditions favor strong environmental laws and regulations, according to the poll, and just under half of those who attend worship services regularly say their clergy speaks out on the topic. Yet the poll found that only six percent said their environmental views were primarily influenced by religion. Education and the media were more influential.
The poll, conducted over the summer, had a margin of error of 2.5 percent.
Still, Dan Lashof, Climate Center director for the National Resources Defense Council, sees results from political action in faith communities.
"It has a significant impact," said Lashof. "Faith communities put a high priority on ensuring that the United States makes a fair contribution to global efforts to address the impacts of climate change in developing countries."
President Obama's 2011 budget reflects the religious influence, Lashof said, with $1.9 billion requested for international climate adaptation. The U.S. Senate this summer released 2011 budget recommendations for over $1.2 billion in "fast start" investments for developing countries to address the impacts of climate change, speed a shift to clean energy and reduce tropical deforestation - part of the U.S. commitment to the Copenhagen Accord.