Shield of the Episcopal Church of the United States Environmental Stewardship Commission Shield of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota
Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Climate Change: A Matter of Faith
by the Rev Wanda Copeland

The following is the text of a presentation that the Rev Wanda Copeland made to the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC) of Minnesota, on February 15, 2001.  The JRLC is a Minnesota-based group sponsored by the MInnesota Catholic Conference, the Minnesota Council of Churches, and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

God said, ďThis is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature for perpetual generations: I set me bow on the clouds and it shall be a token of a covenant between me and the Earth.Ē

There is a temptation for me (and others) to talk about global climate change in terms of numbers Ė number of tons of particulates in the air, average degrees the earth has gotten warmer over the last hundred years, amount of acres of forests lost, etc.

But that is scientific information.  The numbers are for those who track such things Ė the statisticians, the scientists.  It is for us the faithful to bring a different approach to the issue of climate change.

As I say to my congregation regularly, itís about relationship. All that we do as people of faith is about relationship.  That is so well borne out by this passage from the Hebrew Scriptures.  After the flood, God once again initiates a relationship with humans and ďevery living creature.Ē  The earth has been wiped almost clean of all life as a sign of human unfaithfulness and ingratitude.  All that is left is this small life raft with a remnant of the obedient.  Even after such a devastating act as the flood, God seeks to begin again with a new relationship with all who remain.

Our God is one who created all that we know in and from this world in a desire not to spend eternity alone, but with others.  God created, as we read earlier in Genesis, the earth and the sky, the waters and the dry land, the plants and the animals.  And God affirmed that all of creation was GOOD.  God desired us to be in an interdependent, joyous, fruitful garden where even God came to walk in the cool of the evening.  Without recounting the entire book of Genesis, and the whole of salvation history to you, we know as people of faith, that it was the human shortcoming that broke the fullness of this relationship.  It was human desire that pushed aside the dream of what could have been.

And in our desire to find what it means to be fully human, to explore the reaches of where we can go as individuals, we have stretched beyond elasticity the bands that hold us together.  We cannot help but acknowledge that as an American society, even as a world-wide population, that we have not faithfully responded to Godís invitation to live in harmony with the balance of the created world.  Our seeking, our hunger, our selfishness has set us adrift into a sea of uncharted individualism and isolation.  When life is characterized by what I can accumulate, how big is my house, how rugged is my vehicle, how exotic is my wooden furniture, it ceases to be about how I care for the other creatures on this life raft of Earth, and it ceases to be about my love for the one who brought us all life.

Perhaps we are seeing life again for the first time. (Iím not sure if Yogi Berra said that or not.)  Maybe the fog is lifting from our eyes to realize that we are not alone on this spaceship of life.  We are in the midst of something precious, something holy, something unique.  For all the scientific advances we as humans have made, we have yet to replicate the spark that is life.  We can split genes, we can do in vitro fertilization, and we can create artificial wombs.  Yet, we cannot create a sunset.  We have not yet unlocked the wonder of rebirth in Spring.

Life here is precious.  And it being altered, it is being changed.  Thatís where the science comes in.  Those who measure such things tell us that our planet is getting warmer.  Degree days Ė forget it!  The oven in which we all live has been turned up.  In February that might not sound so bad.  But it can be devastating.

The fragile species with which we share this precious orb are melting, or cooking.  Not all of them will disappear, but perhaps the ones we love most will.  Maybe the Ladyslipper goes first.  Perhaps the crow replaces the loon.  Maybe the cockroach pushes aside the box elder bug.  The truth is we donít know the full extent of what lies at the end of the road we are on. But we do know that this is not the road of faith.

The road of faithfulness to the covenant GOD offered to us is a road of compassion, of moderation, of generosity, of tolerance, of life.  As faithful partners in this covenant of life, we are the ones Ė the only ones Ė who can affect such change.  We are the only ones who can stop emitting such large amounts of toxins, we are the only ones who can stop building such large developments that push back wetlands and pave over increasing acres of farmland.  We are the only ones who can stop large-scale industrial farming.

As Minnesotans, we have always prided ourselves for our activism, for our forward thinking.  As an Episcopalian, I am proud to say that I am from Minnesota where we stand in the front of our church on issues of inclusion of Native Americans, advances in handicap accessibility, and womenís rights.

And on a secular level, we Minnesotans have led the nation for years in the area of wilderness preservation with the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness).  Are we now willing to step back from our progressive legacy?  Are we as people of faith willing to abdicate to those who do not understand the blessings our God has bestowed upon us?  Are we going to continue to walk the path of isolation, selfishness and immediacy?  Or are we willing to be challenged by the call of God to live our lives as a witness to others in all that we say and do?  Are we willing to confront our own lifestyles and choices in order that a greater good survive?

Let me be clear.  This path to a more just and sustainable world is complex.  It will require determination, patience, and intentionality.  And it will require speaking up.   Thatís hard for us as Minnesotans, and sometimes for us as people of faith.  But if our life has been transformed by our relationship with our God, we have the privilege to share that with others.  And if we care about the world our God has created and in which we live and move and have our being, we must speak up often and we must live transformed lives.

Let your representative know that you are people of faith and that you care about Godís Creation.

Let the governor know that we demand more than just a tax rebate from our government.

Let your neighbor know that you intend to live a new life.  Let God know that the covenant matters to you.  And may Godís peace fill you with new resolve and strength as you leave this place.

NOTE:  The April 2001 issue of Soundings, the publication of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota, provided coverage of this presentation as part of its coverage of the JRLC's "Day on the Hill" activities in February 2001.

The Rev Wanda Copeland is is the Rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Elk River, MN, and Chair of this Commission (1996-2001).  Wanda and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments to Wanda Copeland or any member of the MEESC, or mail them  to:
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the web site.

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