One Sunday about 20 years ago, I was sitting in a pew in the Episcopal church my family and I had joined when we moved to San Francisco. I had an epiphany. Yes! Right in the church with my eyes closed praying for a reverence for the earth. Eyes popped open; I sat up realizing that I and all the people around me, including any who said they loved God and their neighbor and were praying for the earth, were hypocrites. We needed to get off our knees and really show a reverence for the earth along with behaving as if we loved our neighbors.
You see, I was on the board of a national environmental organization and I knew what humans were doing to the planet. How could we say we love God and our neighbors and then proceed to pollute their air, water, and land? We could not! And in that moment I decided that I would proclaim to the Episcopal Church that we have a moral responsibility to protect creation. In the mid-eighties and early nineties, few, if anyone, had heard a clergy person speak from the pulpit about what humans were doing to the planet.
It wasn’t long before I entered college (I didn’t go right after high school the way most people do). Then, I went on to seminary to study the disconnect between what we Christians say we believe in and how we behave toward our neighbors and our environment (the God-given garden). I was ordained a priest in 1997 and, at the same time, founded a nonprofit, The Regeneration Project, which now is home to the Interfaith Power and Light Campaign, a religious response to global warming. With agreement from my board that climate change is the most challenging issue of our time, we have focused on that campaign since 2000. We have reached over 18,000 congregations and we are an affiliated network with 40 state programs.
Our goal is to raise awareness of the moral responsibility that all people, but particularly people of faith, have to protect the vulnerable among us. Those who contribute the least to the problem, but suffer the most, are worthy of protection. For 15 years, we have preached this message to an enthusiastic audience. A little over one year ago, Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si, confirmed our message and gave a big boost to the Interfaith Power and Light campaign.
We are grateful to the pope for amplifying this message for a modern audience. This will help to inform millions more people about the climate crisis and the duty of the faith community to do all in its power to help respond meaningfully to the problem.
I am very hopeful that the warming trend will stop and humanity will correct itself by showing more reverence for the sacred earth. The numbers of people who are now aware that the climate is changing due to human activity are growing rapidly. In December 2015, when 190 countries came together to agree that, as a global society, we had to work together to right this wrong, my hope for creation took flight. From then on the Paris treaty, coupled with Pope Francis’s message, has inspired me to keep moving forward, never to give up, and to keep looking toward that light that shines so brightly when we are doing the right thing.