The United Church of Christ General Synod took definitive action on climate justice with three resolutions in late June. It endorsed two proposals currently before Congress – the Green New Deal and the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act – and encouraged churches to avoid cups, plates and other items made of plastic foam.
Several resources are available to help UCC members and churches act on those resolutions: two videos of encouragement from famous scientists, plus ways to take action to support concrete solutions.
A common message is emerging: religious voices, including voices from the UCC, can make a difference.
Climate experts on why we matter
One video salute comes from Bill McKibben, environmental studies professor at Middlebury (Vt.) College, founder of 350.org and author of a dozen widely read books, including Earth and The End of Nature. His childhood church was Hancock UCC, Congregational, in Lexington, Mass.
“As someone who grew up in the UCC, let me just say how extraordinarily happy and grateful I am to get the news that y’all have endorsed the Green New Deal,” McKibben says, responding to the General Synod’s June 24 vote to back a congressional proposal that charts a strategy to fight climate change. His 35-second greeting was posted on the UCC YouTube channel and Facebook page immediately after the Synod vote. “This is a big deal, the first legislation that’s on the same scale as this crisis that we face, and so it’s really important to have not just economists and scientists lining up behind it but people of faith as well, who can remind us what the real bottom line is. Thank you so much.”
Another climate scholar, Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University, agrees that the voices of ordinary people, including religious ones, can make a difference. Her 2018 TED Talk, “The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It,” has been viewed more than 1.6 million times. She led a May 2019 webinar for the UCC and a brief excerpt from it is available on the UCC YouTube channel UCC Environmental Justice Facebook page, The Pollinator.
In her UCC video, Hayhoe says one of the Green New Deal’s biggest contributions so far is that it has the nation talking. “If people don’t talk about it people don’t care,” she says. “And if we don’t care, why would we want to fix it?”
‘Pollution drives climate disruption, health disparities and poverty’
Faith concerns can fit naturally into climate justice discussions, said UCC Environmental Justice Minister Brooks Berndt. “The twin crises of climate change and worsening inequality evoke inevitable questions of why and how we must act,” Berndt said. “This is the wheelhouse of faith, and it is fundamental to the important role faith communities have to play in advancing the Green New Deal.”
Anyone who has followed the UCC’s General Synod over the years is unlikely to be surprised that it is the first U.S. Christian body to endorse the Green New Deal. “One of the hallmarks of the UCC is that we are early adapters,” Berndt said. “For us, it is not fundamentally about setting a trend or even being first. It is about acting on faith to do what is just and right. In facing the twin crises of climate change and inequality, the Green New Deal is what justice demands. Our calling is to be vessels in actualizing that justice.”
“I am huge fan of the Green New Deal and the minds that put it together,” said the Rev. Michael Malcom, senior pastor of Atlanta’s Rush Memorial Congregational UCC. “However, the thing that made me champion this resolution was the intersectionality of all justice issues. It is my belief that environmental justice is the solution to climate change as well as all other society ills. I believe that pollution exacerbates every ill we have as a planet. Pollution is what drives climate disruption, health disparities and poverty. Clear up the pollution! Dr. Gerald Durley asks, ‘How can you allow for them to dance and shout in the pews, but they can't breathe in public?’”
Malcom is also executive director of Alabama Interfaith Power and Light, currently taking part in a Renew Alabama Environmental Justice tour. “This tour goes through the entire state of Alabama, district by district,” Malcom said. “Our goal is to educate and provide tools to faith leaders, students and the environmentally conscious, to fight for environmental justice, which is a cleaner climate.”
5 steps and 3 steps toward faith in action
United Church of Christ congregations looking for “to do” lists can find one for each of the congressional proposals endorsed by Synod – including news of a July 11 webinar featuring a prominent young leader.
In a July post on the UCC environmental justice blog, Berndt shares “5 Things You Can Do to Support the Green New Deal”:
- Get and share faith-based stories, videos and graphics from The Pollinator’s Facebook page.
- Join a July 11 UCC webinar on mobilizing faith communities. It will feature Varkini Prakash, executive director of the youthful Sunrise Movement, the Rev. Brooks Berndt and the Rev. Michael Malcom.
- Write an op-ed or letter to the editor about faith-rooted support for the Deal.
- Get tips on preaching and teaching about it.
- With major elections ahead in 2020, plan a candidate forum that addresses the Green New Deal.
The other Synod-endorsed proposal before Congress, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, is a bipartisan proposal to put a fee on fossil fuels and pay out the money collected in equal shares to American households. In a July 3 post, UCC environmental justice blogger Jim Martin urged every local UCC church to take three steps in support of that Act:
- Study climate change,
- Study the benefits of the Act, and
- Ask your member of Congress to support it.
Martin’s blog post includes links and resources.
Meantime, the Synod action on the Green New Deal has been getting public attention. On Twitter, soon after the Synod’s Green New Deal vote, McKibben (305,000 followers) and Hayhoe (110,000) both Tweeted about it. So did the Sunrise Movement (100,000): “Incredible news from @unitedchurch. We hope more religious institutions will join them in raising the moral call for a #GreenNewDeal. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’”