Episcopalians advocate for protecting God’s creation at Peoples Climate March and beyond

By Lynette Wilson and David Paulsen
Posted May 1, 2017
Episcopalians Caring for Creation

Esther Powell, left, and Dawn Tesorero hold a banner of the Diocese of Massachusetts’ Episcopalians Caring for Creation during the Peoples Climate March on April 29 in Washington, D.C. Photo: The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians from across the United States joined tens of thousands of people on April 29 for the Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C., and for hundreds of sister marches in cities around the world.

Braving sweltering heat in the nation’s capital, marchers rallied for action against climate change amid fear that the White House will reverse progress made on the issue under former President Barack Obama. Episcopalians were part of a large, diverse faith-based group of marchers who saw it as their role to make the moral case for protecting God’s creation.

“What really impressed me … was the incredible passion of the people, of all ages,” said McKelden Smith, who helped Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City organize a bus trip to Washington to participate in the march. “It felt like an unstoppable moral force in the streets, and that was very moving to me.”

The climate march came one week after the March for Science, which followed the Native Nation’s Rise march, the Women’s March and other prominent marches and demonstrations joined by Episcopalians over the last nine months.

Grace Church group

A group from Grace Church in Amherst, Massachusetts, participated in the April 29 Peoples Climate March. From left, Chris and DeAnne Riddle, Lucy and John Robinson and the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas. Photo courtesy of Bullitt-Jonas.

On April 29, many Episcopalians who participated in the march joined Keepers of Faith, one of several subsets of marchers as grouped by the march’s organizers. Among Keepers of Faith were Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians of all stripes, said Shantha Ready Alonso, executive director of Creative Justice Ministries.

Alonso’s organization works with 38 Christian denominations, including the Episcopal Church, to provide resources and guidance for activism on environmental justice issues. The number of Christians who lent their “moral voice” to the Saturday’s march was overwhelming and inspiring, she said.

“That was extremely heartening to see how many people were willing to pray with their feet and put their bodies on the line in 91-degree weather to show that we care,” Alonso said, adding that she expects parishioners and congregations to turn this energy into action back in their home communities.

The sense of urgency is high among activists. As President Donald Trump was taking the oath of office in January, references to “climate change” and “global warming” disappeared from the White House website. Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. He appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency gutted in his proposed budget. Trump has made it easier for oil companies to drill in national parks. On April 25, Trump signed an executive order that could open national monuments to drilling, mining and logging.

The effects of climate change can be seen across the United State from droughts in the Southwest to loss of land to sea-level rise along the Gulf Coast to wildfires in the Northwest and the Rockies to an increase in the occurrence and severity of hurricanes on the East Coast.

Church World Service held a vigil April 29 at the United Methodist Building across from Capitol Hill before the start of the march. Among the speakers was Episcopal Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus, who in December 2015 was part of a delegation that represented the presiding bishop and the church in Paris at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP21. It was at COP21 where 196 parties created the agreement that sets out to decrease carbon emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Andrus also had participated in the previous Peoples Climate March, held in 2014 in New York City. At this year’s march, “there was a similar spirit of a lot of hope and positive energy. I felt a lot of determination and resolute spirit from the enormous crowds.”

Marc Andrus

Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus was among the Episcopalians who participated April 29 in the Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C. Andrus also spoke at a Church World Service vigil before the march. Photo courtesy of Marc Andrus, via Twitter.

At the Church World Service vigil, Andrus identified three important reasons the Episcopal Church will be at the forefront of movement toward a solution to climate change. First, it is part of a world body, the Anglican Communion, and therefore “poised to be in a position, along with partners, to uniquely address the world’s climate change.” The Episcopal Church General Convention also has identified environmental justice as one of the church’s three primary issues in the current triennium. That emphasis can be seen in the EcoJustice Weekend his diocese is hosting on May 19 and 20 with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s participation.

And Andrus noted that, if the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris Agreement, many of the agreement’s goals still could be met through the work of “subnational” bodies, from cities to churches, and the Episcopal Church likely would be deeply involved in such efforts.

Individual Episcopalians can make a difference, too, not just by participating in marches but by advocating policy changes, said Jayce Hafner, the Episcopal Church’s domestic policy analyst in the Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations.

“It’s incredibly inspiring to see so many Episcopalians engaged in the Peoples Climate Marches across the United States. We Episcopalians represent a critical perspective in this climate effort through highlighting the intersections of poverty and the environment and bringing new partners to the table,” Hafner said.

“While marching is important, it is only the beginning of how we – as Episcopalians – can mitigate climate change. Our next step should be undertaking robust policy advocacy at local and national levels and calling on our elected leaders to pass climate change legislation,” she added.

The Office of Government Relations represents the policy priorities of the Episcopal Church to the U.S. government. It also represents the Church as a leader in ecumenical, interfaith and secular coalitions dedicated to mitigating climate change and addressing poverty and environmental justice issues in the United States. It is a member of Creation Justice Ministries, the US Climate Action Network, and the We Are the Arctic campaign. It also co-organizes the Presiding Bishop’s annual delegations to the United Nations climate negotiations. The office also provides Episcopalians with advocacy tools.

“I strongly encourage Episcopalians to sign up for the Episcopal Public Policy Network to receive regular alerts on key advocacy opportunities and educational resources that equip congregations to raise their voices to lawmakers. This way, action in the streets can be supported and supplemented by critical conversation and relationship building with decision-makers – we need demonstration and dialogue to move the needle, and as Episcopalians, we’re well-equipped to undertake both,” said Hafner.

– Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service. David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the news service.


Comments (17)

  1. Ronald Davin says:

    The sky is falling. The sky is falling ! Remember when the ozone hole was going to kill us all !

    1. McKelden Smith says:

      Yes. The world took action on the ozone crisis based on the science and global disaster was averted. It was hardly a fake crisis.

  2. Bill Louis says:

    This is so tiresome. Al Gore is smiling and his bank account is swelling. Bishops are elected by clergy and congregations pay their salaries. If you don’t agree with this kind of activism then stop contributing otherwise sit back and let it happen. I suspect my comment will be deleted just like a few others that mention funding the Diocese.

    1. Gsil Warnecke says:

      Your comment wasn’t deleted. I read it on an Episcopal Church news site on my mobile phone. Thanks for your input. I do want my church to stand up for good and moral things like protecting the earth and upholding the dignity of all people whether one agrees with their beliefs or not.

  3. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I have no problem with the Episcopal News Service regarding censorship since most of my own admittedly harsh commentary in recent weeks has passed the muster. But this latest ENS article concerning the so-called Peoples Climate March is so tendentious in its snide misuse of inaccurate and one-sided phrases as to be downright laughable. The very term “climate change denier” is misleading. The examples given of “the effects of climate change” are scientifically questionable. “The intersections of poverty and the environment” is a meaningless expression. The term “environmental justice” is equally out-of-place because it can be defined anyway you want and is not exclusively owned by those who headed to Washington last weekend. I could go on. Fact is that this kind of sloppy argumentation about environmental matters is what takes away all credibility from those who routinely engage in it and many Episcopalians (including ENS) unfortunately seem to be among the worst offenders.

  4. David Horwath says:

    Did the marchers drive to Washington in cars using gasoline from an oil refinery? Did they ride buses using diesel from an oil refinery? Did they fly in airplanes using jet fuel from an oil refinery? Did they wear any polyester clothes which is made from oil refinery products? Did they question the false statement about increased hurricanes? Did they question the sea level rise which has been going on since the end of the ice ages and has not increased in rate of change? I suggest that you start questioning the apocalyptic statements. If you still believe in man made climate change, then stop using anything from oil and start living like the Amish.

    1. Sharon Wilson says:

      I disagree with your assertion that those who use fossil fuels should not advocate for addressing climate change. I understand the science of climate change and atmospheric chemistry which describes the effect of burning fossil fuels and putting excess carbon dioxide into our atmosphere; it leads to (and has already) stronger storms, rising average temperatures, sea level rise, acidification of our oceans, melting of glaciers and arctic ice, all with deleterious effects on humans and other living creatures and plants. Therefore, I advocate a change in energy systems to one that does not produce carbon emissions. Eventually we will change, so why not sooner than later? Yes, I use fossil fuels as does everyone in our society; that gives me standing to advocate for a different system. Meanwhile, I minimize my fossil fuel use however I can.

    2. Dick Garber says:

      As a practical matter we often feel bound to deal with the here and now as best we can according to the tools available to us. But, having children and grand children, I feel a personal obligation to find new and better tools, based in faith and science, to improve their prospects and their futures. I don’t know if the Amish have the “right” answers but I do know that a defeatist, know nothing approach to climate change will surely diminish the prospects of my children and grand children. We are called to be stewards of God’s creation, not the stewards of the Koch brothers empire on earth. Bless the marchers and their aspirations for our common future.

    3. Maria Miller says:

      I concur…

  5. David Horwath says:

    Sharon, Dick – Do yourself and everybody else a favor by answering questions instead of immediately calling me names – defeatist, know-nothing, steward of the Koch Empire. You missed denier and flat-earther. We have had 40+ years of apocalyptic predictions ranging from the population bomb to Gore’s complete melting of the Arctic Ice by 2014 to no snow to more frequent and stronger hurricanes and tornados. Somehow none of them came true and the people who made the wild claims never apologized for being wrong. Do not use the fear approach to policy making. The global temperature cycles have been repeating for thousands of years (see Roman Warming , Medieval Warming, Little Ice Age, etc.). Please answer why the earth’s climate changes, and after that you can determine the effect of CO2, but don’t just call me names.

    1. John E Travers says:

      Just a bit thin skinned, are we, David …?

  6. Terry Francis says:

    Dick, aren’t the unborn also part of God’s creation? I guess defending to the very end a woman’s “right to choose” trumps that part of God’s creation. And if conservatives are stewards of the Koch brothers’ empire then you on the progressive left are surely disciples of George Soros and his ambitions.

    1. Maria Miller says:

      PREACH!!! I Echo Your Sentiments Exactly!
      Funny how it seems so many in the Episcopal church adamantly support a Woman’s Right To Choose (Pro-Abortion) but vehemently ignore the unborn’s rights or even acknowledge that the unborn are God’s Creation also… “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
      Guess now I’m labeled a bigot or a sexist for not supporting a woman’s right to choose.

  7. mike geibel says:

    As we advocate proactive measures to address rising global temperatures, we should be careful to lower the temperature of our comments. Demeaning the person or opinion of others who disagree is rarely a persuasive argument on earthly issues.

    Everyone has the right to advocate a particular position on climate change without ridicule. Actions speak louder than words, and Mr. Howrath’s comments rightly point out that advocates of alternative energy systems like myself seldom seem to “practice what you preach,” not because the tools are unavailable, but because the costs are rather daunting. I must plead guilty to the accusation.

    Actions do speak louder than words, which is why I give little credence to marches or the political posturing by the Episcopal Church on climate change in the name of religion. ENS recently posted a “statement” of Episcopal Bishops opposing President Trump’s Executive Order on climate change, but I doubt that very many of these same bishops abandoned their combustion engine cars, ceased airline travel, forbid the use of gasoline powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weed-eaters to maintain Church property, or mounted capital campaigns to install solar panels and wind generators on the roofs of churches or on Episcopal seminaries. There are means and tools currently available on an individual basis that if adopted, would better demonstrate one’s commitment to addressing perceived climate change than a protest march or a political statement. Quite frankly, the weekly protests, riots, name-calling and vitriolic media attacks on this and current political issues have become tiresome, and I believe are counter productive to reasoned dialogue on solutions that could be mutually beneficial to both sides of the debate.

  8. Doug Desper says:

    You know, these phrases were appropriate during the Prayers of the People in our Church last Sunday. These phrases speak to the issues at hand:

    Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.

    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 vast funds used to hire paid marchers among the others, the untold fossil fuels used to travel around the country, the mountains of paper and supplies used to push a message, and yes, the acres of litter left behind Climate Marchers in various venues all work against the cause. In fact an air of hypocrisy is at hand when speakers and protesters waste huge resources to try the patience of their neighbors. Awareness raising the goal? Make the vision of a healthier Earth unfold in your community through noticeable public acts of stewardship.

    Maybe Earth Day 2018 can be freer of the social engineering agendas, contain less paid protester money, and instead be a massive volunteer day in local communities. How many forests need downed limbs collected? How many riversides and beaches need cleaning up? The possibilities are endless. And, frankly, they require and mean much more than yelling and holding a sign.

  9. Rosemary Bagin says:

    While all of us in our local communities can do good things to help the environment, it will take all the governments of this planet with the financial and scientific resources to solve such big issues. That is what the “Paris Accords” is about. Therefore to NEGLECT to actively participate to get our governments’ involvement (for those who are physically able) is a SIN OF OMMISION. I don’t mean to say that if I wasn’t in DC on April 29th, it was a sin, just that being involved Marches helps make these issues newsworthy.

  10. mike geibel says:

    Dear Ms. Bagin:
    So if I don’t participate in protest marches, I’m going to Hell. To paraphrase Huckleberry Finn, “I’ve met the people who say they’re going to Heaven, and I don’t think I’ll try for it.”

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