I have the privilege of attending The Global Climate Action Summit this year, representing Sojourners as we plot the course for our climate justice advocacy work. This meeting brings together influencers and leaders from around the world to serve as a launch pad for deeper worldwide multi-sector commitments that align with the Paris Climate Agreement.
But the most remarkable moment over these last few days didn’t occur in a conference hall, it occurred while I was sitting on a ledge in Grace Cathedral, a few inches from the floor.
Grace Cathedral, along with several partners, hosted a worship service as a kickoff to the Global Summit. Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, a climate champion, a retired Baptist pastor, and the new chairman of the board of Interfaith Power and Light, participated in the service and in a small reception after in a room connected to the sanctuary.
I made my way to him after the service to shake hands and exchange pleasantries that preachers in my tradition often do, “Elder! So, good to see you again.”
He responded in turn, “Bishop, I am always glad to be in the company of a young public theologian.”
We both laughed at this formality which characterizes preachers’ interactions with one and another and began to catch up, talking family, upcoming conferences, and travel schedules.
I decided to end the night early and excused myself to head back to my hotel. But before I could, Rev. Dr. Durley called me over to sit with him, on that ledge, in a corner, a few inches from the floor.
It was in that moment that we discussed the justice movement, his work with Dr. King in the Civil Rights Movement, the current administration, the midterm elections, and naturally, our conversation came around to climate justice — the biblical imperative to be good stewards over God’s creation.
I wondered out loud why people in the church don’t seem to care about climate justice.
An interesting question considering the climate summit unearths all the reasons people should care. A green economy is a means for achieving sustainable development and can serve as an engine for eradicating poverty. Faith leaders working with the public and private sector can participate in efforts that generate good jobs, spur global development, and leave no one left behind.
These views are widely accepted, but even with this information there is a group within the church that remains uninspired and disinterested
I can understand why this issue is not top of mind for justice advocates and citizens of the U.S. in general. In communities of color, like the one I grew up in, people are focused on other issues that impact them day-to-day — jobs, safety, healthcare, and family.
But during that conversation with Rev. Dr. Durley, I realized that there is one compelling reason that Christians should all care about the earth — generational legacy. We have to create a legacy of and a world that is safe for future generations to breathe in, live in, and thrive in.
Proverbs 13:22 says: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous. This world that we are stewards over is our inheritance to our children’s children."
We must take this verse seriously. If we do not care, our unborn children will suffer the consequences of our indifference.
Our apathy and indifference towards matters related to justice will give birth to future burdens and challenges for our children. Our apathy and indifference to our earth exposes a gap in our discipleship.
We would do well to not only think about those who will come after us but to remember those who are struggling today because of climate change — climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our society.
We must also think about the people who came before us, the people who laid the foundation for the justice work we do today.
I asked Rev. Durley what he thinks this new generation of progressive, social media savvy activists needed to hear from him. “Grab the baton,” he said.
“Lead this movement now, it is your own.”