By Jayce Hafner 4-28-2016

I’m a Christian, but I’m not a natural evangelizer.

Talking about my faith has never come easily to me, and I prefer to quietly live my beliefs rather than speak about them. Even as a legislative advocate for the Episcopal Church, I am more at ease discussing policy ramifications than quoting scripture.

Still, one urgent policy issue in particular has forced me to reconsider my distaste for religious language and challenged me to voice my faith. Galvanized by the urgency of this challenge, I’m ready to evangelize about climate change.

Members of the Episcopal Church from around the world are suffering from the dramatic and damaging impacts of our changing climate. Its harshest effects are startlingly discriminatory, often affecting low-income and marginalized people. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti, stands on the front lines of climate change. Haiti — home to the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church — and our Haitian brothers and sisters are suffering from a severe, relentless drought. As the people of Haiti largely depend upon agriculture for their livelihoods, climate change is threatening the lifeblood of their island-home.

Travel nearly 5,000 miles northwest to the steppes of the Brooks Range in Alaska, and you will find a majority-Episcopal Alaskan Native community of Gwich’in people. The Gwich’in hunt the Porcupine caribou herd for their daily subsistence, but warming arctic temperatures have stimulated new species of plant growth that discourages the caribou from returning to local hunting grounds, leaving the Gwich’in food insecure as winter approaches.

I could go on to tell the story of an Anglican bishop from the Solomon Islands who wades out to his ancestor's grave because it is now submerged by the Pacific tides. I could discuss the intrepid reconstruction efforts of the Diocese of Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But you get the picture.

Choose a region of the world, and you will find a human community that is endangered by climate change. Look more closely at the landscape, and you will find irreparable and systemic disruptions to the ecological community as well. As citizens of planet Earth, we are faced with a crisis that threatens to overwhelm us, and that simultaneously offers us redemption and wholeness if we choose to make targeted changes in our own lives to address this challenge.

The act of confronting climate change calls us to be better Christians in nearly every aspect of our lives. As we reexamine our lust for consumption, we’re reminded that God tasks us not to worship the gods of unlimited economic growth and material obsession. As we research climate change’s impacts on communities around the world, we’re reminded to not burn, drown, and starve our neighbors. As we study the wisdom of indigenous traditions in confronting the climate crisis, we recognize the importance of honoring our elders. As we learn the causes of climate change, we are reminded to cease propagating the dangerous and false belief that we live in a system of unlimited supply to satisfy our relentless demand.

The moral imperative intrinsic to the climate crisis lies in our call to value and protect life — and fullness of life — for all inhabitants of Earth. The challenge of climate change demands both words and action, and as Christians, we have a unique perspective to bring to the table because our religious beliefs uphold and celebrate the inherent value and dignity of life.

In our Episcopal tradition, we believe that the Body of Christ cannot be complete until each of its individual parts is whole. To put this in other words, a community, or a world, cannot jointly achieve wholeness until all members within it have the resources and support that they need to experience fullness of life. Our collective salvation depends on accounting and caring for every sheep in the fold. Christians often highlight the anthropological dimensions of the climate challenge, yet we also have the scriptural grounding to revere and respect all members of creation — human and ecological — for “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

International and domestic efforts to combat climate change desperately need the insight and power of our Christian narrative. The task before us is a holy one, and our response will not be whole until people of faith raise their voices to inform and empower collective action. The words still sound strange when I speak them: “God’s creation,” “redemption,” and “salvation.” Yet these are potent words and relevant words, the inheritance of a faith tradition that demands our full participation.

Jayce Hafner serves as the Domestic Policy Analyst for The Episcopal Church, representing the Church's policies on climate change and domestic poverty to U.S. Congress and the Administration.

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