While children at Rancho Cordova’s Hagan Community Park played baseball, fished and watched ducks waddle on a glorious Saturday afternoon, Sacramento’s diverse interfaith community gathered to examine religion’s role in addressing climate change.
Lutherans, United Methodists, Muslims, Reform Jews, Buddhists, Baha’is, Mormons, Presbyterians and others filled the park’s community center for “a multifaith exploration of our spiritual and moral response to climate change as supported by science,” said organizer Christine Bailey, a retired environmental scientist with the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento.
“What we are doing or not doing as stewards of the Earth is the greatest moral issue of our time,” Bailey said. “The poorest people on the planet are going to be the most affected – we need to come together and take action as a society.”
Not everyone agrees. A lone protester with a megaphone and a Bible declared that whatever happens is God’s will. That position is shared by various fundamentalist Christians, including televangelist Pat Robertson, who has called climate change “idiocy” and “a myth.”
Inside, much of the discussion centered on natural disasters and how people can act to preserve natural resources.
The Rev. Jean Shaw, Presbyterian pastor of River Valley Church in Rancho Cordova, said, “I’ve seen first-hand what a disaster can bring to God’s community.” She described the devastation she witnessed in the Philippines at the hands of Typhoon Haiyan, the impact of the tornadoes that ripped through Joplin, Mo., and the destructive power of Hurricane Katrina, which inundated New Orleans.
Shaw recently visited the Philippines, where “a surge tide – a 40-foot wall of water – came through and over 8,000 were killed and 20,000 more missing. The people there depended on fishing and coconuts for survival, and not a single coconut tree was left standing.”
In every disaster, there’s evidence of God’s handiwork, Shaw said. During the Joplin tornadoes that claimed 161 lives, a mother threw herself over her young daughter’s body as 200 mph winds sent cars and debris flying past them. “They survived, and the little girl told her mother, ‘It was the butterfly people, mommy. Didn’t you see they were the people who were holding you down?’ ”
The Bible teaches that human beings “are not to exploit and destroy God’s creation,” Shaw said. “We are called to preserve and restore the air, water, and land on which life depends.”
Buddhists have been applying their core principles to climate change since 2009, when the Dalai Lama signed “A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change,” said Rich Howard, a retired environmental scientist and president of the the Board of Sacramento Insight Meditation.
“We must practice generosity toward future generations by not depleting their resources – calculating your carbon footprint is a good first step. We need to retrofit and insulate our homes and workplaces, lower thermostats in the winter and raise them in the summer, use high-efficiency light bulbs and appliances and turn them off, drive the most fuel-efficient cars and reduce meat consumption in favor of an environmentally-friendly plant-based diet,” Howard said.
Judaism also has preached against global warming, said Todd Mendell of Congregation B’nai Israel. “God gave us the right to use the bounty of the land – we have a deep responsibility to care for it.”
The concept of Bal Tashchit declares that fruit trees cannot be destroyed, even in war; Pe’ah means sharing the bounty. Tikkun Olam means repairing the Earth. “If our actions are harming the Earth we must change our behavior and repair the damage,” Mendell said.
Irfan Haq, president of the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations, said there’s no difference in the core teachings of the great Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and their prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. “All share the universal concepts of freedom, liberty, human rights, peace, rule of law, compassion and the right to happiness.”
“About 1,000 out of the 6,000 verses in the Quran are related to nature, science and reason as our sources of truth,” Haq said. “It says, every living thing’s made from water ... Whatever tradition we follow, be pro-active, use science and research to make the world a better place.”
Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Researcher Pete Basofin contributed.