Thursday, August 16, 2012

Earth Advocacy: Speaking for God's Creation by Jerry Rees

Earth Advocacy: Speaking for God’s Creation

Our Call and Our Purpose:

People of faith are called to be bold advocates for environmental justice for all God’s people and all God’s Creation. We are called to protect the most vulnerable members of society and to ensure a thriving earth for future generations of all species. The purpose of earth advocacy is to give the natural world a strong voice in human affairs.

Education and Advocacy:

Education provides information, raising people’s consciousness and stirring their conscience so that they might incorporate creation care into their daily living. Advocacy promotes action, including political action, which includes encouraging people to respond to issues in the public sphere. As Advocacy dovetails with Education, our hope is to move people from denial to awareness to hope to action, realizing that we do not have the luxury of time.  Our belief is that there is a significant segment of the human population that would change their attitude and lifestyle if they were better informed and inspired, if they were given hope and encouragement that they could make a positive difference. 

There is an expression: If we each do a little we can all do a lot; if we all do a lot, we can do a lot more. But there is only so much that individuals can do. Ultimately we must change systems and infrastructures, which means changing the group practices of businesses, schools, all levels of government, and even faith communities. And we must change laws, which means getting political, taking a stand, and engaging in issue advocacy.  It is not enough to change light bulbs. Our challenge is to change minds, change behavior, and change policies.

Education without Advocacy is insufficient to make a meaningful difference for the well-being of the earth community.  If we are to confront “the fierce urgency of now,” we must speak, write, and act boldly without delay.

Ways for individuals and groups to become Earth Advocates:

  • Identify opportunities to do Earth Advocacy on local, state, and national issues.
  • Be selective in picking which of the many environmental issues to address. Be focused on a few where the congregation can become well informed and active. (“Lifting up too many issues as matters of advocacy can lead to confusion and burnout,” advises Rev. Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries.)
  • Communicate these issues to individuals, ministers, and faith groups, encouraging them to speak out and act in a timely manner.
  • Prepare and distribute resource materials, such as fact sheets, talking points, email templates, email addresses, phone numbers, and links to relevant web sites.
  • Network and collaborate with secular as well as faith-based advocacy groups that are already organized, such as the Sierra Club,, Interfaith Power & Light, National Council of Churches, and Presbyterians for Earth Care.  (Piggyback on their work.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel!)
  • Send emails, sign petitions, and write letters—letters to the editor, letters to legislators, and letters to leaders of your faith community (including and sometimes especially to ordained staff).
  • Prepare flyers and bulletins and newsletter notices.
  • Maintain an Environmental Bulletin Board for the dual purposes of Education and Advocacy.
  • Seek creative ways to be a faithful, prophetic, and effective witness that provides a voice on emerging or urgent environmental issues.
 Internal Advocacy occurs within the walls of our faith communities. Earth Advocacy can be top down, but usually it is bottom up, fueled by grass roots efforts to make contemporary faith relevant to contemporary issues. Its premise is that our theology informs our actions and becomes the basis for effective political change. It means promoting earthkeeping by reducing the environmental impact of our houses of worship and by practicing, modeling, and teaching faithful and responsible stewardship of God's Creation.  It means uplifting the sacredness of creation in worship. It means finding creative ways to challenge tradition-bound thinking that obstructs creation-based perspectives, which means educating and lobbying church leaders, including clergy.

External Advocacy is faith speaking to Power beyond the walls of our faith communities. It involves partnering with faith-based as well as secular environmental organizations. It involves joining their cause, educating congregants about the issues, and equipping them with tools to do Earth Advocacy. It involves joining a chorus that speaks for the earth in the public arena, so that trickles become a stream and streams become a torrent.

The Law:

Most faith communities are non-profit, tax-exempt entities with a 501(c)3 status. Legally this means they can engage in:
  • Direct lobbying: Within generous limits, individuals and organizations can express their positions on legislation.
  • Grassroots lobbying: Within generous limits, individuals and organizations can tell the public their positions and ask them to communicate that position to elected officials.
  • Voter education: Non-profit faith groups are permitted to educate voters about important issues, even if it means influencing campaign issues. (However, they cannot support or oppose candidates by name!)
  • Voter registration: Non-profit faith groups are permitted to register voters and urge them to vote.
(Adapted from How to set up an advocacy group with your congregation by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling.)

The Perspective of History:

Historically, religion has played a central role in social and political change. Every continent offers examples of faith-based and faith-motivated individuals, groups, and institutions. Recent examples include the African church and its leaders who spearheaded the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the liberation theologians of Latin America who engaged in social reform and political action in response to the human needs and social injustices they observed around them.

In the US, since the mid 1800’s, three instances of major social change have been fueled by religion and people of faith: the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the civil right movement. Will slowing, stopping, and reversing climate change be the fourth time?


Advocacy may be defined as active support of an idea or cause, especially on behalf of justice for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, or the voiceless. It inevitably involves the uncomfortable challenge of speaking truth to power. It also calls for the ongoing work of teaching, inviting, and urging. Advocacy requires persistence, patience, partnerships, relationships, and the agility to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. This is hard work and often thankless and discouraging. But advocacy has purpose far beyond one person's life, especially as we work for justice for neighbors suffering consequences of environmental waste, abuse, and degradation. In fact, we speak for creation itself.
~ Rev. Heather Entrekin, professor at Central Baptist Seminary in Shawnee, KS, and former Senior Pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, KS.

"A church that does not provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed--what gospel is that?
~ Archbishop Oscar Romero.

"A time comes when silence is betrayal."
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Closing Thoughts:

Faith communities can play the unique role of taking us beyond our enlightened self-interest down an ethical, moral, and spiritual path that other institutions do not. They are key in addressing the moral imperative of the environmental crisis, leading by example, by education, and by inspiration. They can influence people to transform their way of thinking and believing, which can transform their way of living and acting.

Another way to care about people is to care about the environment. Another way to advocate for people is to advocate for the natural world that surrounds and sustains us. In sub-Saharan Africa, people are 200 times as likely as Americans to die from climate-related disasters and 300 times more likely to be left homeless. Unchecked climate change has been compared to a world war or a great depression. According to the UN, "There are at least 20 million environmental refugees worldwide--more than those displaced by war and political repression." This number is projected to increase several fold.

~ Jerry Rees
Member, Steering Committee and Advocacy Committee of Kansas Interfaith Power & Light
Member, Advocacy Committee of Presbyterians for Earth Care
Member, Advocacy Committee of Sustainable Sanctuary CoalitionMember, Earthkeepers of Heartland Presbytery
Chair, Environmental Action Committee of Village Church

1 comment:

  1. A great summary of why people of faith should advocate for the earth and the vulnerable and how your local congregation can engage.