Climate change: the moral challenge of our time

Maryland religious leaders pledge to support implementation of the Pope's encyclical.

Every time we say the Lord's Prayer, we are reminded of our duty to strive for a reality "on Earth as it is in Heaven." This imperative was echoed in Pope Francis' recently published encyclical, one of the highest forms of teaching in the Roman Catholic Church. The Central Maryland Ecumenical Council's Ecumenical Leaders Group, representing the six Christian denominations in Maryland, will work to answer the Pope's call to action here in Maryland.

In the encyclical, Pope Francis states "Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years." Like all people everywhere, we live from and rely on the health and well-being of God's creation — air, water, land, animals and the world's interconnected ecosystems. Stewardship of the earth was one of the first tasks God gave to us. "Living our vocation to be protectors of God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience," the pope states.

His encyclical on ecology speaks powerfully to all of us. Those of us who are not Catholic pledge to support the Archdiocese in its leadership to implement the encyclical. Caring for God's creation is the great moral challenge of our time, and the survival and flourishing of all people depends on our ability to move from temporary and destructive fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Transitioning to a cleaner, more efficient future is no longer a technological or economical challenge, it is a political one. As people of faith and the leaders of the Ecumenical Leaders Group — which consists of bishops and executives representing Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, members of the United Church of Christ and the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council — there are many ways we plan to address the moral challenge posed by climate change, and we hope you will participate.

The encyclical stresses the disproportionate impact of climate change and ecological destruction on the poor. Throughout the world and here in Maryland our most vulnerable neighbors are consistently exposed to the worst effects of pollution and extreme weather. As Pope Francis writes, "We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged and at the same time protecting nature."

We feel compelled to embody in our own lives the morals expounded in the pope's encyclical, so we are challenging ourselves, our denominational institutions, our congregations collectively and their members individually to use more solar, wind and geothermal energies. Specifically, we aim to power our places of worship with 40 percent renewable energy by 2025.

We recognize that broader, institutional change is needed to combat the challenge of climate change, and we will continue our call for legislative action in Maryland. Last legislative session over 230 clergy spoke out for a stronger clean energy law, and we are committed to raising our voices again this year, as 2016 will be a crucial time for action.

The Greenhouse Gas Reductions Act passed in 2009 and will be up for renewal in 2016. It set a goal of meaningfully reducing our carbon emissions, and the subsequent Maryland Climate Action Plan recommended a detailed plan to meet that goal. The most important part of that plan is increasing the state's renewable portfolio standard, the amount of electricity utilities are required to generate through renewable sources, to 25 percent by 2020.

As part of Climate in the Pulpit, an effort to grow the momentum for action, faith leaders across Maryland will speak about climate change and environmental degradation following Pope Francis' visit to Congress in September. Congregations will be writing postcards to their legislators urging them to renew the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act and increase our renewable portfolio standard.

We pray that hearts and minds across the world will be inspired by the prophetic words of Pope Francis. With God's help, we can turn the stumbling blocks of environmental degradation to the stepping stones of a world where Creation and our neighbors thrive. "Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope."

Bishop Wolfgang Herz-Lane is president of the Ecumenical Leaders Group; his email is bishop@demdsynod.org.

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