Faith Drives Discussion of Environment in Day-Long Summit

Nov 11, 2013

Participants in a "Climate Stewardship Summit" wave flags during an interfaith worship service at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford.
Credit Patrick Skahill / WNPR

What can religion say about climate change? It turns out a lot. Take for example, the Old Testament story of Noah and the flood. You remember how it goes: people behaving badly, Noah building an ark, God sending a flood, and, eventually, a Rainbow covenant formed between God and man. Except, said Terri Eickel, the covenant was larger than that. 

"The universe isn't somewhere outside of us; it's also within us."
Bo Gak Sunim

"People usually try to pull that out and think of it as a Noah and God thing," Eickel said. "Noah saying, 'I won't screw up anymore,' and God saying, 'Well, I won't destroy the planet.' And really, it's a three-way covenant. It's a covenant that we're making with God and we're making every living being on the planet. We're in covenant with every single thing else that has life on this planet."

At a time when religious communities are worried about growth, Eickel said tying the bible to the environment is the perfect way for faith communities to stay relevant. So she helped organize the Climate Stewardship Summit, an interfaith gathering sponsored by the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network that included prayer services and panel discussions with rabbis, Imams, scientists, Buddhist monks, and several Christian leaders.

Rabbi Joshua Ratner spoke as part of a panel on "Faith, Morality And Climate Change."

"What most resonates to me is how much similarity there is across religions," Ratner said. "That it's not something that's just a Jewish environmental ethic. Or a Christian. Or a Muslim. Or a Buddhist."

Buddhist monk Bo Gak Sunim said the oneness of mankind was at the core of his take on environmentalism. Citing astronomer Carl Sagan, he noted our entire reality evolved from the same "star stuff." 

"If that's true, whatever we do to this carbon life form, we do to everything," Sunim said. "It's important to keep in mind that the universe isn't somewhere outside of us; it's also within us. Whatever we do outside will affect the inside. Whatever we do inside will affect the outside." 

The day also included plenty of hands-on advice. For example, faith leaders urged their peers to turn down the thermostat at their house of worship -- and to swamp in energy efficient light bulbs.