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Faith Groups Fight Climate Change: It's Imperative To Care For God's Creation

A sign for climate change at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington.

(Seth Tackett, WFIU/WTIU News)

For Bloomington resident Molly O’Donnell, the urgency of environmental issues comes from one compelling source.

“Because I have a granddaughter who’s 3 years old and I worry about what the world will be like for her,” she said.

Through a question submitted to City Limits, O’Donnell sought to highlight the need for faith communities to work on saving the planet.

She’s trying to do her part as the convener of Earth Care Bloomington. The group’s stated goal is to help faith communities “answer the moral call to care for our Earth through energy efficiency and conservation practices in their facilities and members’ homes.”

At Earth Care’s December meeting, members of seven different faith communities came to St. Thomas Lutheran Church to talk about a range of issues. Represented were Friends Meeting, First United Methodist, Beth Shalom, St. Thomas Lutheran, Trinity Episcopal, the Unitarian-Universalist Church and St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Among the key topics discussed was the need for education and awareness in small groups – like faith congregations.

The outside of the Unitarian Universalist church in Bloomington.
The outside of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Bloomington. (Seth Tackett, WFIU/WTIU News)

"Faith community does play an important role in this, especially in this highly politicized environment that we’re in,” O’Donnell said. “It’s one place where we have common values and common teachings and it’s a place where we can unite and work together.”

Different Faiths; A Common Goal

The Evangelical Community Church and Bloomington synagogue Beth Shalom have paired up to work together on environmental issues. ECC Pastor Bob Whitaker knows the partnership might be considered unusual, because Evangelicals don’t often get involved in interfaith groups.

“Interfaith communities are not the place you’re going to find an Evangelical. I’m there, but I don’t have any other colleagues there,” he said. “So Madi and I are working on this Creation Care Partner thing.”

Madi is Madi Hirschland. She’s been active on faith and environmental issues for more than a decade and is a member of Beth Shalom’s Creation Care Task Force, which she founded and formerly led.

She and Whitaker found a common issue in Earth Care.

“From my perspective, when I think about environmental Earth Care issues I think about environmental stewardship and Creation Care,” he said. “As a person of faith, particularly in the Christian community, I see creation as a gift of God, and it’s the responsibility of human beings to care for it.”

Hirschland sees in her Jewish tradition the imperatives to care for God’s creation, to care for future generations and to care for the most vulnerable. Both she and Whitaker saw where they agreed.

“I think one of the more important issues when it comes to faith communities is to find common ground, right?” Whitaker said. “If you have varying theological perspectives on some issue, it’s quite possible that you’re not going to find common ground.

“I think it’s important for faith communities no matter what their perspective is to find common ground on an issue like this of common concern to humanity.”

Hirschland’s efforts within her congregation and between congregations have focused on education, increasing the use of solar energy and enabling individual changes.

“There is tremendous energy in coming together around something that’s urgently important to all our faiths,” she said.

When Science And Faith Collide

Both she and Whitaker have worked with scientists, including Indiana University’s Ben Brabson and Michael Hamburger, to understand environmental issues. Concerned Scientists at IU and the Evangelical Community Church in collaboration with four other faith groups hosted a series of discussions called Creation Care & Earth’s Changing Environment last fall.

Hirschland says both she and Whitaker hope congregants become well versed on actions they can take to make the most difference.

“Our goal for both congregations is to model what it means to do what’s enough to have our congregations as a whole do that and then to lead other congregations in the state the same way,” she said.

Earth Care’s O’Donnell says members of the congregation at her church, the Unitarian-Universalist Church, are almost 100 percent in on following environmentally friendly practices. The church has installed solar panels and like her, members are worried about the future.

“I think a lot of people are realizing this is important to do right away, and the youth movement and climate strikes, it’s made us all realize we don’t have much time to make a difference,” she said.

She also stresses the need to find common ground.

“People tend to kind of demonize the other side, so you really need to find common ground,” she said. “We all care for the Earth and Creation and for the ‘least of these’ that are affected by the climate crisis.”

Bloomington is far from alone in seeing the intersection of faith and climate issues. Most religious communities have released statements supporting caring for the Earth, from Pope Francis’s 2017 encyclical to Catholics and others to statements from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths and a wide array of Christian denominations from Southern Baptist to Eastern Orthodox to United Methodist.

As part of their work locally, Earth Care Bloomington and Creation Care Partners are sponsoring a Community Energy Fair at 10 a.m. Jan. 20 at the Evangelical Community Church on South High Street.

Hirschland says in faith comes optimism.

“The most important thing we can do is to be hopeful,” she said, “to realize that together, we really can do this.” 

Have a question? Ask City Limits:

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Here’s how it works: You submit a question you’d like us to explore about how Bloomington has changed over the past few decades, what you want to see for the city in the future and how ties with IU continue to shape the community.  

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