Progressive Spirit, Friends, and the Gibson Resolution

May must be Audio Month. On the same day I gave one of the Spirit Is Willing webinars with Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, I also had a radio interview with the Rev. John Shuck, who hosts Progressive Spirit on KBOO Community Radio out of Portland, Oregon, a show that has hosted the likes of Jim Wallis, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman, and Diana Butler Bass. I’ll also be preaching and teaching at Rev. Shuck’s church, Southminster Presbyterian in Beaverton, Oregon while serving as moderator for the Social Justice Issues committee for the 222nd PC(USA) General Assembly in Portland in June. 

On days my life doesn’t seem all that exciting, I have to remind myself that, well, yes. The radio interview will be aired the first week of June,with a podcast available starting June 5. 

More fascinating, and this is big….

Interfaith Power & Light’s annual conference was earlier this month on the campus of Gallaudet University close to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. There we learned a fascinating story from Emily Wirzba, who is policy associate for sustainable energy and environment at the Friends Committee on National Legislationthe United States’ oldest nonpartisan, ecumenical lobby, whose office stands just across the street from the U.S. senate offices. 

We all knew, of course, of theGibson Resolution, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives last September when Pope Francis visited to the U.S. and addressed Congress. In this resolution, Republican New York Representative Chris Gibson, along with ten other Republican reps, acknowledged the reality of climate change and called for better environmental stewardship. As Congressman Gibson told a reporter, addressing environmental issues are a core conservative principle. “If conservation isn’t conservative, then words have no meaning at all,” he said. 

Ms. Wirzba told us there is more to the backstory than the news revealed. These break-with-leadership-join-morality congresspeople didn’t just dream up by themselves the vision of going out on a limb for human survival. It was the Quakers who initiated it. (It’s worth remembering that the Quakers were also the radicals who, two centuries ago, led the charge for slavery’s abolition.)

It took years of effort to find the Republican representative who might introduce a resolution affirming the reality of the climate crisis, before a Quaker in his district, joined by an interfaith, delegation, approached the congressman asking him to sponsor this resolution.

Eleven–and now thirteen–representatives may not seem like enough to shift the conversation. But Ms. Wirzba told us that this move has quietly inaugurated fundamental shifts over the past several months. A bipartisan house solutions caucus has formed, Noah’s ark style–two by two, with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. A House Republican energy innovation and environment solutions working group has also begun meeting.

And in late April, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and nine colleagues introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill.  This amendment acknowledges that climate change is real, human-caused, and already affecting the U.S., posing risks to health, security, economy, and infrastructure, and that 180 other countries have committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It proposes that the U.S. become a world leader in addressing climate change, and that Congress take action. This is huge.

I am sometimes asked why churches should involve themselves with the “political” issue of climate change. The crisis has indeed been politicized by those who profit by delaying action. Yet shifting our practices to avoid the worst effects of a disaster already unfolding is at the root an ethical action, not a political one. Our faith compels us to protect the earth and the welfare of those living on it, present and future, and to exercise our citizenship in advocating for measures that will do so.

Back behind the ceaseless noise of the presidential election, history is quietly being made. And people of faith are making it. We are the unexpected visitors amidst a roll call of advocates, articulating values embedded in our faiths, values that affirm our responsibility to tend the earth that God so lovingly created.

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