News

Lutherans Reflect on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

December 31, 2009
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America News Service

CHICAGO -- While many who attended or observed the proceedings of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this month expressed disappointment in the outcome, others saw the proceedings as an important first step in addressing the effects of climate change -- which may lead to more effective action in the future.

Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Lutherans from other parts of the world participated in the conference. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Geneva, sent a 7-member delegation, which included members from India, Mauritania, Tanzania, the United States and LWF staff.

Mary Minette, director for environmental education and advocacy, ELCA Washington Office, was part of the LWF delegation. Writing a blog while in Copenhagen, she said the LWF delegation expressed concern that "the future of all creation is in jeopardy. Our belief is the issue is not only about science and policy and politics, but also an issue of justice." Minette's blog is at http://www.ELCA.org/advocacy on the ELCA Web site.

More than 3,000 ELCA members, along with a coalition of U.S. faith leaders, sent some 20,000 postcards to President Barack Obama, urging him to be at the meeting, she said.  Obama attended the conference and urged leaders of Brazil, China, India and South Africa to join the United States "to fund developing nations' projects to deal with droughts, floods and other impacts of climate change, and to develop clean energy," among other agreements, according to a U.N. news release. 

The World Council of Churches, Geneva, criticized the agreement, and in particular cited the "lack of transparency" among those who negotiated it.  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged other nations to sign the agreement.

Minette said the foundation laid by Obama and other world leaders at the conference makes feasible U.S. climate legislation this spring. "The outcome of the conference in Copenhagen is only the start, and the fight against climate change isn't over yet. There is much left to do to ensure the long-term protection of God's good creation," she added.

The Rev. Barbara R. Rossing, professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), was part of the LWF delegation.  She is a member of the LWF Executive Committee. LSTC is one of eight ELCA seminaries.

Rossing signed an ecumenical statement urging world leaders to be courageous and make "decisions that must be made for all of humanity and for the future of creation."  Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was among those who signed the statement, found at http://bit.ly/6ERjXJ on the Web.

In an ecumenical forum on climate change, Rossing said, "It's the world's poorest people, those who have done the least to cause the problem of climate change, who are the first to suffer its catastrophic effects." She said they ask, "'Why is God punishing us?'"

The Bible can help Christians address the adverse effects of climate change in a positive way, she said. The Book of Revelation, which Rossing has studied and written about extensively, makes clear there is still time to repent for human actions that adversely affect the earth's climate, she said.

Revelation focuses on the urgency of the present moment, Rossing said. She said some scientists have said humanity has less than 10 years to act to significantly reduce carbon emissions before so-called "critical tipping points" are reached on certain environmental concerns.

"We as theologians, ethicists and biblical scholars must take seriously such mounting evidence from science and name this 10-year window as a kind of kairos moment for our churches and for our world -- a moment of hope and urgency," Rossing said. 

"When this planet is threatened, it is threatened for all of us," the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary-elect, said at the forum. Tveit, a Lutheran, is general secretary, Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations.  In one way, he said, the climate crisis "brings us together as one humanity."

"Are we able, are we willing to be one church, representing the one humanity with one heart showing the love of the one God for the one world?  This is the challenge for the ecumenical movement today and tomorrow," he said.

Rossing's and Tveit's comments can be found at http://bit.ly/6yooqQ on the Web.

The LWF asked its member churches to join people of faith throughout the world to observe Dec. 13 as a day of action for climate change, and to ring bells for climate justice.  That same day Archbishop Tutu addressed a rally in Copenhagen, attended by many Lutherans, Rossing said.  The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Communion, preached at an ecumenical worship service at Copenhagen's Lutheran cathedral. 

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The ELCA's social statement on the environment, "Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice," is at http://www.ELCA.org/socialstatements on the ELCA Web site.

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