HARTFORD — Buddhists, Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and others are gathering in Hartford on Thursday for an unusual interfaith meeting on the world climate — a topic that has been emerging as an ecumenical cause in recent years.
"We cannot allow it to be simply a political issue," said Terri Eickel, an organizer of the Climate Stewardship Summit. She called care of the Earth "a moral issue, an ethical issue, a spiritual issue." Eickel is executive director of the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network, the event's sponsor.
At least 150 people are expected at the daylong meeting, which will be held at Asylum Hill Congregational Church.
"It is the great moral challenge not only of our time but of all time," said another organizer, the Rev. Tom Carr, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Suffield. "It is a moral imperative that we act … from our particular spiritual traditions. We're called to preserve, conserve and restore creation."
The Earth, he said, is "a gift to be used for our needs, not our greeds." Carr said the theme runs through the Bible, from the Book of Genesis, with Adam's being raised from the Earth in the Garden of Eden, through the Book of Revelation, with its reference to the "tree of life" and leaves "for the healing of the nations."
"Right from the beginning, the writers of the Bible understood this stuff intuitively," Carr said. "That's what science tells us today; we are literally stardust. We come from the great supernova that created our solar system."
The sacredness of creation runs through many religions.
Native Americans, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and other faith traditions have statements addressing climate change on the website of The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, an internationally recognized program that bridges the science of environmental studies and religious worldviews. A co-founder of that program, Mary Evelyn Tucker, will be the keynote speaker Thursday.
"The world's religions are entering into the discussions regarding climate change as they see this as not only a scientific or policy problem but essentially as a moral problem," Tucker said in an email Tuesday.
"The warming of our planet is undermining the ecological integrity of our planetary life support systems and threatening food stability," she said. "It is also creating climate refugees due to rising seas, droughts, hurricanes and other weather related problems. We will begin to make changes when we see that this is an EcoJustice issue — affecting both people and the planet on a massive scale. This is why the voices of the religious traditions are so crucial."
Carr is a co-founder of the Eco-Justice Network, the Connecticut affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light, a national ecumenical group addressing global warming.
"Climate change must take its place as a central concern of communities of faith, which have long played pivotal roles in addressing the moral challenges inherent in slavery, apartheid, chronic poverty, chronic violence, epidemics, and natural disasters," the network says on its website. "Climate change and its causes must now be recognized as increasingly interwoven in — and often exacerbating — the series of fundamental ills that call people of faith to express moral vision and lead moral action. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to help society decisively confront this crisis."
Carr said the purpose of Thursday's summit is threefold:
To confirm, from a religious vantage point, that the planet and its people are in a crisis.
To motivate and empower people to act out of their faith convictions.
To work across religious boundaries in this common purpose — to remind each other, to pray for each other, and to work together.
Ideally, Carr said, participants will go back to their congregations energized to conserve resources and promote use of green fuels and renewable energy in their homes, in their congregations, and in their communities — and to advocate for it with elected officials and businesses.
Awatef Gacem, a Muslim and a member of the Berlin Mosque, helped organize the summit. She said respect for the environment and the creatures in it is a core tenet of her faith.
She said God gave people the intelligence, the power — the trust — to look after nature. "Unfortunately, we forgot about that trust, and we have been abusing the Earth and nature in order to gain more materials in this life," she said.
"Our role is to take care of everything around us. If we are failing in this task, we are going to be held accountable," she said. "The Earth will testify against us."
More information on Thursday's summit is available at http://irejn.org/what-we-do/climate-stewardship-summit/ Registration costs $30 and is available at https://climatestewardshipsummit.eventbrite.com/ Same-day registration will be available, although organizers say those paying at the door should bring their own lunch.