The Joint Appeal in Religion and Science:
Statement by Religious Leaders at the
Summit on Environment
The Summit on Environment, sponsored by the Joint Appeal in Religion and Science, grew out of a collaboration which began in January 1990 with an Open Letter to the Religious Community sent by 34 internationally renowned scientists. Of the peril to planetary environment they wrote, “Problems of such magnitude and solutions demanding so broad a perspective must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension.” “Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred.”
Struck by the initiative, several hundred religious leaders of all major faiths from all five continents responded, “This invitation to collaboration marks a unique moment and opportunity in the relationship of science and religion. We are eager to explore, as soon as possible, concrete, specific forms of action.”
The Summit on Environment was held on June 2nd and 3rd (1991) at the American Museum of Natural History and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was a next step in an ongoing partnership and an effort to support the American religious community as it moves forward to act upon the vision of environmental justice and sustainable future.
“The Joint Appeal in Religion and Science:
Statement by Religious Leaders at the Summit on Environment”
June 3, 1991
New York City
On a spring evening and the following day in New York City, we representatives of the religious community in the United States of America gathered to deliberate and plan action in response to the crisis of the Earth’s environment.
Deep impulses brought us together. Almost daily, we note mounting evidence of environmental destruction and ever-increasing peril to life, whole species, whole ecosystems. Many people, and particularly the young, want to know where we stand and what we intend to do. And, finally, it is what God made and beheld as good that is under assault. The future of this gift so freely given is in our hands, and we must maintain it as we have received it. This is an inescapably religious challenge. We feel a profound and urgent call to respond with all we have, all we are, and all we believe.
We chose to meet, these two days, in the company of people from diverse traditions and disciplines. No one perspective alone is equal to the crisis we face-spiritual and moral, economic and cultural, institutional and personal. For our part, we were grateful to strengthen a collaboration with distinguished scientists and to take stock of their testimony on problems besetting planetary ecology. As people of faith, we were also moved by the support for our work from distinguished public policy leaders.
What we heard left us more troubled than ever. Global warming, generated mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, is widely predicted to increase temperatures worldwide, changing climate patterns, increasing drought in many areas, threatening agriculture, wildlife, the integrity of natural ecosystems and creating millions of environmental refugees. Depletion of the ozone shield, caused by human-made chemical agents such as chlorofluorocarbons, lets in deadly ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, with predicted consequences that include skin cancer, cataracts, damage to the human immune system, and destruction of the primary photosynthetic producers at the base of the food chain on which other life depends. Our expanding technological civilization is destroying an acre and a half of forest every second. The accelerating loss of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms which threatens the irreversible loss of up to a fifth of the total number within the next thirty years, is not only morally reprehensible but is increasingly limiting the prospects for sustainable productivity. No effort, however heroic, to deal with these global conditions and the interrelated issues of social justice can succeed unless we address the increasing population of the Earth-especially the billion poorest people who have every right to expect a decent standard of living. So too, we must find ways to reduce the disproportionate consumption of natural resources by affluent industrial societies like ours.
Much would tempt us to deny or push aside this global environmental crisis and refuse even to consider the fundamental changes of human behavior required to address it. But we religious leaders accept a prophetic responsibility to make known the full dimensions of this challenge, and what is required to address it, to the many millions we reach, teach, and counsel.
We intend to be informed participants in discussions of these issues and to contribute our views on the moral and ethical imperative for developing national and international policy responses. But we declare here and now that steps must be taken toward: accelerated phaseout of ozone depleting chemicals; much more efficient use of fossil fuels and the development of a non-fossil fuel economy; preservation of tropical forests and other measures to protect continued biological diversity; and concerted efforts to slow the dramatic and dangerous growth in world population through empowering both women and men, encouraging economic self-sufficiency, and making family planning services available to all who may consider them on a strictly voluntary basis.
We believe a consensus now exists, at the highest level of leadership across a significant spectrum of religious traditions, that the cause of environmental integrity and justice must occupy a position of utmost priority for people of faith. Response to this issue can and must cross traditional religious and political lines. It has the potential to unify and renew religious life.
We pledge to take the initiative in interpreting and communicating theological foundations for the stewardship of Creation in which we find the principles for environmental action. Here our seminaries have a critical role to play. So too, there is a call for moral transformation, as we recognize that the roots of environmental destruction lie in human pride, greed, and selfishness, as well as the appeal of the short-term over the long-term.
We reaffirm here, in the strongest possible terms, the indivisibility of social justice and ecological integrity. An equitable international economic order is essential for preserving the global environment. Economic equity, racial justice, gender equality, and environmental well-being are interconnected and all are essential to peace. To help ensure these, we pledge to mobilize public opinion and to appeal to elected officials and leaders in the private sector. In our congregations and corporate life, we will encourage and seek to exemplify habits of sound and sustainable householding-in land use, investment decisions, energy conservation, purchasing of products, and waste disposal.
Commitments to these areas of action we pledged to one another solemnly and in a spirit of mutual accountability. We dare not let our resolve falter. We will continue to work together, add to our numbers, and deepen our collaboration with the worlds of science and government. We also agreed this day to the following initiatives:
1. We will widely distribute this declaration within the religious community and beyond. We have established a continuing mechanism to coordinate ongoing activities among us, working intimately with existing program and staff resources in the religious world. We will reach out to other leaders across the broadest possible spectrum of religious life. We will help organize other such gatherings as ours within individual faith groups, in interfaith and interdisciplinary formats, and at international, national, and regional levels.
2. We religious leaders and members of the scientific community will call together a Washington D. C. convocation and meet with members of the Executive and Congressional branches to express our support for bold steps on behalf of environmental integrity and justice. There too we will consider ways to facilitate legislative testimony by religious leaders and response to local environmental action alerts.
3. We will witness firsthand and call public attention to the effect of environmental degradation on vulnerable peoples and ecosystems.
4. We will call a meeting of seminary deans and faculty to review and initiate curriculum development and promote bibliographies emphasizing stewardship of Creation. We will seek ways to establish internships for seminarians in organizations working on the environment and for young scientists in the study of social ethics.
5. We will prepare educational materials for congregations, provide technical support for religious publishers already producing such materials, and share sermonical and liturgical materials about ecology.
6. We will establish an instrument to help place stories on environment in faith group and denominational newsletters and help assure coverage of the religious community’s environmental activities in the secular press.
7. We will urge compliance with the Valdez Principles and preach and promote corporate responsibility.
8. We will encourage establishment of one model environmentally sound and sustainable facility within each faith group and denomination. We will provide materials for environmental audits and facilitate bulk purchasing of environmentally sound products.
It has taken the religious community, as others, much time and reflection to start to comprehend the full scale and nature of this crisis and even to glimpse what it will require of us. We must pray ceaselessly for wisdom, courage, and creativity. Most importantly, we are people of faith and hope. These qualities are what we may most uniquely have to offer to this effort. We pledge to the children of the world and, in the words of the Iroquois, “to the seventh generation,” that we will take full measure of what this moment in history requires of us. In this challenge may lie the opportunity for people of faith to affirm and enact, at a scale such as never before, what it truly means to be religious. And so we have begun, believing there can be no turning back.
List of Signatories*
|Bishop Vinton R. Anderson
World Council of Churches
Rabbi Marc D. Angel
The Most Reverend Edmond L. Browning
Reverend Joan Campbell
The Reverend Herbert W. Chilstrom
Father Drew Christiansen,
Ms. Beverly Davison
Reverend Dr. Milton B. Efthimiou
Bishop William B. Friend
Dr. Alfred Gottschalk
Dr. Arthur Green
His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos Primate
The Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky
Chief Oren Lyons
Dr. David McKenna
The Very Reverend James Parks Morton Dean
Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson
Dr. Patricia J. Rumer
Dr. James R. Scales
Dr. Ismar Schorsch
Dr. Robert Schuller
Dr. Robert Seiple
Bishop Melvin Talbert
Dr. Foy Valentine
|*Affiliations for identification purposes only.
Copyright © 1990 National Religious Partnership for the Environment.