Representatives from diverse faith groups gathered with Pacific Climate Warriors at the People’s Climate Summit to discuss how the principles of justice at the heart of many religions can guide us and provide hope in the face of climate change.
The Warriors reflected on Sunday’s powerful events – the symbolic rain during the sevusevu ceremony inviting the spirit and presence of ancestors, and the thousands of activists who entered the mine with Ende Gelände as a kind of resurrection, bringing life back into Germany’s bleak dead coal mines.
Lusia Taloafulu Feagaiga, a Pacific Climate Warrior and youth leader in the Methodist church of New Zealand, shared on the importance of engaging people of faith in order to build a climate movement in the Pacific, giving the example of the “Pray for Our Pacific” campaign.
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“What is hard for us to hear, is when the media refers to the impacts of climate change in the future, as if it was something that is not already a reality”, says Lusia. Nodding sadly, the other Warriors expressed their surprise that during their visit to Germany for the climate summit, they had been asked repeatedly to explain what climate change will mean for the Pacific. “We had this discussion ten years ago. Now the devastation is happening, we talk about what we can do”.
Religious leaders called on faith communities to take concrete action against the fossil fuel industry through divestment, as a way to “put the money where our mouth is.” Since the Church of Sweden became the first church group to divest from oil and coal in 2008, more than two hundred other religious institutions have followed.
“As religious leaders, we have a special way of dealing with issues of addiction – and oil is an addiction for our societies. So we can help.” said Imam Saffet Catovic, Co-founder of Green Muslims of New Jersey and GreenFaith Senior Advisor.
Reverend Fletcher Harper of Green Faith shared advice on how to start the conversation on divestment with faith communities: “If you want to start a moral discussion, don’t say ‘let’s have a moral discussion’ – talk about money. That’s where values really come to play.”
He argued that church institutions have an opportunity to show leadership, as was the case on October 4, 2017, when 40 Catholic institutions across five continents committed to divest in the largest joint announcement to date. Daniela Finnamore from Global Catholic Climate Movement spoke about this recent win and encouraged German faith institutions to follow suit.
Yet, religious values can provide valuable guidance beyond questions of financial responsibility. “As people of faith, we need to think about how we can challenge the unjust system we have and create an entirely better one.” Participants discussed the question of direct action and civil disobedience, asking whether the urgency of climate change might require us to break the rules.
Nora Keske, a German activist and representative of the Liberation Theology Network, quoted German poet Bertolt Brecht: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes our duty. Faith can guide us in this fight. It gives me hope.”
The session ended with a moment of silence called for by a Buddhist participant, to “reflect on what we have achieved together”. To foster the connection between the participants from all over the world, the Pacific Climate Warriors distributed Sei flowers, which represent the joyful and resilient spirits of Pacific Islanders.
Many people from faith institutions have joined the Pacific Climate Warriors in their call to end the fossil fuel era and sign the Declaration on Climate Change as part of the #HaveYourSei campaign. They delivered these demands to Pacific leaders at COP23 on Wednesday.