By Greg Hladky
5:00 PM EST, November 5, 2013
Over the years, the Rev. Thomas Carr has heard a laundry list of reasons why Connecticut's clergy often shy away from the issue of climate change.
"They are too busy. The issue is too controversial. They can't bring it up because it's become so politicized."
The answer to all those excuses is terribly, deeply simple, according to Carr.
"This is not our planet... It's God's," says Carr, who is now the pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Suffield. "Climate change is the greatest moral challenge, the biggest challenge the human race has ever faced."
That message is the central focus of a first-of-its-kind conference in Hartford Thursday that will bring faith leaders from across Connecticut and the region to talk about the threat of climate change. Carr says the evidence of climate change and its potentially devastating consequences is so overwhelming that it's no longer a matter of scientific debate, and the question now is what to do about it.
The "Climate Stewardship Summit" will run from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 7) at Hartford's Asylum Hill Congregational Church.
Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy, scientists from universities, national climate experts and environmentalists will all take part in a series of lectures, roundtable discussions and workshops designed to help faith leaders engage their religious communities.
"There are some real significant folks coming to this," says Carr, a cofounder of the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network, which is sponsoring the conference.
While the conference was originally intended as a way to get more Connecticut clergy to recognize their responsibilities when it comes to climate change and the environment, Carr says the response to the summit has given it a far broader scope.
"It's going to be for everybody," he says.
Topics at the conference include new scientific data on the impact of climate change; divestment in fossil fuels and the switch to renewable energy; and using religious communities to set examples for the general public on how to take action on climate change.
The keynote speaker at the summit will be Mary Evelyn Tucker, a senior lecturer and research scholar at Yale University. She is codirector of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.
Tucker says the connection between religious responsibility and the environmental issues surrounding climate change has become far stronger in the past decade.
"I do think it's a movement that's gaining momentum," Tucker says. "Religious leaders and lay people are getting the picture… that people are suffering. They are seeing this as a moral issue, which wasn't true 10 years ago.
Carr and his cofounder, Lynn Fulkerson, organized their inter-faith environmental network in 2001 in an effort to get religious leaders to engage their church members in the climate-change issue.
According to Carr, it became clear in the late 1990s that there were a few people in every religious community who were growing more and more concerned about the implications of climate change. What was needed, he says, was a way to connect those people to each other.
Since its founding, the network has connected with about 400 different congregations and religious groups, Carr says. More than 100 churches, synagogues and mosques associated with the network have set up "green teams" to push for climate change action within their religious communities.
Taking action can be as simple as preaching to a congregation, or putting up solar panels on a church roof, "or go get arrested" to draw attention to the crisis, says Carr.
Carr believes more and more members of Connecticut's clergy are realizing that climate change is an issue they cannot ignore.
"Most religions are called to speak out against injustice," he says.
And climate change wouldn't be the first hot-button issue where religious communities took the lead. "We've confronted some really controversial things in the past, like civil rights," Carr says.
When Carr encounters someone in the clergy who argues climate change isn't a religious issue, he tells them, "Look into your own tradition, look into your own faith."
Says Carr, "They know it's true."