Pope Francis will deliver an encyclical this summer on the subject of climate change. In preparation for the speech, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a heavily attended workshop on April 28 in Rome. Included among the guest groups were the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and the Heartland Institute.

Another prominent guest, Cardinal Peter Turkson, asserted that “irrespective of the causes of climate change,” Christians are obligated to help the poor. Therein lies a complicating factor: Christians must now consider altruism without unwittingly aggravating the causes of climate change.

This brings to light a much more generalized question regarding religion’s role in the alleviation of poverty, or lack thereof. Fundamentalist Christians, for example, would read the Bible and disregard any pontifical command to pay attention to climate change.

The picture becomes even cloudier when politics are factored in. Most Evangelical Christians and Mormons are conservative Republicans who believe that the scientific evidence supporting the phenomena of climate change is inaccurate and/or falsified.

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and Evangelical Christian, attempts to bridge the gap between science and evangelical faith. She is a member of a statistical minority; according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, only 44 percent of evangelicals believe that global warming is both real and the result of human behavior. Some politicians even believe that God would not let human behavior destroy the planet.

Hayhoe debunks biblical arguments such as those saying that bad things still happen even with a Judeo-Christian God in existence because that God grants free will to His people. “That’s really what climate change is,” she explains, “It’s a casualty of the decisions that we have made.”

She goes on to hypothesize that many evangelicals fear the concept of climate change for two reasons. First, they erroneously believe that all scientists are atheists. Second, their typically conservative political viewpoints biases them against any and all potential “big government” interventions.

To make matters of religion and politics even more complicated, most Jews lean politically left and are beginning to take active steps as a community to alleviate climate change. The Reconstructionist and Reform movements tend to be the most liberal, followed by the Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Generally, the more traditional the sect is in its practice of Judaism, the less environmentally active that movement tends to be.

Consequently, researchers find a startling, ironic commonality between the most observant Jews and the most observant Christians. It appears that the more conservatively a religious sect’s people practice that religion, the less likely they are to take steps to stop climate change.

Adding fuel to that fire, it is the poorest populations that suffer the most from the effects of climate change. The one demographic that both Jewish and Christian ideologies make the most efforts to help is the very group that falls on the receiving end of their most devout groups’ inaction.

So what is to be done? Should the secular American population vote in politicians who choose religious freedom over environmental activism, or vice-versa? Maybe the next election cycle will bring forth more people like Katharine Hayhoe, but then again, maybe not. Only time and ballots can tell.

– Leah Zazofsky

Sources: Slate, The Heartland Institute, Yale Climate Connections
Photo: Telegraph

On Feb. 7-8 of this year, Christians worldwide celebrated the Baptist World Alliance Day. According to the BWA, “The celebration [of the BWA Day] is aimed at affirming Baptist identity within the worldwide Christian family. Baptists are encouraged to pray for each other and to renew their commitment to cooperate with Baptists globally through the BWA.” To commemorate this organization and special day, here is a brief overview of the organization and what their members are doing to help better the world.

With more than 42 million members in 177,000 churches, the Baptist World Alliance is a fellowship of 231 conventions and unions in 121 countries and territories. All of their statistics and the number of members, churches, and their locations can be found on their website. (v

BWA is committed to the following: 1) Promoting worship, fellowship and unity, 2) Nurturing the passion for mission and evangelism, 3) Responding to human need through relief and sustainable community development, 4) Defending human rights and justice, and 5) Promoting relevant theological reflection.

According to the brochure on their website, The Alliance strives to, “relieve suffering and confront injustice, inequality, and poverty across this interdependent world.” In sum, there are five basic things that Baptists work in the ministry of:1) Worship and Fellowship, 2) Mission and Evangelism, 3) Freedom and Justice, 4) Relief and Development, and 5) Theological Reflection.

“We live today in a global village. It is only the Baptist World Alliance® that can bring us together and network in areas such as evangelism and social justice,” Ross Clifford, BWA Vice-President Morling Baptist Theological College, Australia said. “It ensures that voices from around the world are heard. I believe I am part of something that is truly kingdom ministry.”

“In Jesus Christ, all people are equal, and faith in him entails a passionate commitment to human rights, freedom, peace, justice, and religious liberty,the BWA does everything in our power to oppose racism, slavery, and religious persecution regardless of race, creed, or other distinctions,” BWA’s brochure states.

The Alliance speaks up and works toward justice and human rights on the world stage through consultative status with the UN as an NGO. The Alliance also appoints 22 individuals to work internationally through U.N. connections.

Baptist World Aid (BWAid)

Following World War I, BWAid was formed as the relief and development arm of The Alliance. Since then, it has provided relief and development aid, training and networking. From its inception, BWAid relief has been for all who are in need, regardless of race or religion.

BWAid has also been collecting information on needs around the world. The Alliance shares these concerns with its member bodies and others in attempt to build a collaborative response to meet the needs, while encouraging Baptists and others to give to the BWA’s cause.

Eastin Shipman

Sources: Baptist World Alliance 1, Baptist World Alliance 2, Baptist World Alliance 3, Baptist World Alliance 4, Nagaland Post
Photo: Luther Rice Church

Tripoli, Lebanon, a city that prides itself as an intellectual hub of the world, suffered devastating losses in early January when unknown arsonists set fire to a valued library, destroying two thirds of its contents. Saeh Library, translated as “Travelers Library,” contained over 80,000 rare religious and philosophical texts, which some speculate may have been the motivation behind the attacks.

Tripoli has a starkly divided demographic of Christian, Sunni, and Shi’ite inhabitants among several other religions prominent in the area. Father Ibrahim Sarouja, the Greek Orthodox priest who is the library’s founder, is well known and loved in the community for preaching religious tolerance and harmony between neighbors.

An unknown security source reported to authorities that the fire was started in direct response to an anti-Islamic pamphlet found in one of the library’s book, which allegedly took a derogatory stance towards the prophet Muhammad. This would make the fire another tragic instance of sectarian violence that already plagues Lebanon.

The book burning has received significant outreach from Tripoli’s Muslim community, however. Salafist cleric Sheik Salem Rafei stated, “Islam denounces any unjust act against anyone,” and was highly critical of the attack. Many other Muslim leaders in the city, who have also spoken against the attack, share his opinion and are willing to do whatever political measure is necessary to make amends.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, also condemned the arson, exclaiming, “We denounce the burning of the library and reject any harm being done to Tripoli and its people, as it has been, and will remain, the city of the world and of intellectuals.”

Sarouja has found the communal response to the fire overwhelmingly up-lifting. Hundreds have come out to assist with clean up efforts and donate books to refurbish the library. Since January, $25,000 has been raised through online crowd-funding. The expected amount required to repair and replace what has been lost is $35,000.

To quote the priest, “(It was) a great source of joy for me that the burning of this library brought together Muslims and Christians, and especially clergy and Muslim sheiks.”

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Los Angeles Times, NPR, Huffington Post
Photo: CNN