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Photo: Chenyao Liu.
Elsa Barron speaks at Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light’s Faith Climate Summit, where she was moderating a panel on environmental justice, Oct. 10, 2021.

No group of people is monolithic. All individuals have their own individual views. Which is why we should never assume anything about people who identify with a particular group.

An ESL teacher I work with attends a congregation where almost everyone’s politics are X although hers are Y. She sends her daughter to their school because she loves it overall, but she teaches her daughter some differences at home.

I’m sharing an article that gets into religion just because I thought it was interesting, but if it offends anyone, I hope you know you can tell me. It’s about a small but growing group of American evangelical environmentalists.

Erika Page has the story at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Should I stay or go? It was a question Elsa Barron had wrestled with on her own for years. Now, at a public panel on faith and the climate at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, she was on the verge of voicing it aloud to a crowd of strangers.

“The panelists, faith leaders from the All Africa Conference of Churches, hadn’t named names. But Ms. Barron had gleaned the message. One of the biggest impediments to climate action in their communities was … her home community: evangelical Americans, who hold an outsize influence in missionary ministries in Africa.

“She had bitten her tongue through the Q&A session, nervous about being vulnerable in such a high-profile crowd. But just as the moderator moved to close the event, she felt her hand shoot up.

“ ‘I grew up in that community,’ she recalls admitting to the panel, heart racing. ‘What is needed from me in this moment?’ 

“For evangelical environmentalists, the temptation to leave the church behind and take their climate concerns elsewhere is high. This is especially true among younger generations, who [are] more likely to worry about climate change than their elders. Ms. Barron, for one, stood on the brink of abandoning her faith just a couple of years ago. 

“So the response she got from those panelists at COP26 last November has stuck with her. 

“ ‘If you have the opportunity to be rooted in your community, asking questions, pushing for change, and advocating for communities that don’t have an inroad to these spaces, then that’s probably the biggest thing you can do,’ she remembers being told. 

“The choice to stay and fight has not been easy, demanding resolve, patience, and the courage to speak up, again and again. But at a time when writing off those with differing views has become commonplace, Ms. Barron has found that her empathy and love for her community [have] helped her work with, instead of against, those on the ‘other’ side of the climate divide. 

“ ‘It takes a lot of courage to not just pick one side or the other, especially in such an extremely polarized society,’ says Melanie Gish, author of God’s Wounded World: American Evangelicals and the Challenge of Environmentalism. …

“In the United States, climate awareness and urgency have grown steadily in recent years. … Even among white Evangelicals, thought has been shifting. A poll conducted by Yale and other groups in 2020 found that 44% of them attributed global warming to human activity, up from 28% when the Pew Research Center asked a similar question in 2014.

“And the National Association of Evangelicals just renewed a call to action to mitigate the environmental crisis from a ‘biblical basis,’ updating a report from 2011. Yet climate skepticism remains disproportionately high among evangelical Christians, even compared with other religious groups. Some evangelical leaders have pitted environmental movements against religion, painting the former as a politically motivated threat to a faith-driven life. Many simply don’t see church as the place to address environmental concerns. …

“[At the University of Notre Dame, Ms. Barron read] one little book that hit her ‘like a ton of bricks.’ The text was Laudato Si, the 2015 encyclical on ‘care for our common home’ written by Pope Francis. She still remembers her visceral response to her first read.

“ ‘It felt like, “Oh my goodness, how did I miss this?” ‘ she says. Until then, her religion and her love for the natural world had existed in separate spheres. Now, she began to see the environmental crisis as a deeply spiritual crisis, built on a foundation of greed, extraction, and irreverence. And with that understanding came an accompanying spiritual obligation. 

“ ‘If we don’t care about it and don’t do something about it, we’re failing to fulfill two of our callings as people of faith: to care for creation and to love our neighbors,’ she says over Zoom from her family’s home in Illinois. 

“That’s the idea behind ‘creation care,’ an environmental movement grounded in biblical direction, such as the duty to ‘tend and keep’ the Garden of Eden. … The ideas have been more readily adopted outside the U.S., especially in places on the front lines of climate change. …

“Even though creation care, also known as environmental stewardship, has become more widely accepted in the U.S., being a young evangelical environmentalist can be lonely. …

“[Ms. Barron’s] mother texted her about a group called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. YECA was founded with the support of the Evangelical Environmental Network in 2012. In addition to the group’s advocacy, the organization trains youth fellows on writing op-eds, talking to representatives, leading projects in their own communities, and engaging effectively with church members and leadership.

“Ms. Barron says she held back none of her trepidation in her application essay to be a fellow – and was welcomed into the fold. For the first time, she met a host of evangelical environmentalists grappling with similar questions, while working to shift the culture on climate within their own churches and college campuses. …

“ ‘It starts with conversations; it starts with one-on-ones … telling your church leaders and pastors what you’re passionate about,’ says Tori Goebel, national organizer and spokesperson for YECA. ‘It’s not necessarily about facts and statistics and different scientific figures, but rather it’s just sharing stories and connecting to shared values.’ ” 

More on Evangelical environmentalists at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Menorah Islands Project.
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are referred to as the “Abrahamic” religions because they are all rooted in a common ancestor – the biblical Abraham.

Today is like an alignment of planets because the three main Abrahamic religions are celebrating three important holidays at the same time: Ramadan, Passover, and Easter. I was thinking it would a good day to remind ourselves what the three faiths have in common, so I did an internet search and found information at the British Library.

The library had put the question in the hands of Anna Sapir Abulafia, Professor of the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall.

She writes, “When people refer to the Abrahamic religions they are usually thinking of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There are, in fact, more Abrahamic religions, such as the Baha’i Faith, Yezidi, Druze, Samaritan and Rastafari, but this article will focus on the main three aforementioned.

“The term ‘Abrahamic’ highlights the hugely important role which the figure of Abraham plays in each of these traditions. Jews, Christians and Muslims look to their sacred texts to find the history of Abraham and how it has been interpreted through the ages. For Jews, the central text is the Hebrew Bible consisting of the Torah (the first five books or Pentateuch), the Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ketuvim). Abraham’s story unfolds in Genesis, the first book of the Torah. …

“For Christians, the Hebrew Bible is the Old Testament, the precursor of the New Testament that narrates the birth, ministry, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as the life and preaching of the earliest followers of Jesus. For Christian understandings of Abraham the Letters of St Paul are of particular importance.

“Muslims engage with the figure of Abraham/Ibrāhīm in their holy book, the Qur’an, as well as in the Hadith, the body of writings which transmit the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad.

“Let us turn to Genesis to map out the story of Abraham, which is shared by Jews and Christians. In Genesis 12: 1–3 Abraham (at that stage his name is still Abram) is called by God to: ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ “

Professor Abulafia proceeds to describe in detail how each of the religious traditions perceives Abraham. She explains that Abraham has a son with Hagar (Ishmael) and also with Sarah (Isaac), saying, “trouble brews between Sarah and Hagar as their sons grow up, and Sarah persuades Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21). God promises Hagar that Ishmael too will be made into a great nation.

“God then tests Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). But when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah, an angel stops him and directs his gaze to a ram caught in the thicket. The ram is sacrificed instead of Isaac. …

“In Jewish tradition, Abraham became identified as the ‘first Jew.’ He is depicted as the embodiment of the faithful Jew upholding God’s commandments. Traditionally, Jews see themselves as the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and Jacob, his grandson. …

“In Christian tradition, Abraham’s faith became paradigmatic for all those who followed Jesus. In the words of St Paul, in Romans 4: ‘For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” ‘ …

“Islam shares with Judaism the narrative of Abraham’s destruction of idols in the service of the worship of the one true God. In Surah 37 of the Qur’an, Abraham ‘said to his father and to his people, “What is that which ye worship? Is it a falsehood – gods other than Allah that ye desire? Then what is your idea about the Lord of the worlds?” … Then did he turn upon them, striking (them) with the right hand. … He said: “Worship ye that which ye have (yourselves) carved? But Allah has created you and your handwork!” ‘ …

“In the same Surah, Abraham has a vision that he must sacrifice his son. As in the Bible, Allah intervenes in time. The Qur’an emphasizes that this was a difficult trial which both Abraham and his son passed with flying colors. It does not specify whether the son was Isaac or Ishmael, although today most Muslims believe that it was Ishmael/Ismā‘īl.

“The biblical narrative concerning the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael is paralleled in the Muslim tradition with Abraham taking Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca, where in due course Abraham and Ishmael build the Ka‘bah, the focus of the Hajj.” More from the professor here.

I wrote another post in 2011, here, on the Abrahamic faiths. In a 2014 post, I described a nonprofit that brings together young people from the three backgrounds. A post earlier this year was on an Abrahamic collaboration that is helping Afghan refugees in Maryland, here.

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