U.S. religious groups have a long history of political activism — from advancing civil rights to combating poverty. In September, faith-based groups plan to demonstrate their social power once more.
Interdenominational groups are rallying their members to support strong local and national responses to climate change. Events being planned for Washington September 21–25 will coincide with the visit of Pope Francis, who called for humanity to improve environmental stewardship in the Laudato Si’ encyclical issued earlier this year.
A diverse coalition — including many faith-based organizations — is organizing the Week of Moral Action for Climate Justice, which will feature a September 24 prayer vigil on the National Mall.
The location, adjacent to the U.S. Capitol Building, on the day Pope Francis will speak to the Congress, presents “the right time, the right place [and] the right message,” said Lise Van Susteren, a coalition leader.
The rally will focus on the damaging impacts from climate change that are already disrupting the lives of many people. “Those who do the least to cause the problem are hurt the most,“ said Van Susteren.
These advocates for action call this cause-and-effect “climate justice” and point to a social “moral duty” to act on these problems, said Van Susteren, echoing the encyclical.
The holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, falls on September 22, during the week of climate action. The Shalom Center — a Jewish member of the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC) coalition planning the week’s events — is organizing a multifaith vigil on the occasion known as the Day of Atonement.
“At this moment in history, we humans are in need of atonement for the ways in which we have desecrated the Earth,” organizers wrote in an announcement of the event.
Diverse faiths have come together in IMAC, including Protestant Christians, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Unitarians, Quakers, Buddhists and Hindus.
Action on climate events are scheduled during this same period in a cluster of other U.S. cities in the Northeast and Midwest, and organizers say the list is still expanding.
These September events may draw sizable crowds to the nation’s capital, but it could be only the beginning of a civic action season on climate. Religious, environmental and social justice groups plan numerous events and rallies in the months to come, pounding a steady drumbeat they hope will result in an international agreement on climate change action at Paris talks in December.