Addressing Climate Change in a Church Setting

In the fall of 2015, Father Kevin Brown and I co-taught a series of classes on science and faith that addressed climate change. Kevin Brown is the rector at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter, an episcopal church in Charlotte, NC. This was the second series of classes we have taught on science and faith. In the fall of 2014, we focused on evolution. When we started this blog I referred to these classes in my first blog post. Of course, life happens and I stopped focusing on the blog. I hope to change this in the future.

What I want to talk about in this post is the class I taught with Kevin on climate change. I plan to address how the Episcopal Church addresses climate change in a later post, so stay tuned. Note that I won’t plan to go into too much detail here as I have a lot to say already. Here is a general overview of what we did:

  • Class 1: What is Science/What is Faith?
  • Class 2: What is climate change?
  • Class 3: Question and answer session
  • Class 4: The Episcopal Church and Climate Change
  • Class 5: Open discussion on next steps

Class 1: What is Science/What is Faith

The first class was a general overview of the first two weeks from the previous year. In the first year, the first week focused on what is science and the second week focused on what is faith. Our goal was to define both science and faith for the participants and to explain how they are different ways of knowing and that they don’t have to be in conflict. For the second year we combined those first two classes into one class to streamline the process.

I focused on the part about science. I gave a very quick overview of the history of scientific thought and finished this part of the discussion with a definition of science from the National Academy of Sciences: “The use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.” The definition comes from the 2008 publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism. I concluded the section on what is science with some information from the Understanding Science website. I like to bring up their science checklist and the section on the limits of science.

Father Kevin focused on the part about religion. This included what he called the “hallmarks of (christian) faith” (i.e. orientation toward God, trust in God and God’s activity, and dependent on revelation and prayer). A discussion on the comparison of the types of questions that religion and science address followed this. The goal was to emphasize that religious based questions focus more on meaning and value whereas science based questions focus on reason and fact. Kevin concluded with a great quote from the Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding document. This is a really interesting document that I can explore further in another post, but the quote he included was from the end of page 9: “…theology does not depend on science to verify its doctrines, just as science does not depend on theology to verify its theories.”

Finally, we ended this class with a clip from the end of the last episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. This clip focused on what Neil deGrasse Tyson called the 5 Simple Rules of Science: (1) Question authority, (2) question yourself, (3) test ideas, (4) follow the evidence, wherever it leads, and (5) remember you could be wrong.

Class 2: What is climate change?

This class was really interesting. One of my science colleagues, Dr. Brian Magi, came to church to teach us about climate change. He talked about how we know the climate has changed as well as how we know that humans are responsible for this change. Additionally, he talked about possible solutions to climate change. It was a fascinating conversation. Of course, I’m a science dork, so I’m pretty biased. However, several of the attendees also agreed that this was a very beneficial class. I definitely need to have him come back. He is an excellent speaker and science communicator.

Class 3: Q&A

We decided to make the third class a question and answer session. Based on our experiences from the previous year, we realized we needed to break up the weeks to allow for debrief and discussion. The idea behind these classes was to help people become more informed of the issues, but we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just an “us talking to them” approach. We primarily used this as an opportunity to recap what we covered in the first two weeks. Participants were open to this and seemed to enjoy it.

Class 4: The Episcopal Church and Climate Change

This week was pretty interesting. Our focus was on how the Episcopal Church has responded to climate change. I plan to address this in more detail in a later post, but to give an idea, the Episcopal Church did a forum on climate change on March 24, 2015. The former Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, kicked this off with a very impressive keynote address (see the linked website for the video). She displayed an incredible amount of knowledge about science and it should be noted that prior to her ordination in the priesthood, she was an oceanographer. As in, she knows her stuff. This forum kicked off 30 Days of Action, a series of activities, advocacy, and education that ended on Earth Day, April 22, 2015. It was an effort to bring people in the Episcopal community together for a common cause, i.e. how to directly confront climate change. I highly encourage anyone interested in seeing how one part of the faith-based community addresses something like climate change to watch the video and look over the website.

Class 5: Open Discussion on Next Steps

We used this week sum up everything that was discussed over the prior 4 weeks. It was a good way to address any unanswered questions that may have emerged. We discussed many things during this session, but two main points that we reinforced:

We discussed things that church members could do to start to make a difference, such as following the advice from the 30 Days of Action. Our goal was to help people understand that while it may seem that one individual person won’t change anything, 10, 100, 1000, and so on number of people choosing to do something will change things.

Closing Thoughts

Clearly I have a lot more to write on this topic. I actually recorded most of the weeks we presented, so I need to re-listen to our discussions and see what I can tease out. As I indicated in several places, I do plan to do a post specifically on how the Episcopal Church addresses climate change. For instance, I just found an article published in The Anglican Theological Review in Fall 2013 by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas titled The Episcopal Church and Climate Change: The First Twenty-Five Years. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it looks very informative. Hopefully I won’t wait an entire year before I get that information on here.

Feedback is always welcome. Conversation is always welcome. Leave comments, reach out, whatever.


2 thoughts on “Addressing Climate Change in a Church Setting

  1. Great stuff! I love the collaborative approach you are taking.

    My experience with Faith in the evangelical church has demonstrated for me that a faith that focuses on certitude abandons its reason for being. In attempting be more “scientifically provable” it becomes less believable and less effective.

    Thank you for what you are doing. Your voices matter!


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