Lauren R. Stevens: Minister of climate change urges Earth's salvation

WILLIAMSTOWN — Jim Antal thinks that people of faith have a special obligation to combat climate change. Antal, leader of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC), has published "Climate Church, Climate World," Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, and recently spoke at the First Congregational Church, Williamstown. Bill McKibben wrote the foreword and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a blurb.

Although Antal is a Congregationalist, he sees this calling extending to all people with Judeo-Christian religious inclinations. For that matter, Eastern religions have always expressed the Biblical idea that "the earth is the Lord's." Antal believes that we have to take seriously that the earth does not belong to us.

"The continuity of God's creation is in jeopardy" due to a warming world, so "God is calling the church to initiate a moral intervention." We must act not just to save our own skins and those of our descendants, but because we understand that warming affects people with lesser means disproportionately and that we are destroying God's gift to us.

When asked why people in this country, who overwhelmingly believe that the climate is changing and that human beings are responsible, don't seem to be acting with the necessary urgency or even talking about the matter, Antal said that his answer "will surprise you." He said we are in the denial stage of grief.

He set aside certain politicians and business leaders who, he said, do understand that the disaster is upon us but are motivated by greed at the expense of the future. For most Americans — and we are the only people in the world who seem to have this hang up — climate change is just too dreadful to face.

Too long, he said, have churches concentrated on individual salvation. They need to engage in collective salvation. Church leaders should lead in order to help their flocks overcome their fear. Ministers, rabbis, priests should engage in "prophetic preaching," not just occasionally but often. He signaled out as models Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si" and the words of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Church leaders "have a crucial role to play in creating the moral conditions that will lead humanity to make the changes that science says we must if we want to maintain a habitable and governable world."

Climate change is a reality we feel in our daily lives. It is a scientific reality; it is facilitated in this country currently by a political reality. More important, it is a moral reality for people of faith — "the greatest moral challenge humanity has ever faced." He advocates resisting expansion of a fossil fuel infrastructure and turning to renewable energy as an immediate strategy.

Antal, who accepted his appointment with the Massachusetts UCC 12 years ago on condition that he could devote at least 10 percent of his time to the ministry of climate change, is now stepping down from the state position to devote all his time to helping mankind respond. Beginning this July he will "intensify his work as the national UCC spokesperson on climate change" — and perhaps do a little biking "through the hills of Vermont."

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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