9 - Climate change: a moral issue  pp. 153-166

Climate change: a moral issue

By The Rev. Sally Bingham

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Talking about climate change is difficult at best, but when the subject is raised from the pulpit, it becomes not just difficult, but very complicated and sensitive. Because climate change is often seen as a political issue or even as part of a liberal conspiracy, clergy have to be extremely careful. On the other hand, religious leaders carry an important moral voice in the community, thus they are in a strong position to raise awareness and influence public opinion. This moral voice is increasingly being heard in broad, denomination-wide statements and open letters, some directed at political leaders, others at congregations; it is also being heard at the very local level, where priests and rabbis, ministers, imams, and monks speak to their congregations and communities (see Textbox 9.1). According to polls conducted after the 2004 elections in the United States, moral values played a major role in voters' decisions, thus giving rise to even more important reasons for the moral dimensions of issues such as climate change to be brought up front and center.

Clearly, choosing to speak out on climate change places religious leaders at risk of alienating their parishioners if they are seen as unprofessional or as using the pulpit as a soapbox. There is a thin line between engaging and mobilizing a community around an issue that has important social justice, environmental, and ethical dimensions (undoubtedly a justifiable religious matter) and being dismissed as a political agitator.

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