Religious communities positively affect their congregation’s attitudes towards the environment. This is especially true when they: promote the need to preserve the balance of nature; believe that growth should be limited in order to sustain the environment; and see humans as part of, rather than the rulers of, nature. In addition, spiritual communities in both the Pacific Northwest and Ohio have found that a pro-environmental message positively affects attendance.
This is good news because our environment needs all the attention we can muster. According to Coral Davenport, writing in The New York Times (11/30/2014),
It now may be impossible to prevent the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere from rising by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a large body of scientific research, that is the tipping point at which the world will be locked into a near-term future of drought, food and water shortages, melting ice sheets, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and widespread flooding—events that could harm the world’s population and economy.
While a breach of the 3.6 degree threshold appears inevitable, scientists say that U.N. negotiators should not give up on their efforts to cut emissions. At stake now, they say, is the difference between a newly unpleasant world and an uninhabitable one.
According to NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “We are racing toward a cliff in a fog, and we don’t know where edge is.”
Partly for this reason, in October of 2014, the Unity EarthCare Ministry Team adopted the following statement regarding climate change:
As humanity has been primarily responsible for climate change, we affirm that it will be humanity which will co-create a vision of the environmentally conscious use of energy and our planet’s fragile resources. We joyfully participate in our God-given role as good stewards of the Earth. Through prayer, meditation, church or spiritual center-inspired activism, and the skillful use of media, we affirm that the Unity movement is a world leader in the forward motion of environmental consciousness.
This statement is in line with Unity Worldwide Ministries’ vision of the sacredness and inter-connectedness of creation. It is a journey in which there is a spiritual relationship between humankind, the Earth and all its creatures. Through this awakened consciousness, we see everything as the presence of God.
Unity is one of an increasing number of religious organizations that realize climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. This includes every Catholic, mainline (NCC) Protestant, Jewish congregation and many Evangelical churches, who have joined under the umbrella of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. These partner institutions represent nearly half of all religious denominations in the United States. Numerous other faith communities from Muslim to Hindu to Unitarian to Buddhist host their own active environmental efforts.
In addition, at a United Nations conference that brought together indigenous people from North and South America, the following statement was adopted:
The world does not belong to humans—it is the rightful property of the Great Creator. The gifts and benefits of the world, therefore, belong to all equally. The things that humans need for survival—food, clothing, shelter, protection—are things to which all are entitled because they are the gifts of the Great Creator.
Environmental Activism Attracts Young Adults
It’s no secret that church attendance is declining nationwide. Those ministries that integrate an earth-oriented spirituality are finding that they’re tapping into an increasing desire by many young people who want to belong to a spiritual community that has a positive attitude and policies towards social issues such as environmentalism.
A study released in December 2013 by the Barna Group found that older, mainline churches experiencing declining attendance began attracting younger people by adopting a positive approach to environmental issues. “We actually encourage it as a way to get people into the churches,” said LeeAnne Beres, the executive director of Seattle-based Earth Ministry. As an example, spiritual leaders in the Northwest experienced a correlation between environmentalism and attendance.
According to Hunt Priest, the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal in Mercer Island, Wash., promoting environmental awareness offers an entry point, especially to younger adults, as a way to revitalize their congregations and reconnect with their nearby community. “For a little while,” he said, “some people forgot this was a spiritual issue … and we’ve reclaimed that now. Concern for the environment can be a spiritual growing edge.”
In addition, according to a survey by the EPA, congregations participating in their “Cool Congregations” program have realized an average annual reduction in energy costs of 33%.
The results are clear: Integrating an earth-oriented spirituality into a ministry, which is in line with Unity’s vision of a world that works for all, enhances the ministry’s brand to potential congregants and reduces operating costs.
The EarthCare Program makes it easy to implement rituals, ceremonies and practices that honor, protect and preserve our earth home and its inhabitants. In doing so, a powerful message is sent to the congregation. Not only will members be proud to belong to a congregation that honors the interconnectedness of all creation, they will be shown ways in which they can become better stewards of the earth in their daily lives.
As the realities of climate change become ever more apparent, it’s even more important that Unity’s vision of oneness with all of creation be spread throughout the world for the betterment of all.