As politicians and climate change naysayers move to distance themselves from Pope Francis and his environmental encyclical released Thursday, religious leaders across the state are urging people to hold their feet to the fire.
The encyclical is not a religious document but a moral imperative for all of humankind: Address climate change or face the inevitable destruction of humanity, say Nebraska faith leaders.
“Now is the time for the people of the world to unite under Pope Francis’ call to action to protect our planet and our people,” said the Rev. Kim Morrow, executive director of Nebraska Interfaith Power & Light and a minister at First-Plymouth Congregational Church.
While the 246-paragraph encyclical addresses global warming, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and economic development, it really isn't about climate change, said Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln’s Catholic Diocese.
“It is about the human person and how we relate to the world around us,” Conley said in a telephone interview.
Throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis refers to earth as “our common home.”
“It’s about our responsibility, in the way we treat one another and the way we relate to our environment,” Conley said.
It is about participating responsibly in God’s creative plan, the bishop said.
“I like to think of it as very simple: God created the human person and the world in which we live. So we have to see the hand of the creator in everything, and that is always directed back to God,” Conley said.
Pope Francis urges us to ask deep moral questions, said the Rev. Dennis Hamm, professor in Catholic theological studies at Creighton University, questions such as what is our purpose in life, and what do we want to leave for the future?
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Hamm and Morrow were among six Nebraska faith and environmental leaders taking part in a news conference Thursday to discuss the encyclical.
“We are already hearing political figures scramble to separate themselves (from the pope),” Hamm said. “They’re saying let the pope stick to his theology and morality and we will stick with public policy.”
But Hamm argues public policy is always managed by implied theology of ethics, morals and social conscience.
“Those who want to restrict morality only to certain issues are really abusing the term of morality,” Hamm said. “Anything to do with the basic relations of life -- for harm or good -- is a moral question.”
To separate morality from laws and policies is a false separation, he said, "a denial of moral character."
The encyclical, although written for the Roman Catholic Church, is really "a document for the whole world,” said Richard Miller, associate professor of systematic theology at Creighton University.
“We need honest and truthful dialogue and cannot manipulate anything for short-term political gain or short-term economics of policy. We need to rehabilitate politics,” Miller said during the news conference.
“The pope asks a great question: What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us and the children who are growing up now? ... This is not just about the future, but it is about who we are. What purpose is our life, if we as people are willing to destroy the conditions of life for the poor and our children? It requires serious reflection and has to be institutionalized."
While the pope calls on everyone to address the issue, he also makes it clear the answers are not as simple as turning off lights, driving less and recycling more. He specifically calls wealthier nations to task, the U.S. in particular, which, as Miller notes, has historically been the largest emitter of carbon dioxide -- “2.5 time more than any other country historically, and that matters because carbon dioxide lasts a century,” Miller said.
The pope also criticizes a consumptive culture where people as well as things are disposable. Those who suffer the most are the ones who are least to blame for the climate crisis -- the poor -- according to the encyclical.
“The throwaway culture is an abuse of the thing that God has given us,” Conley said. “Everything is a gift from God, and we have to be good stewards. As stewards, we have to respect the gifts we have been given -- the environment, the land, the air and the water -- they are not to be exploited for our own use.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LJSerinandersen.