On Monday, in the wake of remarks that caused anger and intense debate around the world, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim diplomats that “our future” depends on good relations between followers of the Catholic and Muslim faiths. His Holiness quoted John Paul II calling for “reciprocity in all fields” and urging religious freedom and tolerance.
This past week, I had the incredible honor of presenting on a panel with religious leaders from around the world as part of the Climate Institute‘s Summit on Climate Destabilization. The panel, chaired by famed Earth Day founder Denis Hayes, featured revolutionary leaders from the Jewish, Presbyterian, Catholic, Christian, Muslim, and Mormon faiths, all united in efforts to urge their religious communities to take action to stop global warming. As each leader spoke, I watched the rest of the panel nodding, taking notes, and cheering each other on.
“Good relations” and “reciprocity in all fields” indeed!
- Jo Anne Lyon of World Hope International spoke about her group’s work alleviating suffering and injustice;
- the Reverend Sally Bingham, Executive Director of The Regeneration Project of Interfaith Power & Light, talked about uniting faiths around climate solutions;
- Mr. Walter Grazer, Director of the Environmental Justice Program for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, provided a Catholic Perspective;
- Rabbi Warren G. Stone quoted from the Torah, telling the crowd to “be bold”; and
- attorney Joseph Cannon provided a Mormon perspective.
Of particular note was a Presbyterian initiative, spearheaded by Pamela Mcvety, asking the Church’s 2.4 million members to “bear witness” to global warming and Go Carbon Neutral in their own lives. This revolutionary commitment made by the national body of what Mrs. Mcvety jokingly called the “frozen chosen” — a religion in which conservatives outnumber liberals by an estimated 2-1 — shows the amazing potential of religion to overcome political and cultural differences in the face of a common global threat.
In the session’s final presentation, Dr. Khalid Shaukat, Advisor for Scientific Issues for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), quoted passages from the Qu’uran, stressing the responsibility of all Muslims to protect creation. A response to the Pope’s remarks by Dr. Shaukat’s group, the Islamic Society of North America, notes:
It is true that some Muslim rulers deviated from Qur’anic principles by using political or military power to oppress other religious communities. However, such actions were exceptional, which is why the oldest and most diverse Christian and Jewish communities were found in Muslim lands up to the modern period.
Before last week, I imagined two of the most influential religions in the world locked in a death spiral over conflicting religious values. But after listening to these forward-looking leaders turn the issue of climate change — potentially the ultimate divider — into the ultimate uniter, I have faith.
Their talks highlighted the huge base of common beliefs — respect for creation, one’s neighbors, and future generations — that great religions and all of humanity share. Each of these visionary leaders has begun the long-term process of changing the behavior of the more than 3 billion people their faiths represent. I am humbled, inspired, and hopeful.