These days, we all could use a little good news — so we’re presenting a few of this year’s Grist 50 Fixers, in depth. For a quick dose of hope and optimism, meet 2020 Fixer Michael Malcom.
Michael Malcom preached his first sermon at age 8. Years later, in 2016, he became senior pastor of Rush Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ in Atlanta. Increasingly, though, he felt compelled to take more direct action on climate and environmental justice, beyond the walls of his church.
In 2018, Malcom relaunched Alabama Interfaith Power and Light, a local chapter of a national organization that mobilizes faith leaders to respond to climate change. Last year, he founded the People’s Justice Council to coordinate faith-based groups around grassroots activism. He also works with Climate Action Network International. Earlier this year, he resigned as pastor to become a full-time advocate and organizer focused on policy change.
Malcom was recently named to the 2020 Grist 50, an annual list of emerging climate and justice leaders. We asked him about what drew him to the ministry, and what sparked his decision to leave. His answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
“This for me is a form of worship.”
I was answering the prophetic call of speaking truth to power, concerning justice. It led me to a place where I felt discontented with just going to church, and having church for the sake of having church. The whole shouting and dancing and emotionalism that is involved, though it is good and encouraging, doesn’t necessarily equate to change insofar as systems are concerned. I felt led to do something deeper and more lasting and more impactful. That’s what led me to activism and environmental justice.
Environmental justice is, for me, the issue of our time, because it also involves climate justice, climate change, and climate care. I really believe that I was called to lead this space. This is where I see God, where I hear God clearly, in this space. This for me is a form of worship. I see God in caring for life.
I’m now transitioning from my role as a pastor and embracing doing activism full time, and building this organization [the People’s Justice Council]. I’ve resigned [as pastor], and I’m finishing out my contract. I’ll still be connected to the United Church of Christ, I just won’t pastor a church.
The vision for the People’s Justice Council is to create a just world. I’m coordinating with Fridays for Future to coordinate faith working groups for Earth Day. Last year, we did ones in Birmingham, in Huntsville, in Montgomery, Mobile.
Climate defeatism leaves you at a place where you are frozen, and you don’t act. If my house is burning, I’ve got to do something. I can’t sit there and let it burn around me because I don’t feel like there is anything I can do. I believe that is the call of leaders in the faith movement. It is our call to give not just hope, but courage.
Meet all the rest of the fixers, doers, problem-solvers, and visionaries on this year’s Grist 50 list.