Worried Churches Chime in on Global-Warming Debate Religious Groups See Climate Change as a Potential Danger to 'God's World.'

Article excerpt

At his Sunday service recently, the Rev. Karl Whiteman asked God to grant world leaders the "wisdom and courage to reverse global warming that threatens our very existence." Mr. Whiteman is a United Church of Christ missionary in Micronesia, where small islands could be inundated if climate change becomes a full reality and sea levels rise. So his prayer of petition had a certain urgency to it.

While the debate over global warming may be hotter than Hades among scientists and politicians, the issue has become an important part of theological teaching and organizational activism for growing numbers of clergy members and congregations.

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., which represents 34 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations, recently launched an educational and advocacy effort that includes public-service announcements for broadcast, church bulletins, and a five-part congregational course of study titled, "It's God's World: Christians, the Environment, and Climate Change."

Earlier this month, 22 denominations within the National Council of Churches (NCC) wrote President Clinton and every member of the United States Senate, urging approval of the international climate- change agreement reached at Kyoto, Japan, last year.

THE Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the NCC, says there are several reasons this issue is "the particular concern of religious leaders." "Climate change will hurt creation," says Dr. Campbell. "People of faith know, as Psalm 24 tells us, that 'the Earth is the Lord's and all that is in it.' Human beings are called to care for the earth."

Second, she says, "People of faith have long believed that we are 'our brothers' and sisters' keepers.' We are responsible for each other's well-being. Climate change will affect the health and safety of everyone."

Whether or not global warming in fact will occur - at least to the extent that environmentalists warn - remains in dispute.

Many scientists say temperature changes linked to human activity already are occurring. July set new temperature records, as did every previous month this year. These surpassed 1997, which had been the hottest year on record. All 10 of the warmest years have occurred since 1983. …