Guest post by Sarah Beley, Fossil Free Faith Fellow.
Concern for what I see as the compartmentalization of many social and environmental issues that are actually interrelated, was what motivated me to join Fossil Free Faith.
I strongly believe that interfaith dialogue is part of the solution and an inclusive tool to engage communities, which up until now, have only marginally been involved in conversations around climate.
By deepening the conversation to include spirituality, the vocabulary is expanded, capturing an element that is not being picked up through the economic, academic, or scientific lens.
Love thy neighbour as thyself.
I was raised Ukrainian Orthodox, with the main tenet that as an Orthodox Christian it was my obligation to love thy neighbour as thyself. But in this globalized technological age, who exactly is my neighbour?
This has led me to redefine my neighbour within a global context where all of my private and seemingly isolated actions are interconnected with others and the environment. Climate justice, in its pursuit of fighting global inequality and poverty, becomes the simple commandment of loving thy neighbour as thyself. Concern for the natural environment is directly related to concern for issues of social justice, and particularly of world hunger.
My pivotal moment relating to environmental awareness and climate justice came from the year I spent living and teaching in Wenzhou, China. It was in this small Chinese city of nine million where I experienced firsthand the devastating effects of environmental degradation. Wenzhou is the manufacturing hub for shoes and eyeglass frames for export to the rest of the world. The direct influence of the global economy effected the air and water quality. For the year I was there, I did not see a blue sky, but profits soared. I left China with an increasing awareness of the links between environmental degradation and economic pressures, but for most including my students this is not an option. They are left to live within the externalities of the global economy. However, as more irregular weather patterns produce devastating natural disasters including storms, floods, droughts, and fires globally, there really is nowhere to leave to.
Over the last decade, under the leadership of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the engagement of the Orthodox Church concerning environmental issues has become more proactive. This recent engagement along with Pope Francis position on climate justice has redefined the environmental movement as a way to practise one’s faith. I have found a long overdue but much welcomed message, as for some time I dealt with personal conflicts on the past role Christian traditions have played in justifying the exploitation of the earth.
Understanding the interconnectedness of climate justice, and by simply redefining it to love thy neighbour as thyself-recognizes that cooperation, not competition, is the way forward. This maybe the greatest strength of the Orthodox Church which has historically enjoyed close connections with various national cultures, placing local churches in the unique position to lead the quest for local solutions to environmental problems. Ethiopia continues to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change that have resulted in food insecurity and water droughts, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has publicly pledged to divest from fossil fuels.
“Divestment and dialogue” is the the main mission of Fossil Free Faith Fellows. Our group is made up of the Abrahamic religions, though I do hope to see it expand to have representatives from a variety of the world’s faith groups for future dialogues. The response to our two public events-the June, 23rd public dialogue in Vancouver, and the July 4th faith hub at the 350.org’s march for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate-has been overwhelmingly positive, along with the typical response, “I did not know I could connect my spirituality to my environmental concerns!” The truth is you can.
Bio: Sarah is a graduate of Simon Fraser University with a minor in Dialogue Communications, a Semester in Dialogue alumnae, a Radius fellow, and a current member of Fossil Free Faith working on divestment from fossil fuels through interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Sarah sees the use of dialogue as a way to understand others and oneself, and a way to improve listening skills.