By Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the heels of Pope Francis’ challenge to a joint session of the United States Congress to develop “courageous actions and strategies” to “avert the most serious effects of environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter joined a group of influential faith leaders at the National Cathedral to urge all people to care for God’s creation.
“We are not loving God’s world if we’re only talking about God’s world, or viewing it as a commodity, however beautiful, to consume,” she said. “Home begins at love. Use your imagination to experience God as creator. Use your worship place to feature his creation. Use your prayer to touch his creation and let love beget advocacy.”
The Thursday evening event in the nation’s capital included prayer, praise and song to inspire faith and climate leaders and extend Pope Francis’ call to action on climate change and creation care. In addition to Paynter, the program featured faith leaders from across the United States such as author and event organizer Brian McLaren; Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Ill.; Sharon Watkins, president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Sister Simone Campbell, a Catholic nun and executive director of NETWORK; Geoff Tunnicliffe, former secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance; and Amy Butler, senior minister of The Riverside Church in New York City.
In a public letter to Pope Francis, the group applauded his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, and pledged to meet “our moral obligation to our common home.”
“We are all bound together in a fragile ecology of life, human dignity, and grace,” the letter said. “As you state in Laudato Si, how we care for the earth is inextricably bound with how we care for our neighbors—whether they have food and clean water, shelter that is safe from storms, or the resources to live in peace without warring over the essentials of life.
“In recognition of the moral urgency of the time in which we live and the ways that we have failed to protect our common home, we are coming together now in faith to address changing climates. In response to your leadership, collectively we are proposing these five initiatives to raise the conscience of faithful Americans and those of good will and urge our leaders to act.”
The group committed to and called on people of faith to engage on environment-oriented issues, form clean energy groups within their faith communities, make environmentally-responsible personal and congregational investments, ask candidates and elected officials to make climate issues a top priority, and to stay informed and educate others about how to better care for God’s creation.
Paynter will join more than 150 faith leaders Friday at the National Cathedral to watch the address of Pope Francis to the United Nations in New York City and share ideas for how congregations, communities and the nation can support the Pope’s call to climate action.
Throughout the week, Paynter has met with faith and government leaders to discuss international religious freedom, global poverty and ending hunger. She was among those invited Wednesday to the White House to hear addresses from President Obama as well as Pope Francis, who spoke on the necessity of protecting the vulnerable, reconciliation and ensuring a sustainable environment and to better care for God’s creation—“our common home.”
She joined a diverse group of more than 100 faith leaders Monday on the eve of the Pope’s visit at the Interfaith Religious Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., to call for a shift in the country’s national priorities and to end hunger by 2030.
“U.S. faith communities are deeply engaged with many sisters and brothers who struggle with hunger and poverty, and we have become increasingly active in urging our nation’s elected leaders to do their part—defending low-income people in the national budget debate, for example,” Paynter and the group said in their pledge statement. “Our experience of God’s mercy and compassion for all people moves us to engage in God’s work of overcoming hunger and human misery, and our sacred traditions include visions of the world transformed.”
Paynter attended a luncheon Tuesday in honor of Pope Francis hosted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) regarding the role of faith-based groups in ending extreme poverty. Paynter also met Tuesday with Rabbi David Saperstein, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and on Wednesday with the leadership of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a global religious freedom advocacy organization. In January, CBF announced an expanded partnership with the Baptist World Alliance at the United Nations around global advocacy efforts, including a focus on international religious freedom.
CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.