Faith-based organisations and actors play a crucial role in climate action and environmental stewardship. Leutz and Nunn found out that years of implementing different approaches to climate adaptation in the Pacific region from the scientific and technographic perspective has yielded very little results probably due to the highly traditional, religious and communal nature of their living (Luetz and Nunn, 2020).
It is no secret the effect and impact that faith interventions have had on various aspects of civilisation – both positive and negative. A Pew Research Center Survey suggests that about 85% of the world’s population are religiously affiliated. It is even more interesting to know that many of the remaining 15% unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith (World Population Review, 2023). This points to a strong premise for programming around and through faith actors!
Katharina (2018) discussed this in detail in the book “A Climate for Justice? Faith-based Advocacy on Climate Change at the United Nations.” She averred that religious communities, by their very inextricable involvement as members of the community, are part of the conversations on issues affecting communities, including those bordering on climate and environmental issues. It was argued that Faith-Based Actors “are part of these discourses and that their religious and spiritual practices are constituted and constitutive of climate justice practices.”
Their involvement encompasses a wide range of activities, from shaping understandings of climate change to the barest level for unlettered people to engagement at the highest echelons of society for action to mobilizing communities and advocating for policy changes at local and global levels.
For instance, the biblical mandate “Then the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard” (Genesis 2:15, GNT). It should mean, among other things, that God required mankind to explore and extract without exploiting the earth. This is because “The earth belongs to God! Everything in the world is his! (Psalm 24, TLB). Faith-based actors should be equipped and encouraged to be frontal and intentional in their engagements with issues that affect the whole community wholly.
Here are some key ways in which faith actors can be involved in climate action and environmental stewardship:
- Shaping Understandings and Responses: Faith actors shape understandings of climate change and advocate for responses at local and global levels. They often draw on spiritual and moral resources to promote pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours within their communities. “Numerous collaborative, community-based interventions involving the Black Church have been successful in promoting positive health behaviours by engaging those at the forefront of influence in the community in co-developing and implementing interventions,” says Brewer and Williams (2019). They continue to say that many community-academic research efforts have been interfaced by the black church in America; a partnership that has influenced the outcomes of medical and other interventions among the black populace. The religious community has a strong influence on their congregants and community. This has been aided by the ability of the religious leadership to link interventions to the sacred texts of faith. When faith actors are empowered with the requisite knowledge and other resources/logistics, they stand a pivotal chance of helping to inform and reshape the understanding of the greater population, thereby influencing the positive response needed by all and sundry to engage the staggering challenges of climate change and environmental degradation.
- Mobilization and Advocacy: Faith-based organizations mobilize their congregations and communities to take action on environmental issues. By their very nature and setup, faith communities wield collective and communal power because of their numbers and organization. An article by Grzymala-Busse (2016) suggested that the church can influence policies when it takes a certain stance and a positive public rating. In another research, Ayoub (2014) demonstrated amply that the Catholic Church in Poland was able to marshal domestic resistance to the passing of LGBT. Channelled into other causes such as climate issues, the church can similarly mobilise its adherents to complement the efforts of governments and other actors. Religious movements can mobilise their members to separate plastic waste from other wastes, plant trees, support life on earth and life underwater initiatives, as well as engage in advocating for duty bearers to be responsible. They can also provide spiritual and practical resources to support environmental stewardship initiatives.
- Policy Advocacy: Faith actors can advocate for policy changes at local, national, and international levels. Strongly tied to the mobilisation capability of the church is the policy influence aspect. They engage with governmental and non-governmental organisations to influence environmental policies and promote sustainable practices. A recent study in Kenya and Zambia strongly points to the fact that the involvement of faith actors as advocates yields very positive results (Bormet et al., 2021). According to the study on advocacy for family planning, in 2014, 40% of the health facilities surveyed reported having difficulty getting Family Planning commodities from the government, compared to 0% in 2017. Nearly all (97%) facilities reported stock-outs in 2014, compared to 20% in 2017. It is evident that Faith-Based Organisations and “religious leaders are influential voices with policymakers and communities, with growing evidence that they can be strong advocates” for family planning and other key interventions. In the same vein, the church can advocate for key changes in policy, as well as holding duty bearers to check on matters of implementation and enforcement. The faith community can be a strong influence on matters of galamsey, indiscriminate siting of structural projects, and regreening of land surfaces, to mention a few.
- Partnerships and Collaboration: Many supposed free thinkers and progressives propagate unsavoury imagery of the relevance of religious communities. However, overwhelming evidence suggests the enormous contributions that faith communities have made to all sectors of human development (Tomalin, Haustein, & Kidy, 2019). Faith-based organisations collaborate with secular organisations and other stakeholders to address climate change and environmental challenges. This collaboration can range from grassroots initiatives to engagement with international bodies such as the United Nations. The church has collaborated with communities, government agencies, NGOs, international bodies and the like to bring about sustainable development. Locally, A-ROCHA Ghana has collaborated with the Christian Council of Ghana to promote the concept of the eco-church (these are churches that reserve at least 30% of their space to be covered with vegetation), and there are many other sterling performances by other religious groups. Harr and Yancey (2014) suggest that partnership and collaborations with “faith leaders in small towns and rural communities build mutual understanding and trust,” and that “the resulting professional interdisciplinary relationships can lead to collaborative service provision that benefits families.”
- Educational Initiatives: Faith actors engage in educational efforts to raise awareness about environmental issues and promote sustainable practices within their communities. This includes integrating environmental stewardship into religious teachings and practices. Besides homes, churches provide the most consistent and sustainable platforms for the general education of people from cradle to grave. The church is the most comprehensive educational institution of all time. At least on a weekly basis, faith-based organisations have the opportunity to meet people of diverse backgrounds, age brackets and social status in one location. Besides the religious knowledge propagated by the church, several other topics of relevance have found a place on the various platforms managed and controlled by the church. Besides their pulpits, publications, media outlets, and other fora have been utilised to share information on various non-religious topics. Rightly supported and funded, the church stands a far greater chance of achieving the educational objectives on climate and environmental issues than governments and other non-religious agencies.
In conclusion, faith actors’ involvement in climate action and environmental stewardship is multifaceted and impactful. Their efforts contribute to raising awareness, mobilising communities, advocating for policy changes, and fostering partnerships to address the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation.
By actively engaging with faith actors, policymakers, and environmental organisations can harness the potential of religious communities to advance sustainable and resilient solutions to environmental issues.
- Luetz, J. M., & Nunn, P. D. (2020). Climate change adaptation in the Pacific Islands: a review of faith-engaged approaches and opportunities. Managing climate change adaptation in the Pacific region, 293-311.
- Katharina, G. (2019). A climate for justice? Faith-based advocacy on climate change at the United Nations. In The Role of Religion in Struggles for Global Justice (pp. 42-56). Routledge.
- Grzymala-Busse, A. (2016). Weapons of the meek: How churches influence public policy. World Politics, 68(1), 1-36.
- Ayoub, P. M. (2014). With arms wide shut: Threat perception, norm reception, and mobilized resistance to LGBT rights. Journal of Human Rights, 13(3), 337-362.
- Brewer, L. C., & Williams, D. R. (2019). We’ve Come This Far by Faith: The Role of the Black Church in Public Health. American journal of public health, 109(3), 385–386. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304939
- Pew Research Center. The Future of World Religions. Accessed May 3, 2021. http://globalreligiousfutures.org/
- Bormet, M., Kishoyian, J., Siame, Y., Ngalande, N., Erb, K., Parker, K., Huber, D. & Hardee, K. (2021). Faith-based advocacy for family planning works: evidence From Kenya and Zambia. Global Health: Science and Practice, 9(2), 254-263.
- Tomalin, E., Haustein, J., & Kidy, S. (2019). Religion and the sustainable development goals. The Review of Faith & International Affairs, 17(2), 102-118.
- Harr, C. R., & Yancey, G. I. (2014). Social work collaboration with faith leaders and faith groups serving families in rural areas. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 33(2), 148-162.
- https://ghana.arocha.org/projects/eco-church-programme/ accessed on November 27, 2023.
- https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/religion-by-country. Accessed on November 27, 2023.