Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Will impetus for United Methodists to address environmental issues come from the Central Conferences?

I was struck by the juxtaposition of these two United Methodist news stories from the last week: the first about a litter clean-up project undertaken by a Zimbabwean church and the second about a coastal cleanup project undertaken by United Methodists in the Philippines. Both projects earned praise from local environmental organizations, and while the environmental connection was stronger in the Philippines cleanup, both projects seemed to stem at least in part from motivation to care for the environment.

Nor is this the first time that Filipino United Methodists have shown concern for the environment. Within the last year, Filipino United Methodists have participated in a climate walk, and students at UM-affiliated Wesleyan University-Philippines have launched a climate change movement. Moreover, some of the environmental initiatives of Filipino United Methodists have had clergy and episcopal support, as the articles demonstrate.

In the United States, support for environmental causes has waxed and waned over the years, but recently, the United States has been behind other developed nations and even many developing nations in terms of concern over climate change specifically, as this article and this article show.

While there are certainly many faithful American United Methodists who are working to mitigate negative human effects on the environment (such as United Methodist Bill McKibben), these articles raised a question for me: Is it possible that real impetus for United Methodists to address climate change and other environmental issues will come from the Central Conferences, not the US?

There are reasons to think so beyond just the survey data linked to above. For reasons of geography and level of economic development, it is likely that other countries around the world will be negatively impacted by climate change before the United States is, making these issues more pressing for them. Moreover, since other countries lack the set of political factors that make climate change and environmentalism controversial in the United States, a United Methodist climate initiative from the Philippines or elsewhere could face less domestic opposition. While only time will tell, I think the Central Conferences are a good place to look for United Methodist energy around addressing climate change and other environmental issues.

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