Greeley Award Sermon: Ethical Aspects of Climate Change
Presenters: Rev. Craig Schwalenberg, Sarah Summers, Bruce Knotts
The 2011 Dana Greeley Award Sermon winners were Rev. Craig Schwalenberg and Sarah Summers. This keynote sermon competition sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) highlights the Ethical Aspects of Climate Change in 2011. A check for $1,000 was presented to the winners who have been chosen from among many sermons submitted to the UU-UNO from across North America.
- The Preamble of the UN Charter is quoted as a reading.
- An online lecture by Jeremy Rifkin on the Empathic Civilization (YouTube) is also quoted.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Do you mind if—[UNINTELLIGIBLE]
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Yeah, I don't care if theirs goes off, but mine on the pulpit, that would be bad.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: All right. Yeah. He says he doesn't care if your phone goes off and I realized I didn't turn mine off, but if you want to do that, that's another good thing to do at the beginning.
Yesterday, in her workshop on Storying Racial and Economic Justice, the Reverend Dr. Jacqueline Lewis reminded us that Sunday morning services can be, in her words—boring, boring, boring. How many of you have ever been to one of those services?
The UU-UNO—the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has a cure. My name is Catherine Onyemelukwe. I am the president of the board of the UU-UNO. Each year, the UU-UNO invites contestants to submit sermons. Our cure is a timely and exciting sermon.
This year, our choice of theme was—Ethical Aspects of Climate Change. Reverend Charles Stephens—seated there, thank you, Charles—led a panel of judges to select the winner, or winners, who receive a $1,000 award and the honor of presenting their winning sermon here at the general assembly. That's the one you're about to hear.
Welcome to the 2011 Dana Greeley Award Sermon. Before I introduce our winners, I want to invite you, if you're not already, to become a supporter and friend of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office.
You may have already heard this morning, that as of July 1, in another week or so, we will cease to be an independent organization and will become part of the UUA International Resources Office. Nevertheless, we will still need and welcome your support. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office is your voice for UU values at the UN.
Your support enables us to speak up and make change for women's rights, for climate change action, for LGBT rights. Your support helps maintain our program to educate children impacted by HIV and AIDS in Ghana. And your support also helps us bring UN advocacy into your congregations with UN Sundays. Forms to join are being passed out, or have been. And they're also available at the end of the workshop today, at the table there, and in the back from our board members, who will also be happy to answer your questions and take the forms and your money from you.
Now, it's my pleasure to introduce our award winners. Reverend Craig Schwalenberg is a native of Wisconsin. But he's now, as he says, a very proud New Yorker. He is now serving the UU Society of Oneonta, New York. Craig is a graduate of Meadville Lombard. He says, outside of his ministry, he's a collector of hats, an obsessed geocacher, and a new disc golfer. And, as I don't know what those last two mean, I don't know whether you do, but you can ask after the sermon, if you want to find out more.
Sarah Summers was a student at State University New York in Oneonta. When she arrived there, she immediately sought out the UU congregation. She has been serving the congregation and teaching RE there for four years. Now she has graduated. This year, she assisted very heavily the UU-UNO Intergenerational Spring Seminar in the planning as co-youth chair, right? Youth-adult planning chair, and was very, very effective in that role. She will be teaching, starting in July, in New York.
Craig says that Sarah was the inspiration for this sermon and the reason he entered it into the contest.
Congratulations to both of you. I have your check for you and forgot to bring it up here. I will present it to you afterwards. And, I want to welcome you to the podium to present the 2011 Dana Greeley Award Sermon.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Well, since this is a worship service—at least that's what Sarah and I intend it to be—we're going to start by lighting a chalice.
The flaming chalice is the symbol of our larger Unitarian Universalist community, our shared historical tradition, and our free, affirming faith. The flaming chalice was a gift from a refugee, a victim of war and discrimination, given in thanks for aid from afar, and compassion across borders and boundaries. May this flame, along with our presence here together, mark this time and this place as sacred.
When we preached this originally, we used this Antiphonal Reading. You don't have an order of service, so Sarah and I will just do both parts.
But we have only begun to love the earth. We have only begun to imagine the fullness of life.
SARAH SUMMERS: How could we tire of hope? So much is in bud.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: How can desire fail? We have only begun to imagine justice and mercy.
SARAH SUMMERS: Only begun to envision, how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower, not as oppressors.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Surely, our river cannot already be hastening into the sea of non-being.
SARAH SUMMERS: Surely, it cannot drag in the silt, all that is innocent.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Not yet. Not yet. There is too much broken that must be mended.
SARAH SUMMERS: Too much hurt that we have done to each other that cannot yet be forgiven.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: We have only begun to know the power that is in us, if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
SARAH SUMMERS: So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture. So much is in bud.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Welcome, all of you, to the celebration of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. As I've been introduced, I'm the Reverend Craig Schwalenberg, and I have the pleasure and privilege of serving the Unitarian Universalist Society in Oneonta, New York. After last night's news, it's even more of a pleasure and a privilege.
Before serving in Oneonta, I served the First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I expect to hear news from you guys next.
Sarah Summers and I are honored to be here, and we're grateful for your presence here today. We co-wrote this sermon and delivered it on our congregation on our Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, Sunday. And we hope that you find it as meaningful and as inspiring as the judges for the Dana Greeley Sermon Contest did.
Now to get us in the right frame of mind, our first reading is from the preamble of the charter of the United Nations.
We, the people of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small, to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, to promote the social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, and for these ends, to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, to unite our strength to maintain peace and security, to ensure, by the acceptance of principles, and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, we have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.
Our second reading is from Jeremy Rifkin, economist, activist, and author most recently of the book, The Empathic Civilization. Now this reading is an excerpt from an online lecture based on that book. The full lecture can be seen on YouTube and it is worth seeing, so i courage it. Mr. Rifkin says, we know that if a spider walks up someone's arm, and I'm observing it go up your arm, I'm going to get a creepy feeling. We take this for granted, but we are actually soft-wired to actually experience another's plight as if we were experiencing it ourselves.
Research suggests that we are soft-wired not for aggression and violence and self-interest and utilitarianism, but that we are actually soft-wired for sociability, attachment, affection, and companionship. The first drive is the drive to belong—an empathic drive. It is very tough being alive on this planet. Empathy is grounded in the acknowledgment of death and the celebration of life, and rooting for each other to flourish and be.
Is it possible that we human beings—who are soft-wired for empathic distress—is it possible we can actually extend our empathy to the whole human race as an extended family? And to our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary family, and to the biosphere as our common community? If it is possible to imagine that, then it might be possible to save our species and save our planet.
If it is impossible to even imagine that, then I cannot see how we're going to make it.
Is it possible we can actually expand our empathy to the whole human race as an extended family, and to our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary family, and to the biosphere as our common community?
A deep, radical, world-spanning empathy. Can we imagine such a thing? Not only can I imagine it, I can see it happening. We are in the midst of it.
It may be hard to see with all the negative aspects of humanity that we see and hear about on a daily basis. The wars, and the discrimination, the ignorance, the isolationism, the bullying, the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the Islamophobia, the terrorist attacks, and the constant fear-mongering.
Empathy? Empathy does not make it onto the news very often. Empathy is subtle. It is slow-growing. It is also a basic part of human nature, and an evolving part of our species.
Mr. Rifkin, in his lecture, and the book of the same name, puts forth a convincing illustration of the evolution of empathy. In our development, we start out with the genetic ability, the predisposition to react, to distrust of those around us.
I see you in pain and I feel it. Empathy. Then we grow and we begin to understand the concept of identity. Us and them, which naturally, unfortunately becomes, us versus them.
Of course, we need to know who us is. And who they are. So we learn very quickly that family, is us. And then we expand that to friends, us. Way back when, our ancestors, being social animals, learn to expand us beyond family and friends, to tribe. Tribal affinity was a dramatic expansion of our empathy and our sense of identity, but we didn't stop there. After tribes we eventually became nations, identifying with a whole nation of people.
It's a rather dramatic leap. Helpful in many ways, but harmful, too. Us was expanded, but nationalism was still, us versus them. Nationalism is at the heart of most of our wars. Us versus them, taken to the extreme of violence. After World War II, recognizing the danger of unchecked nationalism, we came together and formed the United Nations. Unitarians and Universalists were both involved in the United Nations right from the start. Even before, actually, supporting its predecessor, The League Of Nations.
The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office was started in 1962, working to promote peace and work towards the goals of the UN charter. In 1971, the UU-UNO ceased to be funded as a branch organization of the UUA, becoming a separate, nonprofit organization funded by the generosity of individual Unitarian Universalists and UU congregations. This year that has changed.
It has been said quite often that Unitarian Universalism is a small faith, with a small voice, unknown, with little effect. It is true that we are small, and our voice may be small, too, but we manage to have an effect well beyond our size. The UU-UNO Office is one of those little UU mice that roars on the world stage. And yet, most people, most UUs don't know they exist.
My congregation had a connection to the UU-UNO. A connection that made me more aware of the work that they do, and the work they need us to do, if we are going to realize that next step in that empathic evolution. Sarah?
SARAH SUMMERS: Thank you Craig.
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be an intern for the Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office in Manhattan. There were 5 interns selected out of 77 applicants. And each one had different responsibilities, working towards a different initiative of the office. The four main programs of the office are LGBT Human Rights, Every Child Is Our Child, Women, Security and Peace Building, and Climate Change.
I was brought on as the envoy outreach intern. Envoys represent the UU-UN Office within their local congregation, and are extremely valuable to the UU-UNO because they are the connection between the office and the global UU community.
My first responsibility as an intern was to develop an updated resource packet, released annually for ministers and envoys to help them plan a UN Sunday. The suggested topic last year was, Ethical Aspects Of A Climate Change, which corresponds with the 2010 Spring Seminar—an annual intergenerational seminar in New York City, where participants have the opportunity to gain a deep understanding on a selected topic of global concern and listen to insightful speakers from around the world. One of the panels even takes place at UN headquarters, in a conference call sanctioned by the Canadians.
I have attended four Spring Seminars, and was the Young Adult Co-chair for this year's seminar, Empower Women For A Better World. The office also put me to work on editing some of their pre-existing publications, because I was an English major and I have a secret passion for grammar and punctuation. I edited the UU-UNO's Religious Education packet entitled, UN Me, and worked to make it more accessible. This has become a wonderful resource for children of all ages to learn about the United Nations.
At the end of the summer, I helped the envoy outreach coordinator with the proposal for the renewal of the Veatch grants, by outlining the responsibilities of a new position at the office, the youth envoy outreach coordinator, which has since come into fruition. My work at the office reinforced my desire to move into international affairs, post-graduation.
When Craig and I first delivered the sermon, I had not planned on returning to school immediately. Though my first choice for graduate school had been Columbia's school of international political affairs, where I wanted to declare a concentration in human rights. But as always, plans change and I was recently accepted into the New York City teaching fellows program. I started graduate school at Hunter College last week to earn a master's degree in special education, which I will be teaching in the Bronx this fall.
In trying to reconcile this new commitment with my desire to work internationally, I remembered a couple of things I learned at this year's Spring Seminar. That investing in girls' education is the highest return investment available in the developing world, and the effects of climate change are not gender-neutral.
In fact, through investing in girls' education and providing women with access to family planning and economic opportunities, we can mitigate the effects of climate change. It is extraordinarily encouraging to note that addressing these issues of global concern in tandem, is far more successful than attempting to tackle them individually. Perhaps we can save the world.
I hope to one day find work where I can address all the initiatives of the Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office. I hope by teaching at home in New York City, while continuing to work with the UU-UNO, I will eventually be able to move into the field of global education, and relevant policy making. I hope this path I've chosen will lead me to larger scale work to help improve the lives of others, and I cannot lose sight of these goals.
The UU-UNO means so much to me, not only because I worked there and had wonderful experiences at its seminars, but also for what it stands for. For what it means to UUs across the US and Canada, and maybe one day around the world. It is our voice to speak out against global injustices. It is our helping hands in places we cannot go ourselves. It can be our means to take action with our support. The UU-UNO needs the caring hands of UUs everywhere to keep it strong.
I still have so many ideas about where I want to go, and what exactly I want to do with the rest of my life, but I know that my calling is to work for global justice. As a lifelong UU, and having been through every year of RE, my parents and my home congregation in New York City have infused in me an unyielding aspiration to help make the world a better place.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: An unyielding aspiration to help make the world a better place. I love that phrase. That is an excellent, inspiring statement of belief. It is a rousing statement of purpose. An unyielding aspiration to help make the world a better place. That's the reason I can imagine the dramatic shift in empathy that Jeremy Rifkin says is essential for our survival. We have been working at it, reaching for it for over 50 years. The folks who formed the United Nations already imagined it then. They've spent the last half a century trying to figure out how to make that dream a world-wide accountability. A practical reality. It hasn't been easy.
Evolution is never an easy process and it certainly is not a quick one. But it is a sure one. Change is the only constant, after all. We, the human species, are evolving. We're not done yet. Revelation is not sealed. The question is not a matter of change, it is a matter of direction. Are we getting worse or are we getting better?
I look at the people like Sarah, our young citizens, our Unitarian Universalist youth, and I am filled with hope. I look at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, at where they are focusing their energy and the work that they are doing, and I moved from hope to surety.
Working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-transgender rights around the globe, on the front lines in Africa, fighting the current anti-homosexuality laws, and even the more Draconian laws that have been proposed and have been defeated now two years in a row, because of our voices. Why this issue? Because it is imperative that we recognize our GLBT brothers and sisters as just that—our brothers and sisters. Our family. The UU-UNO's Every Child Is Our Child program, with a focus on those children hit hardest, the victims and orphans of the AIDS epidemic. The Every Child Is Our Child program works for education, and gender equality and economic opportunity, but the main goal—the main point of the program—is in the name. Every Child Is Our Child. Family, tribal, national, and then global.
The Women, Security and Peace-Building program, recognizing the key role women have in peacemaking, community building and generational guidance, works to protect women from the rampant abuse they often suffer during times of war, and times of peace, too. Protecting women, and then empowering them to take leadership roles in their communities.
Why the women? Why that focus? They don't come right out and say it, and perhaps I'm off base with this assertion, but I will argue that in our world make up, women are more likely to practice and instill empathy. There are primate studies that have shown that tribes with strong females in position of power tend to civilize the group, slowly breeding out aggressive tendencies, and expanding cooperative behavior. Or in other words, if the females are leaders, everyone moves further along the empathy scale. In primates, of course. No proof that would be true for us humans. It's not like we are close to the primates on the evolutionary ladder, but I digress.
The final piece that the UU-UNO is working on—global climate change. I could have preached on our environment, the global climate change that we are experiencing, and the need to halt or reverse it, and judging by the number of climatologists that came up to me before the sermon today, that's what you were hoping for and, I apologize.
The packet that Sarah prepared for last year is a good resource on this topic. I encourage you to grab it. But I think most of us are already aware of that topic. Many of our congregations are already focused on climate change and trying to become green sanctuaries, and recycling. Or back home, fighting the hydrofracking.
So we celebrated the Unitarian Universalist, UU United Nations Office Sunday by looking at a different global climate change. And how the UU United Nations Office is helping to bring it about. That empathic civilization. That is a global change in climate. Not of weather, but of spirit, and soul, and behavior. One that is in changing how we identify ourselves and others. It is no longer about, us versus them. It's not even, us and them. It's just about—us. They are us, we are them. And the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office is working hard to bring that shift about, recognizing all people, regardless of sexuality or gender as our brothers and sisters. Recognizing all children, regardless of geography or class, as our children. Recognizing the power women have to lead, and yes to transform and evolve of our society. And ultimately, taking our empathy to the next step, recognizing our biosphere as our common community. Or as I like to phrase it, our home. Mi casa es su casa. Or better yet, mi planeta es su planeta. My home is your home, my planet is your planet.
That's the empathy Jeremy Rifkin was imagining. That's the world order the writers and signers of the United Nations charter envisioned half a decade ago—half a century ago. It's the type of world-spanning connection that is at the core of my theology, and Sarah's unyielding aspiration.
We need to keep imagining a world connected, a world-wide empathy. And every chance we get, we need to practice it. Not out there, but right here, and right here. Together, we can bring about a global change in climate. A change we desperately want and a change that we desperately need. We, the intergenerational, international, intergendered, interconnected, we. So may it be. Amen, indeed.
We lit this chalice as a reminder of who we are, and who we strive to be—one faith, one people, one family, one world, united. May we live our faith in this community and in the wider communities, to which we each belong, all one community. So may it be. Thank you.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you, Reverend Craig. And thank you, Sarah.
I think you'll all agree with me that we have been treated to a really, really phenomenal 2011 Dana Greeley Award Sermon today. And I loved having it presented by two people demonstrating the interconnectedness of us all, the need for empathy, and the ability to feel it. And of course, like Craig said, I love Sarah's statement. She has, and I know you join her with this, an unyielding aspiration to make the world a better place.
Let's give them another hand. Before I invite your questions and your comments, I will also like to present them with their checks for being the winners of the 2011 Dana Greeley Award Sermon competition. Reverend Craig?
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Thank you very much.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you. Great job.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Thank you.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you so much. And Sarah, Thank you. Thank you so much.
I hope we will see much more of them and we will count on Sarah to be with us for future seminars, and Reverend Craig, as well. Now I invite you, with your questions and comments. There is a microphone in the center of the floor there. So if you have something to ask or to add, please go to the microphone. And if not, I will invite Sarah and Reverend Craig to give us a few more comments.
If we could have your name and your congregation?
AUDIENCE: My name is Bob Geiger I am from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Maryland. And to be honest, here at this general assembly, as well as some other events, I'm not sure that Unitarian Universalists really understand what we're dealing with from climate change. So, I'm wondering if you could just—[APPLAUSE]—so, I'm wondering if you could just speak a few words to paint for us a picture of what you see the future that we're going to be dealing with from climate change is.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: There's a reason I apologize to you and, sir, I'm not a climatologist. I know that things are bad. I know things are getting worse. But I'm not here to tell you that. And I'm not here to paint the picture, and I can't answer question the way you want it answered. So I apologize for that, but that's not what my intention was. My guess though is, from what I was trying to say, most of what our problem is, is that we don't recognize how connected we are, and interconnected everything is.
If we operate with the assumption that we are individuals, and our actions don't matter, and they don't have an effect, then that's how we got here. And if we start acting in a way that recognizes that everything we do—everything we do has an effect on the environment around us, and the people around us, not just nearby, but all around the globe—that's how we're going to make the change. That's my view on it.
SARAH SUMMERS: For those of you who are interested in reading about the scientific facts of climate change, the UU-UNO website has a fabulous portal on climate change, with all the educational material you could dream of. So please feel free to check that out. Sorry we don't have the resources for you here.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: And liturgical resources.
SARAH SUMMERS: And liturgical resources as well.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: That you put together.
SARAH SUMMERS: Oh, that I've put together.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you, Craig and Sarah. And I will also add that one of the reasons the UU-UNO Office is important is that, although we are not experts on climate change, we do have on our board someone who is, and has been. And we can have access to meetings of people at the UN who are dealing with these issues. So we continue to put pressure. Yes.
SHARON BAIOCCO: I'm Sharon Baiocco from Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, Virginia. I'm also a Green Sanctuary Chair, and your title did draw me here. And I think, actually, that you have provided an opening for what I have to deal with in our community. I'm from Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Charlottesville is a little spot of blue in a sea of red. And I might add, this has to do with both what you talked about and climate change.
Recently, we were called to a county board planning meeting regarding sustainability grants that had been awarded to our communities, to work together on regional planning for sustainability. It was a $1,000,000 grant. And the Tea Party organized the other, shall we say, whom I want to be us. And that's my question is—how do I get them, and me, to work together? Anyway they fought the ICLEI process. it was a membership in a UN-sponsored group on how to gather information about carbon offsets. And they fought it on the grounds that the UN was, in fact, outside forces that were going to control the way we gather data, and therefore, intervene in the local control over sustainability. They said, oh, we're really all up for sustainability, but we don't want that UN group to come in here. ,
So, I'm asking you, how can we be we, when in fact others see us as outsiders. And I think there is, in fact, the spirit of nativism, they call it here, or xenophobia. And the other is to be feared. Thank you.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: I'm pausing, because I'm trying figure out how to answer the question in a way that's not going to sound insulting, not to you, but to them.
I'm in no way trying to suggest that they are less evolved. Please hear me when I said that. That being said, what I talked about was the evolutionary scale of empathy. We are asking people to have this global empathy. They may not be there yet. They're further down the line on the empathic scale.
How do you get them here? Well, you have to meet them closer to where they are. And it may be, maybe they're not ready for the UU United Nations Office. It may not be that they're ready even for bridging the gap to the next county. But they might be ready to bridge the gap with you, if you can help find some common ground.
One of the things that gives me hope is, in a lot of our communities stewardship of the earth is a place where we can find common ground, even though our religious differences and beliefs are on opposite sides of the scale. Their religious teachings, in many of our evangelical churches and many of our more conservative churches, are leaning towards—the earth was given to us to take care of.
That's something we can find common ground on. And once they start seeing you as, we, then they're much closer to the next step of seeing the next larger group as, we. Sometimes we overreach, and we try to drag people to where we are. And as much as that sounds like a good idea, it's not. Sometimes we have to go meet them where they are. That would be my view.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Welcome. Feel free to jump in.
BRUCE KNOTTS: All right.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you. Thank you, very much. Welcome Bruce. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm Austin Brown from the Unitarian Universalist congregation at Shelter Rock, New York, with a somewhat different tack. That is, perhaps you're already aware of the 350 organization referring to 350 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which approaches like the maximum comfortable amount. This organization last year held public demonstrations in over 100 different nations across the world. So far, however, Congress has completely ignored climate change.
350 intends to do something about that this fall, so I'd like you all to be alert about this. It involves public disobedience in Washington, DC. And they're trying to model the public disobedience which took place in Johannesburg in South Africa. So, I just wondered if you folks had any comment on that, or if—at least please stay tuned.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: We are aware of it and I appreciate your comment. And I would encourage everyone to find their web site and see what they're doing. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Terry Ellen, consulting minister in Cumberland, Maryland. Also executive director of UUs for Social Justice, Baltimore, Washington. And I thank you for the hope that you have given me, and I'm sure everyone here in your address. I have to say, in line with our first questioner, my own experience is that we Unitarian Universalists are not rising to the present moment with nearly the urgency that is called for. And I use this general assembly as evidence.
If it were not for the pressing time element in this most, by far the greatest ethical issue facing us—not only as Unitarian Universalists, but even as human beings on the planet today—if it were not for the time element involved, I'd be a much happier man.
I could say, well, we'll bumble through it as best we can and pass it on to our kids. But, while we do bridging ceremonies for our youth, and while we talk about the future of our religious education programs, without taking into account the planet that we are bequeathing them, I, anyway, my heart's breaking right now.
My heart's broken, because we're facing just, and needed other social justice issues. But this is the granddaddy of them all, and everything, everything else goes down the tubes. I mean, Thomas Berry said, the earth is primary, humanity itself is secondary.
We can't be whole human beings on a broken planet. And time is of the essence, so even Tim DeChristopher, I mean, here's a young Unitarian Universalist who has put his life, big time, on the line and was the hero at the 10,000 Young People in DC.
Was their hero. And somehow we can't muster, because of technicalities, we can't even stand in solidarity with him when the young people are doing—anyway, I wish I could say that perhaps the most privileged—our religious community in this nation cannot even rise to this to this issue, is to be heartbreaking.
I guess that's all I can say. I thank you for what you said, I really do. But I feel there's also enormous failure going on right now, it breaks my heart.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you for your comments and I would encourage you and the others who feel strongly about this to get in touch with the UU-UNO Office. Offer your support in the work we're doing on our climate change initiative, and follow what's happening with us.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: All right, great. Thank You. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, [? I'm Charlie Somerville. ?]
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Sorry,
AUDIENCE: Ah, I'm a youth—
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Let's hear this question if we could, yeah.
AUDIENCE: I'm Charlie [? Sommerville. ?] I've been a youth advisor in Asheville, North Carolina for six years now, and I came here to GA to bring back things to my kids at church. That was my main reason. Today, it's like climatology, this is something I can get away and do for myself. I was fooled by the title, I'm glad. Because everywhere I turned. I've seen how important our youth are. And I just want to thank you.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: OK, thank you. I'd like to hear their comments, please. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Yes, my name is Craig [? Moore, ?]. I'm with the Unitarian Church of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. And some of this discussion prior to my standing here brings to me the thought that the reality of what's happening is very scary. And that I know the United Nations has been quite active in some of these areas. By the way I'm a member of this organization as [UNINTELLIGIBLE] knows.
When I was born there was less than 2 billion people on this earth. That was quite a long time ago when I was born, but we're about to hit 7 billion. Now climate change I think we all agree is a function of not only the chemistry and the CO2 and so forth, but the human beings with what they do on this earth are very greatly responsible. But we've gone from less than 2 billion to almost 7 billion in my lifetime. And the resources of this Earth are limited. This, we have to do something about.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you.
MARYLIN HUFF: My name is Marylin Huff from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County,
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Pull the mike down a little bit.
AUDIENCE: Pull the mike down by your mouth. There you go.
MARYLIN HUFF: In Media, Pennsylvania and I'm also the first woman to speak, which I thought was a little bit interesting. There was—OK. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I wanted to thank you for drawing the linkages between many of the issues that are out there in the world. As UUs and activists, and particularly as UUs, we have a habit of squabbling between ourselves as what the most important issues to be addressing is. And I think it is important to realize how interconnected they are, and I want to thank you for drawing attention to that.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you.
PETER CONNOLLY: Hi, my name is Peter Connolly. I'm a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green in Kentucky. I'd just like to make two comments. One about the interfaith aspect of what Reverend Craig mentioned in the question and answer section, and also the intergenerational aspect of what we're talking about.
Our church is part of the Bowling Green Interfaith Coalition for Earth Care. And that is a group that is made up of a number of churches in town, the Catholic church, the Episcopal church, the Presbyterian church, the Islamic center, the Unitarian Universalist church, and anyone else is welcome.
Our impetus was put together by the Western Kentucky University Department of Philosophy and Religion. So this is a way to ask people to think about connections within your own communities, between religious organizations and academic institutions. Because they sponsored something called an interfaith dialogue on earth care. And they invited people from Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish heritage to speak from their religious perspective about why earth care is important. And they had people respond to that in an academic manner with a hundred people listening. That was the academic piece.
And then it was—What do we do from here? And the church leaders said, well we need to do more than just let this [? die. ?] Let's get an actual coalition which organizes educational opportunities throughout the year—activities based on political urgency like Hands Across The Sand this past year, or when a shooting range was proposed for the last pristine park in the county, we had a clean up and appreciation day. There are things you can do on an interfaith level in your own community. Because I think the primary obstacle is denial.
The primary obstacle comes from, as you stated, people thinking about their own individual needs, and not understanding how that impacts. And that's a big leap of understanding the people need. The more education we can do, the more actions we can do, the more we can rise and make those interconnections.
And the second piece, about the intergenerational piece. I think it's so easy for us to love our grandchildren and forget that our grandchildren will one day be grandparents. And we have an obligation to love them as grandparents right now, when they're grandchildren.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you.
JACK LANDER: My name is Jack Lander. I'm from Woodbury, Connecticut from the Mattatuck Unitarian Universalist Society, affectionately known as MUUS. I think often of a powerful analogy to our global situation which is how we create alcohol. It's created by yeast consuming a sugar. And they keep consuming it, and keep growing and multiplying, until they reach twelve percent. And then they die in their own waste product, which is alcohol.
I see this as a metaphor or analogy to our present earthly situation. We have a lot of publicity going on for climate change and global warming, but I see very little on birth control in the nations like Africa and South America, and so on—China. What is happening in the world to solve that problem? That's a question.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: You want to answer that one? Did you hear this one?
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Did you hear the question?
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: OK. [INAUDIBLE]
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: Something about what are we doing about population growth [INAUDIBLE] we expected that [INAUDIBLE]
BRUCE KNOTTS: Well, yes, I'm Bruce Knotts and I'm the executive director of the UU-UNO and I apologize that I arrived late. I was at a lunch with Peter Morales and Karen Armstrong, and Imam [? Abdul Rauf ?] and that's why I have arrived late. I haven't heard the sermon, but I've read it. And I hope you enjoyed it. I think it's raised a lot of issues, just as I've been listening to the questions.
I think it's very important to note that if we're going to do anything about climate change, the UN has got to be involved. This is not something that we can do only in our communities, it's not even something we can do only in our nation. It has to be an international global effort on the part of everybody and the UN is involved, it has to be involved.
It's the issue that is of most importance to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. If you recall President Obama's first visit to the United Nations, his entire first day was working on climate change, the second day he gave his address to the UN General Assembly, and the third day, he chaired a session of the UN Security Council.
So climate change is really at the core of what the UN is doing it's the most important issue there. Many of you are saying that this is the most important issue. It a cross-cutting issue. And we often look—and what we've tried to do in a sermon—and what we do with the UN is look at the effect of climate change on women.
Climate change falls hardest on women and children. Women have to search for firewood that doesn't exist, because it's been dried up and blown away. They have to search for water that is also disappearing. So, the effects of climate change really fall very much on women.
The whole issue of reproductive rights is something that UNIFEM, which is one of the UN agencies deals very directly with, and we deal very closely with the people at UNIFEM. I have a very close personal relationship with Dr. Henia Dakkak, who is an Egyptian, Muslim, and a feminist. So it's a great combination. And dealing very much with women's reproductive rights, and making sure that women have access to birth control, and that's a very sensitive topic.
The US government, as you know, has tried very hard recently to defund Planned Parenthood. The Canadian government, our folks to the north that we always looked to as the liberals, and the people that we look to, to have the wiser sort of thought—they have already defunded planned parenthood. So it's worse in Canada on this in a front that it is even in the United States.
There's been efforts to defund UNIFEM, the UN agency that is most concerned with women's reproductive rights. So part of what we need to do, I think, in addressing the issue of population control, is to make sure that we don't allow Congress to defund UN agencies such as UNIFEM. It's one of the things that we're doing.
We advocate very much on climate change issues, but a lot of also what we're doing is advocating for the UN. To make sure that you lobby your Congress people and your senators to make sure that the UN is not defunded. And a lot of Republicans lately have talked about defunding—not only defunding the UN—they're now asking for refunds. They want their money back from the UN. And we give precious little to the UN.
In my remarks this morning, if you heard them, I said, if you want world peace on the cheap, we should invest in the UN. Also, if you want to mitigate climate change on the cheap, again invest in the UN. That's the global body that's going to come up with many of the answers that we need. So that's what I have to say right now.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you. Thank you, Bruce. Yes.
AUDIENCE: My name is Michael Mark. I'm with the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We need to do things ourselves also. This is the second general assembly I've come to. And I'm aware of the , recycling and the compost efforts, and that's all very good. But I'll tell you my heart sank when I went to pick up some dinner downstairs in the exhibit hall. And when I went to find some water, they pointed me to bottled water.
There's no reason why bottled water should be served in this facility, at a UU general assembly. When you have a 16 ounce of bottled water, it took four ounces of oil to produce that and get it to you. And there might be some situations where bottled water will be appropriate, and next year in Phoenix, you might think that would be one of them, but I would suggest we need to find a different way to keep our water supply in Phoenix without bottled water. It's technically possible with bulk water supply, refilling your own personal bottles. Don't use plastic bottled water.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you. And may I just comment that your comment is certainly an important one, and some of the others you have made. I would encourage you to find the right venue to advocate for those issues, which in this case would be the GA planning committee. So I encourage you to find those people who will make those decisions. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Bruce Wiggins, First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee. Thank you, Craig. Thank you, for all of you up there. Several comments about information that's been transmitted here. First, the organization about 350.org. The information was that they're planning civil disobedience in Washington, DC. That's a part of what they're doing. They're also planning a national day of action in your local communities. So please go. The day planned is September 24 of this year. Go to 350.org to find out about how you can do some action in your local community, because the time to act is now.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: That's the number 350 in the website, 350 dot—
AUDIENCE: Yes, 350.org. The allusion to why that number is important is also there.
Second, there was a reference to Tim DeChristopher that maybe people didn't understand. Tim DeChristopher is a man from—a Unitarian Universalist from Salt Lake City—who decided that the time for action is now. And he went to a BLM auction for public lands in Utah. He bid on the mineral rights, and was convicted with two felonies and is facing sentences this summer.
He needs support. People in Utah who are helping him need support. His organization is called peacefuluprising.org. Peacefuluprising.org. Go to that web page and find out how you can help, and maybe even get some inspiration for civil disobedience.
Finally, to those of us who are heartbroken and are dealing with grief over this, Joanna Macy is a really important voice that is helping us try to deal with our grief, at the same time that we need to know how to act. We have people down at the UU Ministry for Earth table who can lead workshops in your congregation about how to deal with grief and overcome that, to go to action. So voted go to the UU Ministry for Earth table downstairs to get more information about all of these things.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you. Yes.
JESS CULLINAN: My name is Jess Cullinan, I'm from the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Hi, Craig.
I wanted to thank you once again and magnify your call for interconnection and that broader picture. Because the idea of climate change, the idea of all of the things that we as individuals need to be doing to save the world right now is so overwhelming, that when we can come back to that picture of—we are each a connection, one to the other. Just little connections that all together make a big one—that's what really makes real differences. Because that's what calls the next individual into doing something small, that then calls someone else into doing something small. And those things add up. So thank you for calling attention to that, again.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you.
LES GRADY: I'm Les Grady from the Harrisonburg UUs in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I spent my career as an environmental engineer and an environmental scientist. So I came here today, actually with no expectation at all that you would talk about the scientific aspects of this problem.
What I did come expecting is that perhaps you would follow the old saw. That the role of a minister is to comfort the afflicted, excuse me, and to afflict the comfortable. Because I think that if we had taken the attitudes that we tend to have within the UU ministry about climate change—if we had taken those attitudes about the civil rights movement, that we would have heard sermons about civil rights in the '60s only on Civil Rights day. We tend to put this problem only on Earth Day or on UN Day.
And indeed, it is a people problem. It is not truly an environmental problem. The Earth will go on. The question is, whether the earth will go on with a climate that is amenable to people and civilization. And we need to internalize that. We need to be motivated, all of us, to come to action. It's not enough to drive a Prius. It's not enough to do carbon offsets. We must have systemic change, and that will only come when the people are motivated. I know what the woman from Charlottesville was talking about, because Harrisonburg is totally red. But somehow we have to get to all of those people. And I think it starts with our clergy, and with the UUA motivating us—all of us—to get out.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: I couldn't agree with you more. And there's a reason that this sermon did not focus on climate change in the way that it was intended. And that's because I had already preached on it in my congregation twice, and we were scheduled to do a whole month church-wide through January.
Every January my church does an in-service, where all of the youth get together and do one topic. And when I got there two years ago, I said, well if you're going to do one topic, we're going to do the same topic in the pulpit. And their topic this January was the importance of water. And so, I'd already preached it twice. And we were going to preach it four more times. And, I needed to preach it a little bit differently for this one.
But that's not to say that we shouldn't be talking about it from the pulpits, and in our RE classes, and in our newsletters. We should. We should. We must. But please don't hear in this sermon that I was trying to avoid the topic. I was trying to take a different tack for change, because if I say it too often, they attend a tune me out. So—.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: I think we have time for probably two more people, but let's see. Go ahead, please.
AUDIENCE: I'm Suzanne Griffin, I'm from the River Road Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bethesda, Maryland. I'm also a practitioner of nonviolent communication for the past 12 years. So I appreciated your sermon. I'm the choir.
But I'm feeling very sad, that the comments seemed to indicate that most people didn't hear what your sermon was about. And I agree with you, that the foundation, the only place you can start from and be successful, in talking about climate change, or immigration, or any of these other topics is empathy. You will not be heard, if you cannot offer empathy first. So, thank you.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I'm Rachel Mark from Unitarian Church of Harrisburg—
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: We missed the first part. Speak up, say it again.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: You've got to come all the way forward.
AUDIENCE: I'm Rachel Mark from Unitarian Church of Harrisburg and I'm involved in various environmental groups including the Interfaith Power & Light. And maybe I need to talk to the assembly committee, but I would hope that there would start to be more leadership from the Unitarians about climate change. It's like pulling teeth. Even in the Unitarian Church, you can't get people—they don't know who Tim DeChristopher is, they don't know who Bill McKibben is It's something that we all need to be aware of. I think it's a human rights problem. It's an economy problem, it's everything. And we need to be stronger on climate change. We need to support the members. If we could come here and even connect with people who are—that this is their calling, their passion. A way for us to connect with each other. And I know there's a global warming UU website that I follow, but it seems to be only a fringe. And I think that we just need more support.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Well continue to raise your own voice. Thank you. Yes.
CAROLYN WOODBURY: Hi, I am Carolyn Woodbury from First Church San Diego, and I came up because they talked about—not very many women up here. I've been an environmentalist since 1969. I've published a newsletter that went to all the schools in the county. I've been active in my church. We got 11 out of the 12 necessary steps to become a green sanctuary in our church. What we didn't do was get an-ongoing group of people who keep it up. What we didn't do is we didn't get our ministers to put their bodies, and their voices in the circle. We didn't get our board to get in there with us. And that is why we don't have a green sanctuary. That is why we still have plastic being served sometimes on the campus. And it is heartbreaking. And it is imperative that we get our ministers involved, that they don't just sign the piece of paper saying that they will do the interfaith efforts to become green. We have to make our campuses green. We have to go and participate in legislation that's happening. And every week is not too often for an environmental reading. It might be too often for the whole sermon. But every week we hear and see our ministers standing up for gay rights, for gay marriage, for immigration reform, and for a number of other pet projects which will be nothing if we don't have the world to live in.
REV. CRAIG SCHWALENBERG: And this is the part where lose all of you. One of the hardest things to do as a minister in the congregation, is to recognize that I have limited time, and I have limited words and I have limited energy. And some Sundays, my congregation needs to hear that they're loved and that there's hope. And sometimes my congregation needs to hear, get off your butts and do something. And sometimes that needs to be for the people who are fighting to keep the gas drilling out of their backyard, while still acknowledging that their neighbor can't keep their home if they don't find some way to do it. Sometimes the transgendered person in my congregation needs to hear from the pulpit that she, he, ze, matters to us. Sometimes the board needs to hear that how they spend their money is a faith statement. Sometimes, they need to hear about gun violence. Sometimes they need to hear about whatever pet project is out there. And I'm not going to disagree with you that the climate change and environmentalism is one of the key aspects. But what somebody said at the microphone before is right. The more energy we spend arguing about which one is The Thing we have to talk about, The Thing we have to put our energy in, The Thing the church—all of the church—has put the energy in, the more energy we've wasted.
So those of you are passionate about climate change and about the environment, keep at it. And by all means, get your minister involved and your board involved. But if you try to say that everything else that everybody else cares about and is fighting for in your congregation doesn't matter, you will have lost them. You will have wasted your energy and it won't get done. So you need your passion, we need your passion. The church—Milwaukee you guys got solar panels not right? That happened because of an individual who was passionate. And another church nearby that got it done because people in the pews started it, and then had support from the minister. But that's not all that church is doing. My church is not a green sanctuary yet, but I'm pushing for it. But I'm also pushing for racism to end in our neighborhood. And I'm pushing for the transgender folks to be recognized, and welcomed in our congregation. And I'm pushing against hydrofracking. And I'm pushing for a woman's right to choose, because God, we need that, and it's being taken away.
And I'm sorry that I can't put every sermon on every topic, every Sunday. I really am, but I do the best I can. OK?
BRUCE KNOTTS: I would like to also echo what Reverend Craig has mentioned. One thing that I kind of observe, as I look around, look around you here. What missing? You don't see any people of color here. And I was in a meeting at the UUA—this was a high level meeting—and this group of Unitarian Universalists got very passionate about climate change, the very issue that we're talking about here. And there were two people of color and said, we realize that if we don't do something about climate change, none of us will exist. We'll all be gone. But if you're hungry, and you don't have a job, and the government has taken away your collective bargaining rights, and that it's an immediate issue. And if you don't see my pain as a person of color, or you don't see my pain as a gay person, or you don't see my pain as a woman, or whatever these pet projects might be, if you don't see that pain, you're going to lose those people.
So what we need to do is see all of the pain, and that's what I tried to do in my statement this morning. We need human rights for gay people, for women, for all marginalized people and we need to advocate for the rights of Mother Earth, too.
And by validating and advocating for all of these issues, we bring everybody in. And we won't have a room that doesn't have anybody of color in here. We need to make climate change as important to black people, to gay people, to women, to whatever marginalized group there is out there. We need to make this issue important to everybody. And by making it important to everybody, you're going to get everybody's support. But if we start saying climate change is more important than your issue over there, and maybe that issue over there, people are hurting. Today, right now, they're hurting. And if you trivialize their issue, then you've lost them and you're not going to have them. And that's the beauty of the sermon, that I didn't hear, but I have read. Because it ties everything together. It means that we need to be passionate and concerned about all of these issues. Does that mean you're going to spend 24/7 on racism? Maybe your passion is climate change, and if that's where your passion is, then by all means spend your energy on climate change. But don't devalidate other peoples' causes. Don't devalidate other peoples' causes.
I want to say a couple of other words. I want to, first of all, thank the Greeley Award committee—Reverend Charlie Stephens and Reverend Allison Barrett, right? In Canada were part of the Greeley award committee, we had more submissions this year than we've ever had. And Charlie Stevens has told me it was tough, going through a lot of sermons. We picked the very best of the best and its best because it is so holistic. It ties all of these issues together. And that's what we do at the UU-UNO. We tie all of these issues together. We don't trivialize one issue or another, but we embrace all of these issues, whether it's racism, or homophobia, or misogynist behavior, or whether it's disrespectful behavior to the Earth, which is one way we could talk about how we treat the Earth, because we treat the Earth terribly. And we need to address all these issues and the UU-UNO does that. And I do want to ask people—you do have these cards and I want you to become a member. I want you to join the UU-UNO, and to be part of the work that we're doing here. So—
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: [INAUDIBLE] Someone has a question [INAUDIBLE]
BRUCE KNOTTS: [UNINTELLIGIBLE] OK, all right, all right.
AUDIENCE: Excuse me. Is there any way you guys could indulge me about 30 seconds? I think I have something—
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: Are you all willing? All right go ahead.
AUDIENCE: I'm Stephanie [? Boston ?]. I'm from the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. And New Orleans is about on the way to becoming the first major city casualty of global warming. I also think it's an example of how these issues that you guys just brought up are connected. Because I believe that what's getting focused on, and what's not getting focused on, is a matter of who has power. And we're poor, we're mostly black, and we can be saved, but the country doesn't care enough to do that. Every time I say I'm from New Orleans, people say, how are your levees? I said, they're better, but you know what? If don't we don't restore the wetlands in Louisiana, they can build the levees to 100 feet high and it won't matter.
We're also an example of the interaction of global warming with other man-made destruction like the oil companies cutting canals through our marshes that let in the salt water that destroy them. When I was growing u—I'm 55-years-old. When I was growing up, we never left New Orleans for a hurricane. We weren't on the coast. We are almost on the coast now. And they know how to fix it, there are projects ready to go. The funding disappeared under George Bush, and nobody that I've talked to here, so far, is even aware that that's the major issue down there.
So I just wanted to say, please, our legislators have been screaming about this for 25 years, even before Katrina. But the same disparities that you saw in Katrina, with poor people being disproportionately hurt, is what's happening to New Orleans as a whole. And so I hope that if you're talking about climate change as an ethical issue, to let a city of people who are—a lot of them are marginalized—go under because we don't matter, is a huge ethical issue. Thank you.
CATHERINE ONYEMELUKWE: I want to thank you again for coming today. I encourage you to become a member and supporter of the UU-UNO, and I especially want to thank Reverend Craig and Sarah Summers for their participation, and for their sermon. Thank you.
FEMALE SPEAKER: And please make sure to fill out your evaluation forms. We'll have people collecting them at the door. And if you have any questions about the UU-UNO and how to become more involved and connect your congregation, you can see any UU-UNO staff member. Thank you.
Greeley Award Sermon: Ethical Aspects of Climate Change is General Assembly 2011 event number 4011.
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Last updated on Sunday, February 12, 2012.
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