The Climate Witness Project (CWP) is a campaign of the Office of Social Justice and World Renew that grows out of several convictions of the Christian Reformed Church. The first is that there is scientific consensus that climate change is damaging our world. Human-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are changing the weather, melting polar ice caps, enabling diseases and viruses that have existed only in warm regions to move to more temperate zones, destroying species of animals and plants, and raising sea levels. In addition, there have recently been more prolonged and extreme droughts, more torrential flooding, readings that indicate warmer and more acidic ocean water, and consequent large-scale migrations of peoples and increases in food insecurity around the world.
There is also a growing moral consensus, as well as increasing agreement among the world’s nations, that this problem must be addressed immediately. The Paris Agreement (see below) and the pope’s encyclical on climate change are only the most recent examples of a groundswell of support for an immediate response that has developed in religious communities and among the nations of the world. The popular agreement and moral momentum are catching up with the scientific consensus, and the tide is changing.
The Climate Witness Project walks with congregations, organizations, and individuals to take action on the climate crisis in one or more of the following areas:
- Energy Stewardship: reducing congregational/organizational/individual use of energy and fossil fuels
- Worship: healing our relationship with creation through liturgy, song, Scripture, and preaching
- Education: providing and recommending book studies, films, discussions, and speakers to learn about the realities of climate change
- Advocacy: addressing public policy at the local, regional, and national levels for the benefit of the earth, people who are poor and vulnerable, and future generations
2012 Synodical Statement on Climate Change
In 2010, the synod of the CRC instructed that a task force be formed to study and present a Reformed perspective of creation stewardship, including the issue of climate change. In 2012, the Creation Stewardship Task Force presented its findings in the Creation Stewardship Task Force Report (read the summary here). Synod 2012 responded by affirming its findings and adopting its recommendations, thereby becoming one of the first evangelical denominations in the United States to affirm the scientific consensus on climate change, calling it a "moral, religious, and social justice issue," and calling its denominational bodies, congregations, and individual members to private and public action.
Below is Synod 2012's statement, along with its recommendations to the denomination, churches, and its members:
Approved by Synod on June 13 and 14, 2012
- It is the current near-consensus of the international scientific community that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity
- Human-induced climate change is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue
- Such climate change poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable
- Such climate change poses a significant challenge to us all
- We are called to “commit ourselves to honor all God’s creatures and to protect them from abuse and extinction, for our world belongs to God” (Contemporary Testimony, par. 51)
- Therefore, even when scientific uncertainties are taken into account, the precautionary principle (e.g., Overture 60, Agenda for Synod 2012, p. 594) compels us to take private and public actions to address climate change.
Recommendations to Churches
Call to Action
- That synod call upon the churches, members, and denominational bodies to be voices for justice and public examples in the effort to live sustainably within our God-given resources, to promote stewardship in our own communities and our nations, and to seek justice for the poor and vulnerable among us and for future generations.
- That synod call upon the churches and their members to reduce individual and collective carbon emissions to the atmosphere. We should examine energy choices in our homes, lives, businesses, farms, and institutions from a perspective of stewardship, challenging ourselves to use less energy and to use it more wisely.
- That synod call upon the churches and their members to consider and advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions and move us toward very low or zero net emissions.
- That synod call upon the churches, their members, and appropriate denominational agencies and institutions to respond with generosity and compassion to people and places negatively affected by climate change, as well as to make efforts to mitigate it. This includes advocating with our governments to take the necessary actions in an effective global framework to assist populations that are bearing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change while being the least able to cope.
- That synod direct the BOT to ensure that educational resources and programs are identified and made widely available to congregations, schools, and other groups in order to promote participation in the urgent global conversation concerning care for the creation.
- That synod request the BOT to review the operational practices of major CRC agencies and institutions in the light of this report’s conclusion concerning the need to exercise robust leadership in caring for the creation and addressing a changing climate, including the need to reduce our denominational carbon emissions.
- That synod request the BOT to encourage several appropriate creation care organizations to apply for placement on the list of accredited nondenominational agencies recommended for financial support submitted for approval to Synod 2013.
- That synod accept this report as fulfilling the mandate of the Creation Stewardship Task Force and thank them for their work.
- That synod request that members of the task force make themselves available for approximately twelve months for forums, discussions, and educational sessions around the denomination.
- That synod commend the Creation Stewardship Task Force report to the churches as a guide for prayer and discussion, and for direct action and advocacy when and where appropriate.
Additional Synodical Statements
Synod has taken significant action on creation care four times over the past two decades. First, in response to various overtures the early 1990s, the Synodical Task Force on CRC Publications and the Environment examined the use of resources at the denominational level, and Synod commissioned CRC Publications to produce study guides on the ethical framework of environmental stewardship.
Second, the 1997 Synod alerted churches to the Reformed Ecumenical Council's report, "The Just Stewardship of Land and Creation," which includes guidelines and recommendations that can be used by churches, classes, and institutions.
Third, in 2008, an overture requested clear guidelines for CRC institutions, agencies, and congregations to implement practices that respect God's creation. In response, Synod approved Article 38 which states that the denomination has "...[No need for] further analysis regarding the extent and often uncritical use of the finite resources provided by God through the earth," affirming that, "…it is clear that we are only beginning to understand the consequences of maintaining the increasing consumption of finite resources and our waste disposal." Synod then instructed the BOT to establish and maintain a webpage with up-to-date eco-justice resources, which can be found on the Office of Social Justice's Creation Care resources page.
Finally, in 2010, Overture 7 asked for the identification of the CRC’s position on anthropogenic global warming. Synod 2010 responded by reaffirming the significant contribution that humans make to environmental problems worldwide, accepting the Micah Declaration the Micah Network Declaration on creation stewardship and climate change (see below), and establishing a task force to report on Reformed creation stewardship and climate change at Synod 2012.
Synod 2008 approved an updated version of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony in 2008, which identifies climate change as a creation care issue of importance for the church:
51. We lament that our abuse of creation
has brought lasting damage
to the world we have been given:
polluting streams and soil,
poisoning the air,
altering the climate,
and damaging the earth.
We commit ourselves
to honor all God’s creatures
and to protect them from abuse and extinction,
for our world belongs to God.
In 2006, Peter Borgdorff - then the Executive Director of the CRCNA - and Andy Ryskamp, the Director of CRWRC (now World Renew), both signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative statement, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action. The statement declares that "human-induced climate change is real," and it calls on the U.S. government to pass legislation establishing limits on carbon dioxide emissions. "Christians must care about climate change, because we love God the Creator and Jesus our Lord, through whom and for whom the creation was made. This is God's world, and any damage that we do to God's world is an offense against God himself."
In July 2009, the Office of Social Justice and CRWRC both signed on to a Micah Network Declaration on creation stewardship and climate change, calling on world leaders to address climate change and environmental degradation.
In February 2010, the CRCNA Board of Trustees endorsed the Declaration on behalf of the denomination, and Synod 2010 accepted the Declaration “as speaking to its concern for and responsibility toward creation” (Acts of Synod 2010, p. 871).
The CRCNA Board of Trustees endorsed the Declaration on behalf of the denomination in February 2010.
The Micah Network Declaration states that in the beginning God made a creation characterized by just relationships. However, we have often failed in our calling to be faithful stewards of God's creation, which has produced the current environmental crisis and led to climate change. The declaration affirms that "rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing the average global temperature to rise, with devastating impacts already being experienced, especially by the poorest and most marginalized groups."
Therefore, we commit to follow God's calling to participate in the renewal of all creation. "We join with others to call on local, national, and global leaders to meet their responsibility to address climate change and environmental degradation through the agreed intergovernmental mechanisms and conventions, and to provide the necessary resources to ensure sustainable development...[and] to protect the lives and livelihoods of those most vulnerable to the impact of environmental degradation and climate change."
In response to Overture 7 requesting the CRC’s position on anthropogenic global warming, Synod 2010 instructed the establishment of a task force that would present a Reformed perspective of creation stewardship, including the issue of climate change, to Synod 2012.
Why do so many members of the CRCNA care about climate change?
This question leads us to the second conviction driving the Climate Witness Project: our faith. As we look at the harm caused by climate change, two matters of faith in particular drive us: caring for creation and caring about people in poverty. Genesis 2:15 reminds us that we are to care for creation. Elsewhere the Bible says we are to be stewards of all that God has given us. We don’t own the earth; we are called to take care of it for the Lord (Matt. 25:14-30).
The people who are first and most harmed by climate change are those who are poor—in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. We advocate for a vigorous response to climate change because we know that if we do not respond, people in poverty will continue to suffer the consequences. Both the Old and New Testaments make clear that we are always to respond compassionately to people who are seen as “the least of these” (Isa. 1:17; Zech. 7:9-10; Matt. 25:31-40).
In addition, Synod 2012 of the CRCNA affirmed the reality of human-caused climate change and asked the members and congregations of the denomination to work hard to end the harm caused by a changing climate. Synod adopted a historic report on creation care and climate change that challenged the church to increased action to address the damage caused by climate change by reducing our own energy use and advocating for effective public policies.
How you can join the effort:
If you want your church to join dozens of others in working toward climate justice, please email our coordinator Steve Mulder at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to become a Climate Witness Partner, please fill out the form here. As a partner, you:
1. Agree with the CRC Synod’s statement that:
a) Human-induced climate change is a moral, ethical, and religious issue.
b) Human-induced climate change poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable.
c) Human-induced climate change, as a global phenomenon, poses a significant challenge to us all.
d) Urgent action at the personal, communal, and political levels is required to address climate change.
2. Agree to receive electronic communications from the Climate Witness Project, including newsletters, action alerts, updates on what CWP congregations are doing, and more.
3. Intend to do something to address climate change. We don’t presume to tell you what you need to do. Instead, we are creating a network of congregations and individual Christians who share ideas and experiences around: 1) Energy Stewardship, 2) Worship, 3) Education, and 4) Advocacy.