Faith Communities and Global Threats

One of the shorthands we use when looking at global threats here at the Skoll Global Threats Fund is that they are caused in part by “too many people living unconsciously.” We don’t work on the population side of that equation, but do believe raising public consciousness about the reality of global challenges like climate change, nuclear proliferation and other issues is critical. These threats all surface important equity and ethical issues. Those most affected by them don’t tend to cause them. The poor are disproportionally hit. Intergenerationally, we’re leaving our kids holding the bag on these issues.

Given this moral dimension, we see faith communities as potential allies in tackling these threats. Last week, several of us on the team participated in a workshop we helped support bringing leaders in the Catholic and evangelical communities together to talk about three issues:  climate change, nuclear proliferation and poverty.

Interesting takeaways included:

  • The church can and does have authenticity and a distinctive role in addressing these issues.
  • You need ongoing dialogue with faith communities on these issues.  “Rent a constituency” approaches around specific policy options rarely work.
  • You have to engage around individual responsibilities.  You need to integrate concerns on these global threats with touch-points that are already deeply engrained in individuals of faith (i.e., helping the poor).
  • You need to tell human stories.  One great quote from the meeting:  “Churches don’t do issues.  Churches do people.”
  • Understanding the moral or ethical dimensions of these issues makes people of faith more inclined to act on them.
  • Churches can arrive at the same policy position as, say, environmentalists on climate change, but often get there for different motivations, with different language.
  • There’s work to be done on the theology around many global threats.  Concepts of just war and poverty alleviation have long and deep theological underpinnings.  This isn’t yet true on emerging global threats (although concepts like stewardship and creation care are becoming more theologically robust).