Davis Interfaith Alliance Fifth Annual Climate Conference

March 29, 2017

By Jim Schaal

“Humankind hovers on a precipice. Climate change is a threat to human life on earth, yet it will not be suffered equally among us.” Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, a distinguished theological ethicist whose work focuses on climate change and environmental justice, spoke with clarity and urgency to nearly one hundred Davis community members. She framed our situation as a “colonialization of the atmospheric commons,” and warned that “a privileged response will protect those with means.”

Addressing the fifth annual Interfaith Climate Conference held March 11 at Davis Community Church, Dr. Moe-Lobeda urged people of faith to “plumb the depths of tradition for hope and courage.” “We must offer our gifts to the public,” she urged, “but we must also act: building new coalitions, working for justice, and serving the vulnerable.” She laid out a blueprint for action organized into seven seeds or gifts for all communities to cultivate.

The program for the day offered thought provoking concepts as well as opportunities for participants to express themselves and consider together her resolve via follow up discussion groups.

Easy to lose hope in the face of the crisis

How do we find hope in the face of the climate change crisis? What are the gifts and traditions we have to offer? Can we call forth the courage to confront the political and economic systems that created the crisis? Can we convince our leaders who all too often ignore the problem?


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Adherents of many faiths and friends gathered to hear Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda lay out a blueprint for climate action. Photo credit Johan Verink.


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Dr. Moe-Lobeda speaks to conference participants with urgency and approachable modesty. Photo credit Johan Verink.

Nearly one hundred representatives from local faith groups and other members of the community were brought together to consider these questions and more. For those gathered, the immense impacts of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere present deepening dilemmas, both spiritual and practical. Many believe our communities of faith must meet these complex challenges with what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once called “the fierce urgency of now.”

A fierce urgency

That feeling of urgency grew fiercer as Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda continued with her keynote address. Confronting global warming, she said, must begin with fearless truth-telling informed by scientific research.

Using stories and examples, she raised difficult ethical questions that accompany the empirical facts:

  • Who benefits from an ecologically unsustainable economy, who suffers, and who has the power to determine how the costs and benefits are distributed?
  • What does our nation’s vastly disproportionate consumption of fossil fuels say about our values?
  • What do we need to hear from those, both here and abroad, whose lives and lands are imperiled by the consequences of our excessive carbon emissions?
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Dr. Moe-Lobeda listens thoughtfully to local activist Alan Hirsch. Photo credit Johan Verink.

Seven seeds of moral spiritual power

Turning toward hope and action in the second half of her talk, Moe-Lobeda lifted up seven “seeds of moral spiritual power” or “seven gifts” that various faith traditions can nurture and share as they respond to present realities and future prospects (see listing below). Those seeds ranged from challenging the present economic order, to highlighting histories of resistance, to understanding the need for change in three arenas: behavioral, social systems, and worldview.

Moe-Lobeda, who teaches at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (where she is dually appointed by the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific), drew upon her own Lutheran tradition and extensive international experience to develop these insights. As a testament to an evolving understanding and openness, she invited responses and insights from participants at the conference who represented a range of traditions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam (and Baha’i), and Buddhism.

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Davis Community Church pastor Chris Neufeld-Erdman helps register participants for the conference. Photo credit Johan Verink.

Discussion groups built on interfaith foundations

In the eight discussion groups that followed the keynote address, some participants spoke of a calling to “care for creation,” rooted in the religious conviction (shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims) that the earth is a divine creation that comes with a human responsibility for its stewardship. Others, speaking from Buddhist and Unitarian perspectives, voiced an ethic of compassion that extends to all of nature.

Still others, religious and non-religious alike, expressed concern for people across the globe who will suffer from some of the calamitous consequences of climate change: increasingly severe weather disasters, rising sea levels and coastal flooding, widespread drought and famine, and the ominous prospect of wars over oil and water.

As the conversations turned to the plight of “climate refugees,” the religious calling to “love your neighbor as yourself” enlarged to embrace neighbors local and global, rich and poor, complicit and innocent. Moe-Lobeda’s point that there is a danger in our response, that it could “exacerbate the problem” or “turn us away from each other” seemed especially poignant.

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Local Steve Hampton is all smiles during the fifth annual Interfaith Climate Conference. Photo credit Johan Verink.

Read more about Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda and her book “Resisting Structural Evil.”

You will find an audio recording of her keynote address at the Davis Community Church website under “Learn and Grow – Sermon Recordings 2017-03-11 5th Annual Climate Conference Climate ‘Justice and Hope: A Spiritual and Political Calling,’ Dr. Cynthia D Moe Lobeda.”

You may also listen to a recording of the full event, with beginning and ending songs by Laura Sandage.

Yolo Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice Speaker Forums

Organized by the Yolo Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice (YIACJ) the conference was the fifth in a series of annual events exploring religious responses to climate change. As a working group of Cool Davis, YIACJ includes eleven member congregations in the city of Davis and invites faith communities throughout Yolo County to join their efforts. Following the conference, YIACJ announced a new series of Climate and Sustainability speaker forums.

The first forum titled “Facing the Challenges of Climate Change in Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan and Tunisia” was held Friday, March 24 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. Visiting scholars from Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, and Tunisia addressed the crisis as it affects their respective countries.

The next forum to be held April 30 at 3pm at Congregation Bet Haverim will feature Tony Rolfes from the US Department of Agriculture who will speak about healthy soils.

For Generations to Come

The conference and forums serve to remind us, as singer-songwriter Laura Sandage did at the conference’s opening, that “all that we have and all that we are / comes from the earth and shall return to the earth.”

For congregations in Davis and beyond, the challenge and the call remains: How shall we repay this good earth, and our neighbors for generations to come, for all that we have been given?

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Singer songwriter Laura Sandage opened and closed the proceedings with heartfelt song. Photo credit Johan Verink.

Seven Seeds of Hope to Take on Climate Change

From Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s keynote talk on “Climate Justice and Hope: A Spiritual-Political Calling”

  1. Radically alternative visions of economic life: from monastic communities to mutual aid societies, many faith traditions offer inspiring models of sharing resources more equitably and setting limits on consumption.
  2. Capacity to hold hope and horror together: religious rituals and stories often teach individuals and communities how to face fear and despair without losing hope and the courage to act.
  3. Living histories of resistance: some faith communities embody long and liberating histories of standing up to powerful economic and political systems, while others seek to repent of their complicity with power.
  4. Seeing the divine presence in the world: many faiths perceive the divine as present and active in the world, encouraging reverence for nature and respect for human dignity.
  5. Understanding social change at three levels: some traditions emphasize that making social change entails working together on individual/behavioral, systemic/structural, and conceptual/worldview levels.
  6. Power of ritual: nearly all religions show that ritual has the power to shape behaviors, social structures, and worldviews; some rituals cultivate a sense of wonder, awe, gratitude, and concern for the earth.
  7. Global networks of solidarity and empowerment: religious communities transcend national borders and, at their best, can connect people for constructive action across divisions of race, class, language, and culture.


Read more about Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda and her book “Resisting Structural Evil.”

You will find an audio recording of her keynote address at the Davis Community Church website under “Learn and Grow – Sermon Recordings 2017-03-11 5th Annual Climate Conference Climate ‘Justice and Hope: A Spiritual and Political Calling,’ Dr. Cynthia D Moe Lobeda.”

You may also listen to a recording of the full event, with beginning and ending songs by Laura Sandage.

About the Yolo Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice

The mission of YIACJ is to inspire our faith communities to work together to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, to educate ourselves on climate issues, and—now more than ever—to speak out and act for climate justice. YIACJ currently includes eleven member congregations in Davis and welcomes new faith communities from throughout Yolo County. You can reach the Alliance at interfaith@cooldavis.org.

About the Author

Jim Schaal works with schools and faith communities to promote environmental education and campus sustainability, most recently as Sustainability Coordinator at the Lutheran School of Theology and as Food Garden Coordinator at St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church both in Chicago. Educated at UC Davis and the University of Chicago Divinity School, Jim recently returned to Davis with his family and is now an active member of our local Episcopal Church of St. Martin.

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Cover art from Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s new book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation.

Links to related articles on climate change and recent or upcoming local events:

Humphrey Fellows Awaken to Climate Change Adaptation

Packed Earth Day Events for April 22

March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice on April 29