Forum Discusses Faith-Based Responses To Climate Change

forum panelists Ann Held, Ross Erb, Ehsan Ahmed, and Mark Piper
forum panelists Ann Held, Ross Erb, Ehsan Ahmed, and Mark Piper
reprinted with permission from the Daily News-Record
posted March 4, 2013
by Alex Rohr

HARRISONBURG — God made man, according to the Bible, and He gave him dominion
to till the Earth.

People the world over have used these words from the Bible’s first book, Genesis, to justify resource consumption, but some Harrisonburg clergy say these words have been

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley assembled two clergy members, a philosophy
professor, a representative of the Islamic faith and an audience of 65 recently to discuss
why and how mankind should respond to climate change. The event, titled “Can Ethics and Faith Guide our Responses to Climate Change?” was held at the Massanutten Regional Library in Harrisonburg.

The Rev. Ann Held of Trinity Presbyterian Church asserted that the confusion originates
from a few key misinterpretations of biblical text.

She said the word “dominion” or “radah” in Hebrew has been interpreted as “to have rule or to hold sway.”

“[It’s] not that we have dominion in that we own the Earth,” she said.

Held explained that radah refers to the point at the top of a plant’s root, or its “center of
strength.” It’s the point where one grabs a weed to uproot it cleanly from the ground, she
said. This in turn, Held said, means that the passage is really saying that man is supposed
to be the piece of creation that holds the Earth together.

The Rev. Ross Erb of Park View Mennonite Church furthered the semantic argument by
referring to how the word “till” has been interpreted to mean plow.

He said this interpretation has led to discretionless farming practices and soil depletion.

“That same word gets used throughout the scriptures and it’s really translated as ‘serve,’”
Erb said.

“So we are to serve this world,” Erb said. “For me that is an important twist on what God
has set us here to do.”

Held also talked about Jesus’ instructions to love your neighbor, adding that Jesus was not
talking about just the people next door.

“We are to be about interconnectedness,” she said, using the Holy Spirit as an illustration.

Thus, Christians are responsible for the “least of these,” as Jesus said in Mathew 25:40,
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for

Professor Ehsan Ahmed of the Islamic Association of the Shenandoah Valley explained
that developing nations are being hit the worst by the effects of global warming.

He noted the Republic of Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, whose president
has proposed relocating the country’s entire population as tides continue to rise.

Echoing Held’s interpretation of Christianity, Ahmed said that under Islam, “We’re
responsible for all the creations of God, which have lived or will live on this planet.”

And this responsibility, he said, extends to all one’s actions, big or small, intentional or not, including the actions of one’s society and culture.

Erb added that caring for the Earth should come down to love for God.

“We need to love with all of our being,” Erb said, explaining that Christians should show
their love by loving what God loves, which is all of creation.

“Part of creation care is using less,” Erb said. “What we believe is worth very little if we’re
not willing to put it into practice,” by taking action to at least decrease individual

And just to be sure the point got across, the alliance invited a philosophy professor to give
the pragmatic point of view.

Mark Piper, assistant professor of philosophy at James Madison University, explained with
applied ethics that people should take care of the planet, simply because it’s in their best

Under instrumental value theory, he said, Earth’s ecosystem has worth only in its relation to human interaction.

Humankind needs water and earth to survive, thrive and propagate.

So, Piper said, taking care of these resources is “conducive to our interests,” and thus
worth human devotion.

After outlining why people should protect Earth’s ecosystem, the group discussed how to
do so on micro and macro scales.

They suggested small adjustments, like simply consuming less food and buying fewer
products, something everyone can do.

But they argued that environmental issues have been pushed aside for short-term
economic gains on a societal scale and that these problems require a grander approach.
“Are you all in any of your churches discussing nonviolent civil disobedience?” Cathy
Strickler, who founded the local group, asked.

The answer was a resounding “no,” but alliance members said they had begun to speak
their voice in a public way.

Many had just returned from Washington, D.C., where they attended a climate rally
advocating against the Keystone XL pipeline that would connect oil fields in Canada with
refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Behavior has to change. People have to change,” Piper said. “People have to act

Contact Alex Rohr at 574-6293 or

JMU Climate Action Report

JMU Climate Action ReportJMU logo

JMU Climate Action Report Update 1, December 2012

This document discusses progress and revisions since the 2010 report. Noteworthy environmental achievements include diverting more waste to a composting program, transforming campus transportation, implementing environmental policies, adopting student environmental literacy learning outcomes and an assessment, fostering student-led environment programs, integrating environmental stewardship across the curriculum, creating an employee conservation program, and greening operations. Integration into the planning process, cross-divisional collaboration, and stakeholder support at all levels are key to success. …

Forward on Climate Rally, Feb. 17

Forward on Climate rallyCAAV members joined tens of thousands of other concerned people from all over the country to rally for action on climate change on the grounds of the Washington Monument and in a parade around the White House on Sunday, February 17.

We heard rousing talk and impassioned pleas from our climate heros. “The speakers up on stage today represented the full diversity of our movement, from indigenous leaders across the United States and Canada, to clean energy investors like Tom Steyer, to environmental leaders like Mike Brune and Bill McKibben, to civil and voting rights activists like Rosario Dawson and Rev. Lennox Yearwood.”  – organizer Jamie Henn

Calls for action were also delivered by:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, “I speak out on climate change each week because the cost of Congress’ inaction is too high for our communities, our kids, and our futures.”  and

Van Jones, former White House advisor, green-energy economy leader, author’s Bill McKibben tells us:

“We are making plans to put the momentum of this historic day to use, and you’ll hear about them very soon …

You are the movement, and the movement is our best chance at making a difference on climate change.”

See Michael Grunwald’s “I’m with the Tree Huggers: The activists fighting the Keystone XL pipeline are radical-and right” – Time Magazine, February 28, 2013

Conservation Lobby Day 2013

Emmet Hanger2
Senator Emmet Hanger
Tony Wilt2
Delegate Tony Wilt

CAAV members, Laura and Bishop Dansby, paid visits to Representative Tony Wilt and Senator Emmett Hanger, Jr. in Richmond on Lobby Day, January 28, 2013. They asked for a NO vote on the lifting of the ban on uranium in Virginia and stressed the urgency of dealing with climate change and energy issues on both the state and national level.   Senator Hanger invited CAAV to make follow up appointments to further discuss these issues after the close of the session.

Virginia Capitol
Virginia Capitol

Lobby Day is a yearly event sponsored by the Virginia Conservation Network (VCN). “Representing 150 environmental, preservation and community organizations active throughout the commonwealth, …VCN is the nonprofit, nonpartisan voice of conservation in Virginia.”  VCN publishes a yearly Conservation Briefing Book distributed at their General Assembly Preview Workshop in December.

“Can Ethics and Faith Guide Our Responses to Climate Change?”

flaming chaliceA Panel Discussion on Tuesday, February 19th,     6:00 to 7:30 PM, at the Massanutten Regional Library

With guests speakers:

Ehsan Ahmed, secretary general of the Islamic Association of the Shenandoah Valley

Ross Erb, associate pastor of Parkview Mennonite Church

Ann Held, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church

Mark Piper, assistant professor in the JMU Department of Philosophy and Religion.

During 2012 alone the world saw floods in Japan, Fiji, Venice, the UK, Nigeria, Pakistan and more, drought in Russia, China, and North Korea. Sea levels are rising around the world, affecting the most heavily populated regions on earth. In the United States we have had not only the hottest year ever but our own terrible share of drought and floods and extremely strong storms. Millions of people have been impacted, losing their jobs, their homes, their food sources and even their lives. While our beautiful valley has not suffered that much so far, more severe climate change effects will arrive.  And, with increasing globalization, any disaster is felt around the world.

In the past, the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley has addressed the economic incentives of moving to alternative energy sources and building or retrofitting homes that are energy efficient.  On February 19th we will look beyond the dollars and cents and ask a panel to address the moral, ethical, and religious values that might also guide our choices in responding to climate change.

Please join us for this insightful presentation!

Feb. 3: “Fork in the Road: Keystone XL and the Economics of Climate Change”

fork in the roadWhy are local environmental groups going to Washington, D.C., on February 17th to join the  / Sierra Club  “Forward on Climate Change Rally” against the Keystone XL pipeline?

Come to
Community Mennonite Church, 70 S.High St., Harrisonburg, on Sunday, Feb. 3rd  
from 3-6 PM  for a ‘teach-in’ by Occupy Harrisonburg, our local chapter of the Sierra Club, the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, and others, about the urgency of addressing climate change and the economic policies that can lead us into a more sustainable future for ourselves and our posterity. Information about attending the rally will be available. The event will be concluded before the Super Bowl kickoff!
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley:

January 15 rally for climate change action in D.C.

Attended by CAAV members, this event was “organized by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and represent(ed) diverse coalitions including Buddhist Global Relief, The Shalom Center, Judson Memorial Church, and Occupy Sandy …”
Interfaith “Pray-In” Honors Dr King’s Birthday pray in photoWith Demand for White House Leadership on Climate | ThinkProgress

By Catherine Woodiwiss,  Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative

CAAV Members Lobby H-burg City Council

city council

On Thursday, January 10, CAAV members screened a National Resource Council (NRC) video with Harrisonburg City Council members at Clementine Cafe. Climate Change: Lines of Evidence explains the lines of evidence that have built the current scientific consensus about climate change and its causes. The video covers the first of three parts presented in the NRC booklet, Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices,  which was distributed to each of the attending council members.

In the way of tangible actions, CAAV urged the council to approve the retrofitting energy efficiency plans for two public buildings submitted by ABM. The improvements offer substantial energy savings and a guaranteed payback in 12 years.