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Religious Australians are calling for climate action and want politicians and church leaders to join them.

Religious Australians are calling for climate action and want politicians and church leaders to join them.

A young white woman is sitting in a garden smiling.

Most religions believe that the universe and all of it are created by God or gods. Therefore, most insist that we nurture God’s creation.

So for many religious people in Australia today — particularly among younger generations — it makes sense for religious leaders to encourage care for the environment.

Hattie Steenholdt is a university student who attends a Baptist Church in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. This is part of a growing culture shift.

She said that “climate change is negatively affecting already marginalised groups.”

A young white woman is sitting in a garden smiling.
Hattie Steenholdt believes that the church needs to depoliticize the issue of climate change.(Supplied: Hattie Steenholdt)

Hattie was part in a beach team with Scripture Union in Mallacoota, during the Black Summer bushfires 2019-20.

It was an experience that strengthened her conviction that Christians need to do more about the climate crisis.

And according to a survey commissioned by Christian development agency Tearfund Australia, she is one of many young people who feel the same way.

Titled They Will Inherit the Earth, the study examines the attitudes of millennial and older Gen Z Christians.

It was found that three-quarters of respondents are very concerned about climate changes, and that two-thirds want their local church action.

However, it was also found that 35% of leaders in the church say they rarely preach about environmental issues, citing the politicization as a key challenge.

This figure doesn’t surprise Jessica Morthorpe.

She is the founder of and director at the Five Leaf Eco AwardsEcumenical program that helps faith groups reach sustainability goals such as establishing community gardens, water tanks, or constructing huge crosses made from solar panels.

A large christian cross made of solar panels sits on the roof of a church
A solar-powered cross powers a church.(Five Leaf Awards – Supplied)

For her, however, caring for creation is pushback ForThe politicisation and abuse of religion

 “Climate change has become this incredible political hot-button issue, which is just devastating,” she says.

“This has influenced the reception of churches towards the issue, rather churches starting with the Bible and starting with what God actually said about creation, and a need for care for it.”

Hattie feels the same way.

She said that “the issue of climate changes needs to be depoliticised in the church” and that it should be approached from the perspective of Christians’ Christian duty to act justly.

Activists question: Where’s the moral leadership?

While some religious Australians focus their efforts on grassroots solutions, others see the need to engage in electoral politics.

The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change is a multi-faith association of religious communities advocating climate justice.

In the run-up to the federal election the ARRCC is intensifying its climate activism by targeting marginal MPs and urging them adopt meaningful climate change policy.

Thea Ormerod, president, says that we don’t just hold retreats. We also host workshops and talk about lifestyles.

“We actually go out and hang out banners, meet members of parliament, protest at coal mining sites, and even get out there and hold meetings.”

A man standing outside a politician's office greets a priest and a Buddhist nun.
Samuel Batt, an advisor for Liberal MP Warren Entsch, meets with Father Neil Forgie and Venerable Rinchen Kelly.(Supplied: ARRCC)

She believes too many religious leaders are too close to conservative politicians and more concerned about rituals than morals.

“They’re not really living out the values and teachings of the faith that they purport to champion,” she says.

“The moral leadership is coming from secular people, the environment movement. They’re speaking out for the moral positions that should be championed most strongly by people of faith.”

A cause uniting Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim leaders

Joel Lazar, the chief executive of the Jewish Climate Network says a key role of the religious leader is to reach into their religion’s wisdom to inspire community to embody the values of that religion.

“The prophets of the Old Testament knew this well and were constantly speaking out on critical social issues that, today, might be called ‘political’,” he says.

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