The largest gathering of Anabaptist leaders on climate change in North America was notable for who was absent.
“We represent the people who are causing the problem more than people who are affected by it,” said Doug Graber Neufeld, director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions and biology professor at Eastern Mennonite University, during the Anabaptist Collaboration on Climate Change conference Jan. 26-27 at Mennonite Central Committee’s Welcoming Place in Akron, Pa.
Leaders from 18 Anabaptist organizations in the United States and Canada convened to address what many consider a moral emergency.
Sarah Augustine, who represented the Coalition for Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, sought to represent those on the front lines of climate change and to remind others that climate change isn’t an abstract concept. There are people suffering now.
“Indigenous people and vulnerable people . . . are usually the first people who are impacted; they’re the first who are going to be refugees, the first who are displaced, the first people injured by climate change,” she said. “It’s good to see Mennonite institutions willing to take a stand.”
Those gathered drafted a statement later signed by the majority of the participating entities: “As organizations founded on Christian faith in the Anabaptist tradition, we recognize the significant threat to global communities, economic justice and the next generations from climate change. We are committed to explore our work and mission in support of sustainable and just climate solutions.”
The meeting was organized by the CSCS, which for five years has functioned as a joint initiative between three partners: EMU, MCC and Goshen College. To broaden its reach, CSCS is deepening its relationships with a wider range of partners.
“There is a real risk that climate change will have a huge impact on things Mennonites care about,” said Ray Martin, who helped found CSCS. “The well-being of families, conflict, sustainability of agriculture, hunger, our sense of community, our health, the livability of low-lying areas, even our faith” will be affected.
Martin believes Anabaptists are uniquely positioned for climate action.
Anabaptists have a history of radical innovation, a theology centered on community and care for creation, a background in agriculture and land stewardship and a value placed on simple, selfless living. These attributes “may make us more open to acknowledging the concerns of global warming and more willing to change our ways to address the risks,” he said.
Jennifer Halteman Schrock, director of Mennonite Creation Care Network, which works closely with CSCS on congregational outreach, appreciated the questions posed at the gathering.
“How might we leverage our unique identity in practical ways?” she asked. “What assets do our organizations have that we could mobilize? What could we do together? It will take time for answers to emerge.”
Participants were asked how CSCS can support Anabaptist organizations in climate efforts.
“With climate change accelerating, it is clear that individual organizations will find it more and more difficult to make a difference,” said Mark Lancaster, CSCS advancement director. “There is a growing need for building collaborations among Anabaptist organizations to create broader impact, and CSCS would like to embrace this role to coordinate work and catalyze actions.”
The center plans to organize more gatherings on climate change, including a broader range of participants.
CSCS facilitators encouraged participants to consider how organizations can incorporate climate justice into their operations and missions.
For Mennonite Men, climate action looks like developing the JoinTrees campaign to plant 1 million trees by 2030.
For Goshen College, it looks like developing young leaders and conducting research to inform the sustainability work of others.
For Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship, it means exploring the ethics and impact of climate change on human health.
For MennoMedia, it looks like incorporating Anabaptist perspectives of climate issues into publications that reach beyond Anabaptist audiences.
“Having the Mennonite church step forward as a tradition and say, ‘On behalf of peace we have to defend the climate . . . defend the Earth,’ that brings me hope,” Augustine said.