Will Central Conferences lead way?

Philiippines Coast Cleanup

Volunteers are shown at The United Methodist Church cleanup in observance of World Oceans Day in the Philippines. The cleanup was in coordination with the Save Freedom Island Movement and other groups. (UMNS photo courtesy of Glacy Macabale)

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two United Methodist news stories this month:

  1. about a litter cleanup project undertaken by a Zimbabwean church, and
  2. about a coastal cleanup project undertaken by United Methodists in the Philippines.
Zimbabwe litter bin

Pastor Taurai Emmanuel Maforo presents a metal litter bin to vendors in Murombedzi, Zimbabwe. More than 100 members of Murombedzi United Methodist Church joined volunteers from Harare Inner City United Methodist Church, environmentalists and government authorities in an environmental cleanup. (UMNS photo by Eveline Chikwanah)

Both projects earned praise from local environmental organizations. While the environmental connection was stronger in the Philippines cleanup, both projects seemed to stem at least in part from motivation to care for the environment.

Nor is this the first time that Filipino United Methodists have shown concern for the environment. Within the past year, Filipino United Methodists have participated in climate walk, and students at United Methodist-affiliated Wesleyan University-Philippines have launched a climate change movement. Moreover, some of the environmental initiatives of Filipino United Methodists have had clergy and episcopal support, as the articles demonstrate.

Waxed and waned

In the United States, support for environmental causes has waxed and waned over the years. Recently, the United States has been behind other developed nations and even many developing nations in terms of concern over climate change specifically, as “Americans are Outliers in Views on Climate Change” (New York Times) and “Americans Lead World in Climate Denial” (Ecowatch) show.

Certainly many faithful American United Methodists are working to mitigate negative human effects on the environment.

While certainly many faithful American United Methodists are working to mitigate negative human effects on the environment, such as Bill McKibben, these articles raised a question for me: Is it possible that real impetus for United Methodists to address climate change and other environmental issues will come from the Central Conferences, not the United States?

There are reasons to think so beyond just the survey data linked to above. For reasons of geography and level of economic development, it is likely that other countries around the world will be negatively impacted by climate change before the United States is, making these issues more pressing for them.

Moreover, because other countries lack the set of political factors that make climate change and environmentalism controversial in the United States, a United Methodist climate initiative from the Philippines or elsewhere could face less domestic opposition.

While only time will tell, I think the Central Conferences are a good place to look for United Methodist energy around addressing climate change and other environmental issues.

Editor's note: Dr. David Scott is a United Methodist layperson who is Assistant Professor of Religion at Ripon (Wis.) College. He curates the blog UM & Global on behalf of the United Methodist Professors of Mission. This blog is intended to provoke conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church.

Letter to the Editor