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A Catholic and a Protestant Leader Should Talk Climate: A Jewish View

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Interfaith dialogue is a sacred art that addresses tough questions, agrees to disagree where needed and highlights commonality where it exists. Two of the world's most powerful men will soon do just this, when Pope Francis and President Obama meet on 3/27.

This interested Jewish onlooker prays that they'll talk about climate change, and hopes for you to signal your desire that they tackle it, too.

This Pope has burst onto the global stage with his Moses-like humility, Jesus-like ethical vision, and Muhammad-like incorruptibility. He's been good for the Catholics, preaching a most relevant and accessible gospel, inspiring even the most jaded and removed of the 'faithful'.

Pope Francis has been good for the Jews, too -- we celebrate his strong ties with, and respect for, our community. More importantly, he's emphasizing the very issues where we can and do work together, over those which divide us. Most American Jews strongly support LGBTQ equality and women's right to choose; the prior two papacies, to say the least, didn't. But on alleviating poverty, pursuing peace, defending human rights, seeking social and economic justice, and more, we're side by side.

Likewise, on creation care -- defending all of God's creatures from humanity's reshaping of the Earth in our own image; standing up for 'the least among us,' who are the first victims of pollution and the least able to adapt to a changing climate; true concern for the generations to follow -- Jewish and Catholic teaching nearly coalesce.

The Psalmist, who meets God in nature's wonders and reminds us (104:18) that the created world exists for all species and not just for us humans, inspires Catholic and Jew alike. Biblical teachings of restraint, "You must not sell [or degrade] land beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers and sojourners with Me" (Lev. 25:23) -- restrain Jew and Catholic at once. The experience of standing in awe at Creation is shared, as is the clarity of our role "to serve and to guard" (Gen. 2:15) the Earth.

We change the climate when we lack restraint and awe, when we stop serving and guarding. Like his predecessors, Francis sees addressing and reducing climate change as a moral imperative.

Leading Jewish authorities and institutions agree. I'm with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which includes nearly every major movement and institution in the American Jewish community; COEJL embodies this (rare!) Jewish clarity and unity on this vital issue.

Who else lines up within this consensus? Besides many key Evangelical voices, it includes every leading Protestant denomination. And among them, one prominent UCC church-goer named Barack Obama -- for him,

"the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science -- of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements -- has put all that to rest.... the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind. As a President, as a father, and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act... [to] preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God."

How papal! (Depending on how you read "as a father"...)

Stakes are high where Pope and President diverge; may they not get bogged down over affordable contraception, same-sex marriage, or abortion access. On unifying moral issues -- persistent poverty; lack of affordable health care for all; conduct unbecoming from Russia or Iran or Syria -- stakes are higher still, and President and Pope will surely discuss. But nowhere are stakes higher than with the uncontrolled science experiment we are accidentally conducting on the biosphere -- which threatens to exacerbate poverty, further stress our health systems, and create new international tensions.

A robust scientific consensus warns us to change our course, quickly and decisively. The environmental community and forward-thinking business leaders try to create a groundswell -- but to succeed, we must marshal tremendous spiritual and political will.

Most people alive today claim to be 'of faith' -- almost always, faiths whose teachings venerate Creation and its Creator, and mandate enlightened stewardship. Pope Francis has more of these adherents than any other single religious leader, and he considers it a moral and spiritual duty that we turn around the juggernaut of climate change.

Most everyone finds themselves governed in the political realm, not always by a government of their choosing. Barack Obama heads the single most influential of those governments, and he urges us to roll up our sleeves, curb our carbon emissions, and take climate change seriously -- both as a matter of national security, and as an ethical act.

Let's help them to help us, and the Earth. Sign the petition asking these two great leaders, who have the power to turn up the heat on turning down the heat, to prioritize climate change when they schmooze. (More via COEJL / Jewish Council for Public Affairs). Let's get signatures on this interfaith petition, and urge His Holiness and His Excellency to take up the most excellent and holy topics of all: sustainability and justice.