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Where There is Despair, Hope...

Let’s get right to it. There’s a new sheriff in town and in many ways, he's likely to make our work far more difficult. Like many of you, I struggle to understand how Donald Trump became our new president and realize that I am one of those Washington elites who is out of touch with so many of our citizens. They are yearning for change so much that they were willing to throw out political, social, and cultural conventions and take a chance on a political novice who appealed to their sense of outrage, their feelings of being left behind in our increasingly globalized world.   

Whenever Mr. Trump was cornered during this long election, he would double down on his rhetoric and stick to the path that was working for him: whipping up crowds and repeating the lines that worked: Build a wall, throw her in jail, destroy ISIS, bring back oil and gas, make America great again. The xenophobic, America first agenda he laid out had enough appeal in enough states to win himself the presidency. He was touching a raw nerve that we must come to understand and find a way to listen and to heal.

And we know that he is not going to be a friend to the environment, God's creation, nor to those who suffer because of our neglect: the poor and vulnerable at home and around the world. The setbacks and rollbacks he has already set in motion will not be easily overcome.

My contention for many years now has been that facts on the ground—stronger storms, longer droughts, property destructions, huge sums spent on natural disaster recovery, skyrocketing property insurance rates—will force the country to confront the threat of climate change. With the policy moves in the Obama administration including signing the Paris accords, the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. commitment to the Green Climate Fund, there was hope that we were on the path to a more sustainable future. All of this is now in doubt and under threat.

But there is momentum beyond Washington that should give us some reason to hope and we need to remember that the sustainability train has left the station. There are three groups on board this train and are moving forward despite Washington's new administration.

One is the military. They see climate change as a clear threat multiplier: further destabilizing already unstable nations and forcing a mass migration of peoples with little hope and little to lose.

Another is the business community: they are seeing that sustainable practices are not only good for the bottom line but for public image. From Walmart to Google to mom and pop shops, businesses are taking up the challenge to clean up their environmental image and add to their bottom lines as consumers are beginning to demand these things.

A final group that is more and more animated by the challenge that climate change presents are the faith groups. The fact that over 600 people registered for our webinar on the incoming administration (which you can watch below this paragraph) is a sign that there is something going on here. From young evangelicals to mainline protestants and from native peoples to our Muslim brothers and sisters...particularly the young people in each of these groups...there is a great push to recover the creation care traditions that are in every religion and emanate from our creation stories: God created a beautiful universe and made humankind in God's image and likeness to care for this amazing garden.

But let's return to our challenges: how do we keep the faith and move forward in an administration and a Congress that is skeptical at best or openly hostile at worst to caring for creation and to our brothers and sisters. I'm going to suggest three key strategies:

  • Double down on our own rhetoric
  • Act local and build alliances
  • Pray constantly

Doubling Down

As I said earlier, every time Donald Trump got into trouble with his march to the White House, he didn't back down but doubled down. While most of the values he holds are antithetical to the life of a Christian, it's hard to argue that he's inconsistent.

As Catholic Christians, we should remember that we have values that promote human life and dignity, that care for the stranger, that shelter the homeless, that comfort the sorrowful and that love the Creator by caring for creation. I am reminded of the bishops’ faithful citizenship document where they say that our politics should be:

  • Focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls,
  • Focused more on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong, and
  • Focused more on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of narrow interests.

While politicians—from both sides of the political isle—regularly give lip service to these values, rarely do they act on them. When people are not feeling heard, we need to listen more. When rhetoric gets heated, we need to be voices of reason and calm. When language, gestures, tweets and postings turn ugly and mean, we need to counter with love, understanding and principled responses. As the country becomes even more polarized, it will be up to us to seek common ground for the common good. Should not our churches be places where we come together to discuss our concerns and seek solutions based on our values?  We may disagree about how to get there but let's at least agree to try. The antidote to hate is love; to violence is nonviolence; to woundedness is healing. Let's keep our hearts and minds focused on these things.

Act Local

Very little activity on climate change and the environment will be focused in Washington (except to try and resist bad things from happening). So, our discernment process as a Covenant, which includes our staff and partners, will be to figure out where our limited resources (time and money) will be best spent. It is my view that much more can happen locally and instead of building up big campaigns to resist the Trump administration at every turn, I think we need to consider seriously how we can live our values in concrete ways within our own communities.

Large demonstrations of resistance such as we've seen since the inauguration are very important and I wouldn't want to diminish their value. But they are relatively easy, one-offs designed to help ease our pain, feel solidarity with the larger community, and energize us to take more action.

But the harder work is how to talk to my pastor about care for creation and climate change; how to gather others in my own community to understand the challenges we face; and how to organize my own community to act in concrete ways.

I know that sometimes these small efforts don't feel like they make a difference but they really do. I've said this before: if just 5% of the Catholics in the US would become engaged in environmental questions, the Covenant would be nearly three times larger than the entire US membership of World Wildlife Fund.

We urge you to take full advantage of our programs (our Feast of St. Francis and Earth Day programs, our Creation Care Teams) and those of our partners like Catholic Relief Services’ stories about climate impacts, USCCB’s myriad resources, the inspiring witness of women religious communities and so many others.

As you know, the Covenant has launched a new initiative called Catholic Covenant Energies. We are well on our way to successfully piloting the project in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and are excited to tell you more as it unfolds. And while we'd like to expand it rapidly across the nation, current funding levels prohibit us from doing so right now.

But you should consider how your own parish might benefit from energy conservation efforts and do the simple things that make a difference like motion sensors for lights, sealing up doors and windows, swapping out incandescent and florescent bulbs with LEDs. Often your local electric utility will have rebates and incentives to do these things. And as you do these things, make some noise about it: let your local paper know what you're up to and how much energy you are saving. Fold into your efforts our educational programming so that it is not just about saving money and energy but about living out the challenges of Laudato Si.

Finally, take every opportunity you can to add your voices to the public debate. Sit down with your local, state and federal legislators and let them know how you feel about the environment. Never be afraid to tap into and explicitly state your values as a Catholic and how these values motivate you to act personally and in the public square. Don’t let an article or an op-ed in your city newspaper that you disagree with go unanswered: politicians read the letters to the editor all the time and. Join with your diocesan peace and justice office or legislative advocacy group and be engaged.


Finally, be always centered in prayer. If you are anything like me, you tend to drop to your knees more readily in times of need than in times of thankfulness. Now is a needy time so let's follow our instincts.

I think what we need more than anything in our current cultural environment is people who are centered, people who are aware that God's in charge and we are God's vessels to make the world more whole and each other more complete. Each day must begin and end with an examination of how we might conduct our lives in a world that can be seen as both dangerous and confusing or beautiful and awe-inspiring. We need to lament the loss of species and weep at the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters. But we also need to celebrate the little victories and be thankful for the opportunity to fully live our faith at this troubling time. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that while prayer is always necessary, it is perhaps more necessary than ever as we confront these global challenges.

Let me close with one of my favorite prayers: the Prayer of St. Francis. On the day after the election I was on Facebook looking at how people were reacting to the election of Donald Trump. The only thing I felt I could post was this prayer because it was the one thing that gave me solace as I was reading through the puzzlement and aguish and anger displayed by my family and friends about the outcome of the election.

So let's me close with this prayer and hope that it offers you some perspective and some food for the road ahead:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



Dan Misleh is the founding Executive Director of Catholic Climate Covenant

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