Alex Rousseau said people don’t usually think climate change and religion go hand-in-hand — but they should.
The senior classics and religious studies major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is also an associate pastor at MiddleCross Church in Lincoln, and said he doesn’t see any attention paid to the relationship between faith and the environment.
“We tend to reserve those conversations [on climate change] for the political realm [and] scientific realm,” he said. “And I think we do ourselves a deep disservice when we separate those conversations because they influence one another.”
He will facilitate those conversations through “Our Sacred Earth,” a symposium and panel discussion on faith and environmentalism. The event will take place at the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center on Earth Day, Monday, April 22, from 7 to 8 p.m.
The symposium aims to create a healthy dialogue that challenges people to reconsider their faith and approach to the physical world, according to its Facebook event page.
“I think the thrust of the panel is the question of ‘What role does my religious experience have in shaping my view of the planet and of the physical world, and is it helpful?’” Rousseau said.
Four professionals who work with religion, environmental science or both will make up the panel: Courtney Bruntz, assistant professor of Asian religions at Doane University; Richard Miller, professor of systematic and philosophical theology and sustainability studies at Creighton University; Rev. Kim Morrow, senior associate of Verdis Group and Martha Shulski, director of the Nebraska State Climate Office.
“My goal was to provide a variety of perspective around this issue,” Rousseau said. “I wanted at least one climatologist … to recognize the realities of our natural earth … but I also wanted [a] theological perspective …”
The discussion is open to people of all faiths and beliefs on environmental issues, and Rousseau said he wanted the panel to include diverse expertise and perspectives.
“In general, most faith communities have some sort of call to value [or] steward the planet and see nature, at some level, sacred,” Rousseau said.
Morrow, an ordained minister who works with environmental sustainability consulting, said a religion’s demand to care for the environment takes on new gravity with modern problems like greenhouse gas emissions and the depletion of natural resources.
She said discussions that connect religion and environmentalism outside the bipartisan political landscape are valuable, and need to be facilitated. She said faith communities already mobilize for social issues like poverty, hunger or human trafficking, but not environmental care.
Rousseau is interested to see if a refresher on faith’s environmental interests culminates in beneficial actions.
“I think the tension arises that, a lot of times, it doesn’t translate to actual environmental activity or actions,” he said.
The event is for his senior capstone class, but Rousseau said it’s not just a way to get out of writing a 25-page thesis paper. He didn’t want to spend time on something that only he, his wife and his professor would read, and asked his advisor if he could facilitate a discussion to make a difference.
“I want[ed] to do something that actually engages people and actually helps people and actually challenges their worldview,” Rousseau said. “I said, ‘This is an issue that is important, that most people don’t look at, that I believe our worldview needs to be challenged in this way.’”