Courageous Conversations About Climate Change
For more information about Goals, Setting, Design, and Use of Scripture,
see the Sample Outlines Introduction »
Setting for a Safe Environment:
Set up the room with round tables each having no more than eight chairs per table.
Place Guidelines for the Conversation around the room in large print or on a projection screen (See Sample Guidelines for Courageous Conversations).
As participants enter the room, have them choose a number from a basket. Invite them to sit at the table marked with the number that matches the number they have drawn.
- Basket with numbers
- Paper cloth for each table (or large pieces of paper) and markers
- Tables for small group discussions
- Table numbers for each table
- Candles for each table
- Small cross or some other marker to serve as a talking stick
- Printout or screen for displaying Guidelines for the Conversation
- Printout of prayers (see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
- Tape or adhesive to post large pieces of paper
- Assigned moderators/facilitators for each table
- Bell or chime for beginning and ending times of silence
- Microphone — to enable all to hear the speaker(s) clearly
- Soft music and snacks for a hospitable, warm environment
The following is based on a 90-minute timeframe. Adjust as needed.
- Opening Prayer (3 minutes)
- Opening Circle (10 minutes)
- World Cafe (60 minutes)
- Break (5 minutes)
- Large-Group Reflection (10 minutes)
- Closing Prayer (2 minutes)
Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide.)
Give an overview of the main topic of discussion. Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this space is a safe place for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives. Emphasize that participants are to listen for the assumptions underlying their own and other people’s perspectives.
Opening Circle (modified)*
Form people into groups with no more than three persons in each group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to answer the questions, “What brought you here today?” and “What comes to mind for you about the topic of climate change?” Remind the participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not discussion – that will come later.
This exercise is suited for topics that might not be as contentious as other hot-button issues. If this is not the case for your church regarding the issue of climate change, you should look at the other sample lessons to pick a format that is more conducive to dialogue.
Moderators and participants should be seated at their assigned tables. Markers and paper tablecloths or large sheets of paper should be at each table. Soft music might also be playing in the background.
On the tables and/or on a projected screen have the following statements presented:
- Share a life experience or story that has influenced your views on climate change.
- What stories in Scripture do you believe address the issue of climate change?
- A reservation or question about my view is…
- A strength in the views of those I differ with is…
- Two assumptions underlying my view which, if they proved incorrect, would require me to reassess my position are...
Allow a few moments for participants to introduce themselves to the group. Then allow participants to answer one or more of the questions above. If needed, use a cross or other object as a talking stick to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak.
Give a five-minute warning. After the five minutes are up, invite everyone except for the moderator or table host to change tables. Have people move to different tables. Once everyone is seated, have the moderator or table host summarize the prior discussion. Then repeat the dialogue process. Switch tables again if time allows.
Following the last table discussion, have the groups change tables one last time. This time, allow each participant to name what has been most meaningful for him or her during the experience. Write out the statements or questions on the paper tablecloths or large pieces of paper. Post each group’s paper; then allow participants, in silence, to walk around and read each of the group’s statements.
Large-Group Reflection Time
This time is for the larger group to process and reflect on the perspectives heard from other participants.
This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I will take with me from this conversation is…”
End with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
*For more detailed instructions about these models, consult The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics by Ron Kraybill and Evelyn Wright.
Teachable Points about Climate Change
The following is a minimal representation of teachable points. Be aware there are many others that could be included. The aim of these outlines is more about listening and uncovering assumptions than hosting a debate or passing on information. As noted in the Introduction to the Sample Courageous Conversation Outlines, the point is not providing more information or arriving at a consensus.
Scripture passages of note (a minor sampling)
- Genesis 1. The first creation story is more about who God is than how God created the universe.
- Creation was made good (Genesis 1:31) and, like humanity, awaits full redemption (Romans 8:20-23, Revelation 21:5). Jesus affirms the goodness of creation (Matthew 15:11).
- Psalms 104 and 148 are reminders of how God’s glory is witnessed through creation
- Sabbath rest for the land and the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25) also reveal God’s care for creation.
- Difficult passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 2 Peter 3:10-13 should also be discussed. However, passages like those in Revelation 4-5 picture worship with all of creation singing praise to God. Revelation 21:1 speaks of a new heaven and new earth with the understanding of new in the sense of renewed, not brand new.
- Stewardship (Genesis 1:28, Genesis 2:15) is about managing the earth as those created in the likeness of God. Thus, stewardship is not about controlling or dominating, but corresponding to the way in which God rules us with discipline, nurture, and care. Likewise, Christian ethics would have us ask, “All dynamics considered, what is the most loving thing we can do in this situation?” “What will promote human flourishing (abundance)?”
- Another ethical consideration regarding climate change and creation care is the distinction between the common good of others over against the individual freedoms of people and nation-states. So for example, how will the economy be affected (jobs, income, etc.) by scaling back industry to lower the level of pollutants?
- Part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is self-control. In a society of excess, we are called to model moderation and even self-denial.
- As many have pointed out (including http://www.globalissues.org/article/233/climate-change-and-global-warming-introduction), those who will be most affected by climate change will be the poor (already vulnerable). Jesus stated that faithful kingdom living involves caring for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).
- While most scientists agree that climate change is happening, there seems to be some disagreement regarding the actual cause (natural weather cycles, human activity, or both).
See also Part V, Social Principles, of the Book of Discipline. Particularly ¶160 I. The Natural World
The following resources are not an endorsement of any particular viewpoint. Rather these are some of many potential resources that could be of benefit for those looking for more information or in help to broaden perspectives.
- A Political Theology of Climate Change by Michael Northcott
- Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction, and Opportunity by Mike Hulme
- The Green Bible – New Revised Standard Version
- 5 Steps to Effective Climate Communications