Convention should endorse Earth Charter

March 24, 2009

One of the resolutions up for consideration at General Convention in July is endorsement of the Earth Charter together with the development of "action steps for diocese, churches and individuals to implement its principles locally, nationally and internationally."

The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. Following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it was drafted over a multi-year period by an international drafting committee that engaged literally thousands of ordinary people and hundreds of local and international organizations. It was formally launched in June 2000 and has since received formal endorsements by thousands of groups worldwide.

Among its 16 principles, the charter calls for respect for the earth, development of democratic societies, the eradication of poverty, protecting and restoring the integrity of earth's ecological systems and gender equality.

We live in an increasingly interdependent world. The current global economic crisis is further evidence, if we needed any. And yet, around the world, we often stumble, procrastinate and expend enormous amounts of energy charging down blind alleys in our efforts to work together across boundaries, ethnicities and circumstances. As Christians, we look to Scripture to find substantial common ground for dialogue and, often, progress in resolving, or even just living with our differences across and even within denominations. It seems to me that it would be most helpful if, as members of global society, we could look to a globally-agreed set of ethical principles for guidance in resolving differences and achieving progress. I believe the Earth Charter provides us with just this opportunity.

For our church, the four core principles (and 12 supporting principles) of the Earth Charter provide a practical framework for local and global ministry and shared responsibility for the greater community of life. Together, they are a vision of hope and a call to action. In this, we can be one.

For the global community, they provide a vision of shared values at a critical time in the history of God's creation -- Earth and all life upon it -- when it is crucial that we recognize that we are one interdependent community and must truly begin to live that way.

There is increasing recognition of the role that can be played by Earth's great religions in moving towards implementation of the values set forth in the Earth Charter. Not all of these religions are "God-centered" and that is the reason that God is not mentioned in the Earth Charter. Each religion will have its own ways and means of supporting implementation of Earth Charter principles -- and, I think, this is as it should be. The more important consideration is that religions bring a spiritual element to the question of "respect and care for all peoples and the greater community of life" which transcends, each in its own way, the enormous practical difficulties implicit in implementing the Earth Charter principles.

A friend recently commented that the Earth Charter seems a very " liberal" document -- damning with faint praise, perhaps -- and in the context of times past that may well have been so. But times change and are changing fast. Today, given the state of the Earth and life upon it, the Earth Charter seems to me to offer a set of values that are ultimately pragmatic, sensible and forward looking. I hope we endorse it at General Convention.