By Aisha Heurtas
In my lifelong Christian journey, I have at times been disappointed with the church. I see injustices in the world—senseless violence, racism, gender discrimination, bigotry, poverty, hunger, and more. It would be easy to get lost in the ways in which we, the church and its people, have been complicit. It is true that we have contributed to land theft, genocide, and slavery. We have been overdependent on fossil fuels, overused plastic, and misused one of our most precious resources, water. But, if we get caught up in our wrongs, we could become paralyzed into inaction. That is something we cannot afford. We, followers of Jesus, are people of forgiveness, redemption, and hope.
It is that belief in hope and redemption, and my desire to follow the example of Jesus, that led me on a journey to Egypt as part of the presiding bishop’s delegation to the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 27). The annual summit is a global gathering where government representatives and observer organizations, like The Episcopal Church, come together to discuss climate matters.
Climate change and climate justice are very personal to me. I have seen how climate change has affected people I love and respect in unjust and devasting ways. If you follow the conversation about climate, you know that those most affected by climate change are those who are the least responsible for it: people of color, women, children, and lower-income individuals. It is my deep conviction that people who follow the Creator must be stewards of the Earth and its people. In my path, that means that, without a doubt, we must be present in all the places decisions are made to advocate for policies that will dismantle unjust systems and to uplift and amplify the voices of those most affected.
COP 27 was an exciting and inspiring event, not only because of the many influential and well-known leaders present, but because of the everyday people I encountered. Hearing the stories of why they came to COP 27, their passion, and their deep commitment to change gave me courage to continue this journey, a journey I hope to share with Episcopalians across the globe. There is much work to be done; and while the church is showing up, the church is big, wide, and composed of countless people. So, while the efforts we have made so far are valiant, we must do more. We must all prayerfully consider our role as children of the Creator in protecting the Earth and all its living beings from injustice.
One of the questions I answered very often while at COP 27 was a curious, “Why is The Episcopal Church here?” A somewhat simple answer would be, “Why not?,” but the real answer is that according to Scripture and our baptismal vows, righting injustices is what we have been called to do. We must all be faithful to that commitment and find our own ways to honor it.
Aisha Huertas is the director of diversity and justice initiatives for the Climate Reality Project. A native of Puerto Rico, Aisha has a passion for climate and environmental justice.