Dr. Carol Robb encourages churches to address climate change head-on
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Faculty member Dr. Carol Robb encourages churches to address climate change head-on

By Rachel Howard

Two things happened in April that were of great significance to a longtime professor of environmental Christian ethics. Dr. Carol Robb, Margaret Dollar professor of Christian Ethics at San Francisco Theological Seminary since 1985, was invited to dedicate solar panels and speak on the topic of climate change at Cross Lake Presbyterian Church in Minnesota. April was also the month the amount of Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere hit record highs every single day for the duration of that month (David Perlman, “High CO2 levels set a record”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 2014, pp. D1 and D4).

Robb has spent much of her career studying the relationship between environmental ethics, religion, and spirituality. It’s therefore no surprise that when SFTS alumnus and founding pastor of Cross Lake Presbyterian Church Rev. Roger Grussing began researching these topics, he came across Robb’s book: Wind, Sun, Soil, Spirit: Biblical Ethics and Climate Change (Fortress, 2010). The pastor emeritus of a very environmentally invested congregation, Grussing invited Robb to dedicate the solar panels that were installed at the church in November of 2013.

While in Cross Lake, Robb led an adult forum where she presented her research on the topic of “Christian Spirituality for a World Experiencing Climate Change” (read the entirety of her paper here.) Through extensive research, she has found that many who say they believe in God see climate change as a problem requiring action, but only a small minority, 15%, sees preventing climate change to be of spiritual significance.

Robb presented additional research in her paper titled “The Use of Scripture in Environmental Ethics” (see full paper here), in which she again found that U.S. churchgoers tend to believe that the environment has religious significance. But most survey respondents weren’t well versed on the variety of modern domestic and international climate change policies. To increase congregants’ knowledge of these important policies, in this paper Robb lays out three different approaches to incorporating the issue of climate change into worshipping communities.

After the adult forums, Robb preached a Sunday sermon called “The Power to Change” (read an excerpt from her sermon here). This sermon was specifically crafted for the congregation of Cross Lake Presbyterian Church, one that is particularly proactive in shrinking their carbon footprints. Robb has found that even in environmentally concerned congregations such as this one, members are experiencing a crisis of hope that efforts to change the current trends in greenhouse gas accumulation will be successful. Through reflections on John 20:19-31, Robb addresses this crisis.

Robb looks forward to hearing results of the discussions surrounding climate change and divestment from fossil fuel companies at the 221st General Assembly.

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