For the past 4+ years, I have served as the Director of Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, the statewide organization that serves as “the religious response to climate change.” I have been blessed to meet many of you through this work. Kansas IPL has managed to carve out an important space as an advocate for climate care both in the faith community and in the legislature, despite the (shall we say) lack of sympathy in much of the state toward this issue.
This work continues. We have spent the summer working on the Westar rate case, which stood to put punitive charges on to rooftop solar, and building support for Pope Francis' powerful encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si'. Currently we are advocating for Kansas to develop the strongest possible state plan under the federal Clean Power Plan, is the most significant commitment this country has ever made to lowering our carbon emissions. I am also traveling and sponsoring programming this fall and winter, continuing to make connections in communities around the state.
Organizationally, early last year Kansas IPL came to a fork in the road, when we split off from our previous fiscal sponsor and applied for, and received, our own 501c3 non-profit designation. This led to the board and me thinking deeply about what kind of organization we were going to be.
In my conversations with clergy and lay leaders around the state, and in my work in the legislature, it has become clear that Kansas IPL is filling a unique role in Kansas – not only on climate change, but in general. You see, up till now there has been no statewide organization working with clergy and congregations to develop positive positions on important policy issues from the faith perspective – at least, from the moderate to progressive point of view. Some states have National Council of Churches, some states have state “Impact” organizations – multi-faith, multi-issue advocacy organizations that develop and deliver responses from the faith community on issues of importance. But we done have anything like that in Kansas.
And this absence is particularly felt today, for – as I'm sure you're painfully aware – our state is moving farther and farther every day from the vision of the “beloved community.” In Kansas, taxes on the wealthy are cut while services deteriorate; consumption taxes go up to pay for those tax cuts, causing the poor, working people and the middle class to bear the burden for the more affluent; public schools are underfunded and our teachers berated; Medicaid is privatized and – out of political pique – not expanded; welfare recipients are vilified; guns are allowed everywhere and anywhere; and much more.
And again, while many of us – as individuals, as clergy – speak out on some or many of these issues, there has been as yet no organized effort to bring faith leaders together to lend a moral voice to these questions – all the more frustrating because of the self-righteousness of many of those who propound these harmful policies. It feels to many of us that our religions' teachings are being purposely twisted, virtually taken away from us by who are doing actual harm by their misreading of these teachings.
Well, my friends, the time has come to stand up, get together, and be counted – with love, with moral suasion, with faith. That is why we are announcing the formation of Kansas Interfaith Action.
Kansas Interfaith Action is an organization that will bring faith voices from around the state together around issues of economic, social, and environmental justice. In our pulpits, in our communities, in the public square, and in the halls of state government, we will envision and advocate for a society that taxes fairly, that cares for those who need it, that educates its young, that cares for its sick, that welcomes the immigrant, that treats all equally, that takes seriously its responsibility to care for Creation, that does not live in fear.
Our first step is putting together a “Clergy Advisory Committee” to help develop and implement a process to decide what our priority issues are going to be for the next year. Please contact me if you are interested in being part of this effort.
Kansas Interfaith Action welcomes you, we need you, to help bring Kansas back from the brink, to make it once again the state that we have always loved. As faith leaders we may be reluctant to get involved in “politics”, but we believe things have gone too far for that. We have a unique role to play in articulating a vision of justice, equity and peace for all of our people. For in the famous words of Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
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