A coalition of Christian leaders issued a statement Tuesday calling on presidential candidates to address climate change and economic inequality, in preparation for the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Thursday.
More than 70 evangelical, Protestant and Catholic leaders signed the statement, organized by the group Faith in Public Life, which advocates for the representation of faith communities in politics. Signers include Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant; Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches; and the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
Quoting Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, “Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home,” the statement asks candidates to make this election “a national examination of conscience” by proposing practical steps to amend political and economic systems that contribute to climate change and poverty.
“The same global economic system that puts profit before human dignity leads to the sin of environmental degradation,” the statement says. “Candidates for the most powerful office in the world have a responsibility to clearly articulate plans for addressing two of the most urgent moral challenges of our time.”
Faith in Public Life did not include signers of other faiths, because the statement centers on the pope’s encyclical and is intended as an interdenominational Christian address to candidates, a spokesman said. He noted that most of the presidential candidates identify as Christian.
The statement notes how climate change and economic inequality impact Cleveland, site of the first debate. The statement cites the high infant mortality rate in Cleveland’s surrounding county, northeast Ohio’s pollution problem and the high number of asthma and lead poisoning cases among African-American and Latino children in Ohio’s low-income areas.
Will the statement grab candidates’ attention? Organizers hope so, given the record number of Catholic presidential candidates and the percentage of religious voters in swing states such as Florida and Ohio.
Still, not all candidates are eager to embrace the pope’s encyclical. Candidate Jeb Bush, who is Catholic, has said, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.”
The statement cites a statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency saying that 70,000 premature American deaths could be prevented by setting a global limit on greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama on Monday unveiled a Clean Power Plan, which will require states to regulate carbon emissions from coal power plants starting in 2017. The Washington, D.C., branch of the Union for Reform Judaism released a statement in support of the plan.
Christian leaders conclude Tuesday’s statement with a plea to candidates for “those who identify as people of faith to recognize and act upon our shared responsibility to be stewards of the earth and to build an economy of inclusion. ”