Speaker: Fletcher Harper

Beyond Politeness: Activating Moral Discomfort and Spiritual Communities for the Earth

“There’s no spiritual life that does not involve, does not start, intimately and inescapably, with the Earth.”

The Rev. Fletcher Harper believes that he felt God while mourning his father’s death on a solo camping trip in Montana. A violent hailstorm struck one night, and he sought shelter in the lee of a rock. “At about three in the morning, I felt this deep sense of well-being,” he recalls. “I realized that I was going to be OK. I thought, ‘I can move on with my life now.’”

Later in his life and career when interviewing hundreds of people from a broad spectrum of religious and non-religious backgrounds, he discovered that nearly all of them could recall an outdoor experience they perceived as spiritual or sublime. “Nature awakens a sense of awe at the mystery of life, a sense of wonder, a sense of humility in the face of something so much bigger than we are,” says Harper. “A sense of appreciation and of gratitude. Sometimes a sense of fear — a healthy recognition that we’re not the center of the universe.”

Harper, an Episcopal priest, is Executive Director of GreenFaith, an international interfaith and multi-faith environmental organization that conducts education and advocacy, and provides environmental sustainability services, to faith-based groups. GreenFaith uses the power of religious networks to help people from diverse backgrounds put their belief into action for the Earth. It works with houses of worship, religious schools, and people of all faiths to help them become better environmental stewards. It believes in addressing environmental issues holistically and is committed to being a one-stop shop for the resources and tools religious institutions need to engage environmental issues and become religious-environmental leaders.

An award-winning spiritual writer and nationally-recognized preacher on the environment, Harper teaches and speaks about the moral, spiritual basis for environmental stewardship and justice. He seeks to tap and activate the values base of the religious sector in ways profound and practical to curb wasteful consumerism and set faith-based communities on a track to environmental stewardship—in practice as well as in belief.

And yet Harper resists the platitudes and bromides that some religious communities cite about generalized care for God’s creation. “Very powerful vested interests maintained the status quo,” he says, “and polite conversation and periodic references to the Bible were not going to dismantle the system. It was going to take people really confronting centers of power and calling them out in ways that a lot of religious people feel uncomfortable with.”

Noting that specific targeted actions – rather than generalized moral exhortations – create change, he notes that “the only way that a status quo gets changed is through moral discomfort; [religious leaders have] got to be willing to be instruments of moral discomfort.” And so he writes about how to preach specifically on the issue, saying “I’m more concerned about [religious moderates] and a sense that religious institutions exist to help people remain comfortable and to help deal with the challenges and tragedies of their own lives, without looking at larger societal issues.” He personally lives the environmentally sustainable life that he preaches.

Harper was named an Ashoka Fellow in 2011 and is the author of GreenFaith: Mobilizing God’s People to Protect the Earth (Abingdon Press, March 2015). In recent years, Harper coordinated the 2015 OurVoices campaign, which mobilized religious support globally for COP 21, led the organizing of faith communities for the People’s Climate Marches in NYC and Washington DC, helped lead the faith-based fossil fuel divestment movement, supported the launch of the global Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, and co-founded Shine, a faith-philanthropy-NGO campaign to end energy poverty with renewable energy by 2030. He helps lead GreenFaith’s new local organizing initiative, creating multi-faith GreenFaith Circles in local communities globally.

He is a graduate of Princeton University and Union Theological Seminary, and served as a parish priest for ten years and in leadership positions in the Episcopal Church before becoming GreenFaith’s Executive Director.

Join us in conversation with this powerful voice for environmental stewardship who walks the talk.


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