On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations.
Revelation 22:2, NIV
We live at a moment when our nation has never more urgently needed the healing power of trees, a healing power extolled throughout the Bible. Our need for healing starts with the fragile state of Creation, specifically the ways our actions have put the thin blanket of air around our planet out of balance. But we, too, are also painfully out of balance, with people divided from each other in ways that hold us back from the communion of love and purpose that can take us forward together.
Can we change direction for Creation and our communities? I say, “Have faith.” Specifically, I think people of faith can come together to provide the unifying call to action and the daily leadership that will be necessary to dramatically alter our course.
Why count on people of faith? Because the leadership we need is not first and foremost political. Our contentious politics reflect the divisions among us as much as cause them. A people connected by common faith values can overcome anything together, working through the tough issues because we have a shared foundation. Political solutions will follow if diverse people are united in our communities.
I know something about the power of the faith community. As the child of two Presbyterian ministers, and now brother to another when my sister was ordained, I have lived steeped in deep faith. But I gained a broader perspective when my own spiritual path led me as a young adult to renew my faith, while teaching at a school founded by early Quaker leaders more than 200 years ago.
From this immersion experience I have learned there are many qualities that link all faiths, starting with love of others and service to something higher than ourselves. But there is also another shared value that I have found: a reverence and gratitude for the wonder of Creation.
You likely share my belief that Creation Care has never been more urgent. While there are many challenges to the health of our planet, climate change has a reach and scale of impact that overwhelms others. We need to care for the air that sustains us.
This is where trees can play a huge role in healing Creation and empowering the faith community to help. You see, trees play a central role in regulating our climate and cleaning our air. This includes absorbing carbon dioxide and returning oxygen.
In fact, our trees here in the United States absorb almost 15 percent of our current carbon dioxide emissions. Scientific studies indicate we could increase this to more than 20 percent of our emissions if we plant billions more trees all across America, from city streets to mountaintops. This natural “carbon sink” of trees will only capture a bigger and bigger percentage of our emissions as we advance improvements like clean energy.
If people of faith can come together to find our place in this work, we can help deliver the change we need, tree-by-tree. Churches and other houses of worship have land that can be used to plant and care for trees. People of faith can also take this action around their homes, and become involved in tree planting projects in their communities.
This leadership can spark action in other ways. Many political leaders are weary of conflict on tough issues like climate change and looking for new ways to come together. My organization, American Forests, has found that embracing tree planting as a climate change solution has tremendous appeal for diverse political leaders. If the faith community is leading tree planting by example, that could help inspire our political leaders to make this a priority.
Leadership by the faith community also creates the opportunity to inspire action among all traditions. As an example, my organization has formed partnerships with different traditions worldwide to plant and replant forests as a way to care for Creation. Our new partnerships are but one example of demonstrating that we have a tree planting movement across traditions just waiting to form.
I am grateful that my organization, founded 144-years ago by a fellow Christian, has been given the opportunity to collaborate with the Evangelical Environmental Network. Let’s advance Creation Care together through tree planting, and inspire a movement across faiths that heals the divides among people as we heal Creation together.
Jad Daley is President and CEO of American Forests, the nation’s first forestry organization founded in 1875, and a faithful Christian.