Called to Creation: An Interview with Jessica Moerman

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As Edgardo addressed in last week’s newsletter, climate change is a vitally important topic in science and faith. With that in mind, I interviewed the Rev. Dr. Jessica Moerman, a climate and environmental scientist, pastor, educator, and advocate. Jessica serves as the president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network and as a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals. Jessica received her Ph.D. in earth and atmospheric sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and she’s held research positions at Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. She and her husband, Chris, have two children, and they are both pastors of Grace Capital City in Washington, DC.

We think Jessica is one of the most exciting and hopeful emerging voices in the field of climate science and Christian faith.

You were nurtured in a Christian home, which gave you a deep sense that God calls us. How particularly did you hear God’s call to be a scientist?

In our youth group activities, we learned this deep sense that God is doing an amazing work in this world, and he is inviting us to partner with him. That just captured my heart. Yes, I want to join that! I found myself asking, “Okay, what is my calling? How am I going to partner with you, Lord?”

And so, I prayed. As a high school senior, looking to go into college, I asked, “Lord, what would you have me do with my life? What does this look like?” And I continued to hear back from him. “Go study geology.” I was shocked since it wasn’t the answer I was expecting. (And, growing up in suburban/rural Tennessee gave other reasons that I wasn’t quite sure.)

I found myself wrestling with that question the summer before going off to college. The Lord was so gracious; he brought the right person at the right moment into my path. I had a youth leader who was asking, “You’re going off to college. What are you going to study?” I thought he would not be prepared for my answer, “God’s calling me in geology. I don’t think I can do this.” He listened so patiently, and then he said, “Jessica, don’t you know I’m a geologist?”

I was just so amazed to meet a scientist in my church—let alone a geologist—the very thing that God was leading me into. So he helped me see that when we align ourselves with God and seek his kingdom first, he puts the desires on our heart, and we can trust that.

What was the next step?

In college I didn’t know how ministry and geology fit. But I knew I needed to be obedient and could trust where God was leading. He didn’t leave me hanging for very long. In one of my freshman geology courses, it all came together. I learned about this fascinating science, paleoclimatology—there were clues sprinkled throughout the rock record of how God created and shaped this world before we even knew what was going on. It was so fascinating, and also in that moment, Matthew 22 just plunked down in my heart—love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. I had heard about climate change and how it impacted the most vulnerable first and worst. And there was a connection.

  • We had a fascinating conversation about Jessica’s work in advocating for change, especially in light of climate change’s effect on the most vulnerable. You can find the rest of the video of the interview here.
  • Read our very own Rebecca Randall’s profile of Jessica in Christianity Today.

Can you say more about the effect of climate change on the poor?

We see in the news that often those who are most exposed are least able to cope with extreme heat, wildfires, hurricanes, floods. Some of my work looks at extreme heat and the urban heat island effect. Our poorest neighborhoods experience the most extreme temperatures, and we’ve not invested in those neighborhoods by bringing in tree cover, which provides shade that keeps temperatures cool.

How do your faith and your scientific work fit together?

Science is simply studying God’s creation. It’s a way that I draw closer to God. It has enhanced my faith, instead of being the barrier that is often in the public imagination. I see it as studying the handiworks of God. It’s revealed more of his magnificence and his love as well. In general, if we’re not taking the discoveries of science into account, into our faith practices, and into the rhythm and life of our churches, we’re missing a way that God is speaking and revealing himself to us. At a foundational spiritual formation level, it’s so important not to forget about discovering God in the book of nature. I’ve found in John Calvin’s writings incredible quotes about God’s creation as one of the best ways of connecting with God outside of scripture.

Is there any final message for us as Christians?

I just want to thank you for your work in your ministry. It is so important. My final message would be that, though we’re inundated with bad news about extreme weather and climate change impacts, I really encourage folks to take an action, big or small. That’s the antidote. That’s the way we make sure that we create a brighter present for ourselves and a healthier future for the next generation. That always gives me hope and keeps me grounded. And it’s not too late.

I love how The Lancet journal, one of the premier scientific medical reports, put it. They do a yearly climate countdown report, and this has been their message for the last 10 years: climate change is the greatest threat that we face right now, but it’s also the greatest opportunity for public health and wellbeing. As we look to new solutions—new innovations, new ways of living—these will address many of those health harms, and even historic injustices, of the past.

Staying laser focused on pursuing those solutions is what keeps me going and gives me hope, and I hope everyone else can hold on to that, too.

Jessica, thank you for what you do and the hope you bring.

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