The Pope’s climate change encyclical Laudato Si was leaked four days before its scheduled release. Here’s what to look for as the world prepares to debate a spiritual response to environmental change.

What to Expect from the Pope’s Climate Change Encyclical

Few unpublished documents have generated as much criticism and enthusiasm as Laudato Si — the Pope’s climate change encyclical. Literally translated as “Be Praised,” Laudato Si was leaked four days early.

Although the details of the document are still emerging, here are several things to look for in what promises to be one of the most historic spiritual documents of the past several centuries.

1. Care for creation is a moral and spiritual imperative.

For months, climate change critics have been clamoring that the Pope has no business talking about the climate — that the voice of the Pope (and by extension, the voices of people of faith) have no authority in conversations about the environment.

In true Francis fashion, expect the Pope to ignore his critics and state that care for creation is both a moral and spiritual imperative. In Psalm 24:1, it says:

The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.

If we truly believe that the earth belongs to God, then we can no longer ignore our spiritual and ethical responsibility to care for the environment.

Whether you want to hear it or not, the climate is changing. The Pope’s climate change encyclical will call us to wake up and respond with the voice of spiritual and moral authority.

2. We all have a role to play in solving the problem of climate change.

We’ve known for several months that the Pope’s climate change encyclical will not be a scientific treatise. But it will affirm that climate change has been largely caused by human behavior.

For too long, the Christian community has remained silent (or worse yet, been complicit) in the overconsumption of the earth’s resources for profit or personal gain. While corporations have often ignored the planet for the sake of their shareholders, consumers have developed lifestyles that are incompatible with our responsibility to care for creation.

It’s likely that Francis will call us to evaluate our role as consumers of creation and adopt a more biblical role of stewards of creation. Good stewardship begins with change (which incidentally, is the call of the gospel). It’s time to change our behaviors and attitudes about the environment — and pressure corporations to do the same.

3. Global climate change is connected to global poverty.

The Pope’s climate change encyclical reportedly draws a direct line between climate change and living conditions for the planet’s poorest inhabitants.

It makes sense. Nations in the Global North profit much more from the misuse of creation than those in the Global South. But in a cruel twist, the day-to-day lives of residents of the Global South (e.g. Africa, Latin America, developing Asia) are more closely tied to creation and natural resources that are being harmed by exploitation of the environment.

The bottom line is that you should expect Francis to call out climate change as a justice issue — making it even more important for Jesus’ followers to take a more active role in reversing current trends.

The Pope’s climate change encyclical proves that Francis has no interest in avoiding controversy when serious issues need to be addressed. Laudato Si will undoubtedly have both detractors and advocates inside the Church and in society at large.

Whether you accept Francis’ invitation to help reverse climate change or not is up to you. But if you’re a follower of Jesus …

The real sin is to allow your political or ideological allegiances stop you from approaching the Pope’s climate change encyclical with an open heart and an open mind.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not about your political bent or your ideological persuasion. It’s about your willingness to consider how all of us can work together to care for the world God created.