What are religious leaders and organizations doing to communicate the importance of safeguarding our natural environment?
—Peter Toot, Taos, NM
Perhaps it’s not surprising that those who care for God’s creation take environmental issues seriously. But only in recent years have Sunday sermons and other religious services put green topics front and center.
Much of the credit for increases in such “faith-based” environmentalism can go to the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), which was founded in 1993 to “weave the mission of care for God’s creation across all areas of organized religion.” NRPE has forged relationships with a diverse group of religious organizations, including the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and the Evangelical Environmental Network.
These organizations work with NRPE to develop environmental programs that mesh with their own varied spiritual teachings. For instance, some 135,000 congregations—counting Catholic parishes, synagogues, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches and evangelic congregations—have been provided with resource kits on environmental issues, including sermons for clergy, lesson plans for Sunday school teachers, and even conservation tips for church and synagogue building managers.
Even Evangelical Christians, known for their conservative take on most issues, are going green. The Colorado-based National Association of Evangelicals is urging its 30 million members to pursue a “biblically balanced agenda” to protect the environment alongside fighting poverty. Indeed, it was an Evangelical minister, Reverend Jim Ball, who started the influential “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign promoting hybrid cars back in 2003. More recently Ball has worked with likeminded Evangelicals to craft a faith-based policy statement on global warming.
Another key organization is the Forum on Religion and Ecology, which holds conferences that bring religious leaders together from all over the world to discuss religion’s role in ecological matters.
Earth Ministry, an association of 90 churches around Seattle, takes a more “hands-on” approach. It organizes hikes, book parties, and volunteer support for local agricultural projects, helping to educate thousands of people along the way. Some congregations also conduct church “greenings,” like replacing church lightbulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescents and virgin copier paper with recycled paper.
Some more hard-hitting environmental actions have sprung up at the congregation level as well. In Mississippi, Jesus People Against Pollution brought together local churchgoers to pressure authorities to clean-up local toxic waste sites. And in Detroit, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart turned a former crack house into a community vegetable garden. Meanwhile, New York’s Hamburg Presbyterian Church “adopted” a nearby creek and won it designation as a protected habitat. And just like good environmentalists everywhere, Hamburg Presbyterian’s parishioners continue to monitor the creek to ensure that it remains vibrant and healthy.
CONTACTS: National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), www.nrpe.org; Earth Ministry, www.earthministry.org; National Association of Evangelicals, < a href=”http://www.nae.net”>www.nae.net.