Black church lead­ers stress the en­vi­ron­ment

Pas­tors gather at two-day Green the Church Sum­mit in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Scott Dance sdance@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/ss­dance

“We fo­cus on the elec­tion, we fo­cus on poverty, we fo­cus on Black Lives Mat­ter. Equally im­por­tant is the en­vi­ron­ment.” The Rev. Kip Banks

Pas­tors from across the state gath­ered Tues­day in Bal­ti­more to dis­cuss ways pre­dom­i­nantly black churches can use the pul­pit and the power of faith com­mu­ni­ties to dis­cuss cli­mate change, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and other en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

“The mes­sage doesn’t res­onate too quickly with the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity,” said the Rev. Kip Banks, an Up­per Marl­boro res­i­dent and se­nior pas­tor of East Wash­ing­ton Heights Bap­tist Church in Wash­ing­ton.

“We fo­cus on the elec­tion, we fo­cus on poverty, we fo­cus on Black Lives Mat­ter,” Banks said. “Equally im­por­tant is the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Banks joined more than 100 other church lead­ers at Gwynn Oak United Methodist Church for the Green the Church Sum­mit, a two-day dis­cus­sion about how to help churches in­vest in be­com­ing more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and pro­mote an at­ti­tude of bi­b­li­cal stew­ard­ship of the Earth.

Per­haps more im­por­tantly, they also talked about how to el­e­vate is­sues of en­vi­ron­men­tal in­jus­tice to the same level as con­cerns about broader so­cial ills such as vi­o­lence and drugs.

Dis­cus­sions in­cluded how to make the case with parish­ioners for “green” church fa­cil­i­ties, press­ing state leg­is­la­tors for stronger laws pro­tect­ing God’s cre­ation and preach­ing a “green Gospel” in black churches.

Some at the con­fer­ence wanted help with con­ser­va­tion projects. The Rev. Del­lyne Hin­ton, who leads Gwynn Oak United Methodist, for in­stance, sought ad­vice on how to mo­ti­vate her con­gre­ga­tion to get a so­lar panel and rain gar­den project at the church from the draw­ing board to re­al­ity.

She and oth­ers con­sulted with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of en­ergy com­pa­nies on ways to curb en­ergy con­sump­tion and to fi­nance projects.

Oth­ers came to the event for help tack­ling more thorny is­sues of en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.

Ethel Shepard-Pow­ell lives in Prince Ge­orge’s County near a planned power plant that ear­lier this year drew a civil rights com­plaint from ad­vo­cacy group Earthjus­tice and a coali­tion of com­mu­nity groups. The Brandy­wine project would be the fourth power fa­cil­ity to pro­duce car­bon emis­sions in the south­ern part of the pre­dom­i­nantly black county, some­thing op­po­nents ar­gue amounts to en­vi­ron­men­tal racism.

Shepard-Pow­ell drove to Bal­ti­more on Tues­day in the hopes of brain­storm­ing a new strat­egy to fight the project. She is help­ing to lead com­mu­nity ef­forts as pres­i­dent of the Part­ner­ship for Re­newal in Cen­tral and South­ern Mary­land, or PRISCM, a faith-based ad­vo­cacy group.

“I kind of have lost hope,” she said. “It’s an up­hill climb.”

Panelists en­cour­aged her to bring com­mu­nity groups to­gether and con­tinue to fight.

“In­jus­tice when it comes to black and brown peo­ple is not an ac­ci­dent,” said the Rev. Marvin Sil­ver, as­so­ciate con­fer­ence min­is­ter for the Cen­tral At­lantic Con­fer­ence of the United Church of Christ. “We must not lose fo­cus that this is­sue is long term, and there are mul­ti­ple strate­gies to win.”

Sil­ver stressed the im­por­tance of black churches us­ing po­lit­i­cal power to chal­lenge elected of­fi­cials and raise up their own lead­ers to run for of­fice.

Sev­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Sierra Club’s Mary­land chap­ter at­tended to help con­nect the church lead­ers with the larger move­ment for en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy and jus­tice.

“State pol­i­tics is not al­ways about what the peo­ple want; it’s about who shows up and who is the loud­est,” said Josh Tulkin, the group’s state di­rec­tor. “There’s re­ally im­por­tant voices here that are un­der­rep­re­sented in An­napo­lis po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions.”

The sum­mit has been held twice be­fore, or­ga­nized by ad­vo­cacy group Green for All in Oak­land, Calif., and Chicago.

In­ter­faith Power & Light, a re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps con­gre­ga­tions of all types to con­serve en­ergy and ad­dress cli­mate change, brought the event to Bal­ti­more.

Or­ga­niz­ers said Bal­ti­more is known for in­spir­ing dis­cus­sion about racism across the coun­try af­ter the ri­ot­ing last year sparked by the death of Fred­die Gray, but few con­nect with is­sues many see as en­vi­ron­men­tal in­jus­tice. They noted Gray had ex­pe­ri­enced lead poi­son­ing, a long­stand­ing prob­lem that most af­fects ur­ban fam­i­lies who rent their homes.

Hil­ton said she wants church lead­ers to do a bet­ter job com­mu­ni­cat­ing such links.

“Some­how en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice is an elit­ist con­cept when the re­al­ity of en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice im­pacts us every day,” she said. “This is not some­body else’s cause, but it’s our own self-care.”

BAR­BARA HADDOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Mark James of Columbia, founder and pres­i­dent of Ur­ban Green, makes a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 2016 Green the Church Sum­mit, held at Gwynn Oak United Methodist Church. The church hosted a group of African-Amer­i­can faith lead­ers from around the coun­try.

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