Faith­ful take up environment is­sues

Church lead­ers, ad­vo­cates aim to bring cli­mate-change po­si­tions to the fore­front

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Colin Camp­bell cm­camp­bell@balt­ twit­­camp­bell6

The Rev. Barry Har­grove knows the peo­ple in the pews at his East Bal­ti­more Bap­tist church — like many across the coun­try — are fo­cused more on crime, jobs, ed­u­ca­tion, polic­ing and other con­cerns than they are on the environment.

“For many peo­ple,” he said Sun­day, “de­creas­ing the car­bon foot­print is the last thing in our minds.”

As en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates in Mary­land push for a statewide ban on the con­tro­ver­sial gas-drilling tech­nique known as frack­ing, they are seek­ing to re­cast en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism from a po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tive to a moral im­per­a­tive by mak­ing their case in church.

More than 40 faith lead­ers across the state an­swered that call dur­ing the week­end with ser­mons that em­pha­sized stew­ard­ship of the planet as part of the “Cli­mate in the Pul­pits/on the Bimah” cam­paign.

The Prince of Peace Bap­tist Church in McElderry Park, where Har­grove is pas­tor, has in­stalled a rain gar­den on its prop­erty, he said, and is tak­ing steps to en­sure that up­com­ing ren­o­va­tions are done in the most en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way.

Har­grove, pres­i­dent of the Pro­gres­sive Bap­tist Con­ven­tion of Mary­land, gave the key­note ser­mon at the Green the Church Sum­mit, a con­ver­sa­tion about en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion among more than 100 African-Amer­i­can church lead­ers last month.

He said he is en­cour­ag­ing his con­gre­ga­tion to con­sider tak­ing small steps, such as re­cy­cling, us­ing LED lights and plant­ing trees in the neigh­bor­hood, to bet­ter care for the Earth.

“We don’t have to nec­es­sar­ily put con­ser­va­tion as a top-five pri­or­ity is­sue within our min­istry,” Har­grove said. “But we can be­gin to do things in our ev­ery­day lives to in­di­cate that we are mind­ful of the is­sue.”

In­ter­faith Power & Light and the Ch­e­sa­peake Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work pre­sented the ef­fort to faith lead­ers as part of a push to pro­hibit frack­ing statewide.

En­ergy com­pa­nies have eyed the Mar­cel­lus shale rock for­ma­tion in Western Mary­land for drilling. The Ho­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed lim­i­ta­tions on the prac­tice for next year, when the cur­rent ban ex­pires.

While there are no gas basins in Bal­ti­more, the City Coun­cil will hear res­o­lu­tions to­day to ban frack­ing in the city — a sym­bolic mea­sure — and to sup­port a statewide ban.

Joelle Novey, di­rec­tor of In­ter­faith Power & Light, said she ap­pealed to faith lead­ers to in­cor­po­rate dis­cus­sion of cli­mate change into their min­istries in what­ever way made sense.

“I’m a huge be­liever in the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of talk­ing about cli­mate change in faith com­mu­ni­ties,” Novey said. “To me, cli­mate change is one of the most im­por­tant ways we need to reckon, in this gen­er­a­tion, with the im­pact we have on our neigh­bors.”

The Rev. Amy Sens, of Six:Eight United Church of Christ in Ham­p­den, said she ex­pected to spend her first Sun­day evening ser­vice since last week’s elec­tion en­gag­ing her con­gre­ga­tion in a di­a­logue about their con­cerns for the fu­ture, in­clud­ing those re­gard­ing the environment.

“With this elec­tion, we do have cause for con­cern about what hap­pens with cli­mate change,” Sens said.

Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald J. Trump has re­jected global warm­ing as a hoax and promised to roll back fed­eral ef­forts to re­duce green­house-gas emis­sions.

Sens said she sees en­vi­ron­men­tal man­dates in the Bi­ble, in the Ge­n­e­sis story of Adam and Eve be­ing given the Gar­den of Eden as care­tak­ers, and in Je­sus’ sec­ond great com­mand­ment: to love thy neigh­bor as thy­self.

“For us as peo­ple of faith, one of the key things about cli­mate change is that the im­pacts of it are go­ing to be dis­pro­por­tion­ately felt by the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, who live in poverty, who don’t have a po­lit­i­cal voice,” Sens said.

She ac­knowl­edged that faith lead­ers face “a hard sell” in urg­ing their con­gre­ga­tions to care about the environment in the same way they care about mak­ing ends meet or pub­lic safety.

“At the same time, that’s why we need lead­ers to speak up,” the pas­tor said. “If lead­ers only talk about the stuff peo­ple al­ready rec­og­nize is a prob­lem, then the long-term stuff is just go­ing to hit us out of the blue and we can’t solve th­ese longert­erm prob­lems to­gether.”

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