From pews to the pul­pit, a turn to­ward green

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY BEN WOLF­GANG


With a Bi­ble in one hand and a protest sign in the other, many re­li­gious ac­tivists are now mov­ing in lock­step with the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment in the fight against oil and gas drilling.

Stew­ard­ship of the Earth is hardly a new con­cept in Chris­tian thought — it’s men­tioned in Gen­e­sis — but a grow­ing school of the­o­log­i­cal thought lead­ers are get­ting out of the pew, march­ing on the picket line, and be­com­ing spe­cific-is­sue ac­tivists.

“We’ve seen a tran­si­tion oc­cur over the last 10 years, par­tic­u­larly in the Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cal move­ment,” said Joseph Grie­boski, founder and chair­man of the In­sti­tute on Re­li­gion and Public Pol­icy. “We’ve seen en­tire de­nom­i­na­tions take po­si­tions on things like frack­ing. As en­ergy be­comes a more im­por­tant pri­or­ity . . . the re­li­gious com­mu­nity is go­ing to feel a

| God is go­ing greater de­mand to be en­gaged in the public dis­course about it.”

Some de­nom­i­na­tions, such as the United Church of Christ (UCC), have taken di­rect aim at frack­ing, the nat­u­ral gas ex­trac­tion tech­nique used ex­ten­sively in the Mar­cel­lus Shale and other fuel re­serves across the na­tion.

Last week, a group of about 75 pro­test­ers gath­ered at the Smith­field UCC in down­town Pitts­burgh be­fore pick­et­ing a nearby nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try con­fer­ence.

The church didn’t or­ga­nize the event but al­lowed its halls to be used by Mar­cel­lus Protest, western Penn­syl­va­nia’s lead­ing anti-drilling group. The UCC doesn’t give spe­cific march­ing or­ders to its mem­bers, but en­cour­ages them to get in­volved in lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal causes, said the Rev. Jim Dem­ing, UCC’S min­is­ter for en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.

“We ask peo­ple to ex­am­ine their own life­styles, how much [fos­sil fuel] they use, and where it comes from,” Mr. Dem­ing said. “We speak to our churches, not for them. Our con­gre­ga­tions can choose what they say. But ev­ery decision has a moral com­po­nent to it. It’s all about mak­ing choices.”

The Chris­tian-green move­ment has at its core the “Evan­gel­i­cal Cli­mate Ini­tia­tive,” a 2006 doc­u­ment that has now been signed by more than 200 prom­i­nent pas­tors and other re­li­gious lead­ers. It as­serts that “hu­manin­duced cli­mate change is real,” and calls on evan­gel­i­cals to use more re­new­able en­ergy and buy hy­brid ve­hi­cles.

Over the past sev­eral years, the cause has evolved from the ob­jec­tive of start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion to tar­get­ing spe­cific in­dus­tries or prac­tices. Chris­tian en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have also taken aim at pro­posed oil drilling in the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, among other things.

The move­ment bases its phi­los­o­phy on the bib­li­cal ideas that Chris­tians should never dam­age God’s world, and an ad­mo­ni­tion from Je­sus to “pro­tect and care for the least of these,” which the Cli­mate Ini­tia­tive says is a call to shield the poor, el­derly and sick from the dan­gers of pol­lu­tion.

The di­vide among Chris­tians has cen­tered on the cre­ation ac­counts in Gen­e­sis. In the first chap­ter, God says on the sixth day, de­pend­ing on the trans­la­tion, that man will have “do­min­ion” or will “reign over” the nat­u­ral world. In the sec­ond, God cre­ates the world and gives Adam nam­ing power over its crea­tures.

But Mr. Grie­boski said some Chris­tian churches are tak­ing a dif­fer­ent tack on what “do­min­ion” means.

“It’s tran­si­tion­ing from a ‘God gave man do­min­ion over the earth’ trans­la­tion of the scrip­tures to a ‘God gave man re­spon­si­bil­ity over the Earth’ trans­la­tion,” Mr. Grie­boski said.

The move­ment has also led to a rift among Chris­tians, as some high-pro­file lead­ers fear that church­go­ers are let­ting them­selves be used by sec­u­lar ac­tivists.

“Es­sen­tially, the larger en­vi­ron­men­tal groups set the agenda. They de­ter­mine what needs to be protested, and they get that in­for­ma­tion out to the smaller groups, in­clud­ing those specif­i­cally re­li­gious groups,” said E. Calvin Beis­ner, spokesman for the Corn­wall Al­liance For the Stew­ard­ship of Cre­ation, a coali­tion of clergy, sci­en­tists, aca­demics and oth­ers that re­mains skep­ti­cal of how far such churches as the UCC have pushed the en­ve­lope.

“The march­ing or­ders come from the much larger, much more well-funded en­vi­ron­men­tal groups,” he said.

An­other po­ten­tial pit­fall of the evan­gel­i­cal-en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist mar­riage runs deeper, spe­cial­ists say. In all com­mu­ni­ties, churches typ­i­cally strive not to be seen as one more com­bat­ant in the po­lit­i­cal bat­tles peo­ple see in the other six days of the week. Those who work in the nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try, for ex­am­ple, may be un­likely to at­tend Smith­field UCC, given the church’s in­volve­ment in drilling protests.

Churches shouldn’t shy away from con­tro­ver­sial top­ics such as the en­vi­ron­ment, but the con­ver­sa­tion should never drive peo­ple away, said Galen Carey, vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions at the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Evan­gel­i­cals.

“The church needs to be a place where there’s room for dif­fer­ent views on po­lit­i­cal is­sues

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