Earth Day’s 40th anniversary arrives on April 22 with people of faith promoting environmentalism more than ever — and others revering nature to the extent that some wonder if ecology is a new religion. Yet for Christians, in particular, the concept of “creation care” is allowing them to find common ground on environmental protection.
Historically, environmental advocacy by Christians and other believers has been complicated by the varied political, social and moral layers within the movement. “Creation care” is an idea that has encouraged Christians, most notably conservative evangelicals, to embrace good stewardship of the Earth without buying into left-leaning environmentalism or any implication of nature worship.
In fact, many churches see environmentalism as a means of reaching new members and revitalizing their congregations.
Northland, A Church Distributed, the Florida congregation led by the Rev. Joel Hunter, will hold a simulcast April 21 that organizers say will be the largest ever faith-based gathering involving Earth Day, drawing thousands of churches.
Still, there are concerns over the direction and manifestations of some of this faith-based environmentalism.
Avatar, the blockbuster James Cameron film that was seen as a paean to ecology, prompted criticism from Vatican Radio and others who say the film presents nature as a “divinity to worship” and promotes “all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium.”
And Stephen T. Asma, professor of philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, wrote in the Jan. 10, 2010, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“Instead of religious sins plaguing our conscience, we now have the transgressions of leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper. … Apocalyptic fear-mongering previously took the shape of repent or burn in hell, but now it is recycle or burn in the ozone hole.”
With these religious debates swirling, along with the heated arguments over global warming and what, if anything, society should do about it, ReligionLink provides these resources for reporters writing about Earth Day.
Why it matters
Care of the environment is one of the rare issues that unites diverse communities across religious and ideological lines. Liberals and conservatives, nonbelievers and believers of all stripes, have found themselves in agreement on a range of environmental issues. For religious groups that are always concerned about attracting young people to their message of faith, a focus on the environment — like social justice — can be a powerful draw.
- The Web site of the Earth Day Network provides a searchable database of Earth Day events nationwide.
- The site also provides a history of Earth Day.
- The Web site of Blessed Earth, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading environmentalism among churches, gives information on the April 21 simulcast.
- Yale’s Forum on Religion and Ecology is the largest international multireligious project of its kind. The forum recognizes that religions need to be in dialogue with other disciplines, including science, in seeking solutions to environmental problems.
- The Barna Group has done some research into religious attitudes toward the environment.
- The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also has done some research into religious attitudes toward the environment.
- Beliefnet has a page on the environment.
- Hillel, a foundation that fosters Jewish life on college campuses, has a list of Jewish religious and secular organizations that work to improve the environment in Israel and the Middle East.
- Read “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” the 2006 statement by the Evangelical Climate Initiative.
- Read “An Open Letter to the Signers of ‘Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action’ and Others Concerned About Global Warming,” by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (formerly known as the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance).
- Read “A Call to Truth, Prudence and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming,” by the Cornwall Alliance.
- Read a Jan. 29, 2010, Forward.com article on the new executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
- Read a Jan. 25, 2010, Globe and Mail article about Avatar and the rise of nature worship.
- Read a Jan. 21, 2010, Religion Dispatches article on how environmentalism is influencing religion.
- Read a Jan. 19, 2010, Los Angeles Times editorial on the controversy surrounding Avatar.
- Read a Jan. 15, 2010, New York Times article on churches that see environmentalism as a means of reinvigorating their congregations.
- Read a Jan. 10, 2010, article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on whether environmentalism is the new religion in today’s more secular world.
- Read an Oct. 26, 2009, Religion News Service article (scroll down) on a visit to New Orleans by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, sometimes called the “green patriarch” for his interest in the environment.
- Read a Jan. 30, 2009, New York Times article on the efforts of one community of nuns to make their home more green.
- Read a March 12, 2008, Christian Science Monitor article on Southern Baptists and climate change.
Previously on ReligionLink
- Copenhagen, climate change and religious lobbying, December 2009.
- The “green patriarch,” October 2009.
- Source guide on animals and religion, September 2008.
- The evangelical divide on global warming, updated May 2008.
- The greening of Passover, March 2008.
- Source guide on religion and the environment, November 2007.
- The Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies conducts programs to promote Christian environmental stewardship. The institute maintains campuses in Michigan, Washington, Florida and India. Contact 616-526-9952.
- The Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology is a Christian teaching and research institute associated with the University of Toronto in Canada. Contact 416-926-1300.
- The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture is an organization of experts on religion, cultures, geographies and their environmental concerns. Terry Terhaar is executive director. Contact email@example.com.
- A Rocha is an international Christian organization working to care for the environment. The organization has projects in many countries, including Ghana, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Canada and the United States. Contact 830-992-7940.
- The Evangelical Environmental Network is a Christian organization dedicated to promoting biblically based environmental awareness among Christians. The group publishes Creation Care, a magazine on religion and the environment. Contact 202-903-0209.
- Evangelicals for Social Action is an organization committed to connecting Christian principles to major social, cultural and public policy issues, including the environment through “creation care.” Contact 484-384-2990.
- Floresta is a Christian organization that works to reforest areas of the world. Contact 858-274-3718.
- The National Catholic Rural Life Conference fosters creation care as part of its mission to protect rural life in America. It is based in Des Moines, Iowa. Contact 515-270-2634, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The National Council of Churches of Christ Eco-Justice Programs work to protect and restore the environment. The group, based in Washington, D.C., maintains a list of participating denominations. Contact 202-544-2350.
- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Environmental Justice Program calls Catholics to care for the environment, especially as environmental issues impact the poor. Contact 202-541-3181.
- Canfei Nesharim, Hebrew for “the wings of eagles,” is an organization of Orthodox Jews who work to educate others in the Orthodox community about environmental protection as an expression of Jewish tradition. Contact 212-284-6745.
- The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life seeks to connect Jewish life to the environment through the principles of “tikkun olam,” the Jewish mandate to repair the world. Contact 212-684-2513.
- The Green Zionist Alliance is an organization that works to provide resources to promote environmental activism in Israel, the Middle East and throughout the Jewish Diaspora. Contact 347-559-4492.
- The Jewish Global Environmental Network is a project of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life that works to create a sustainable future for Israel’s environment. Contact 401-863-2499.
- The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the advocacy branch of the Jewish Reform movement. Among its environmental concerns are clean water, global warming and endangered species. Contact 202-387-2800.
- Teva Adventure is a nonprofit that seeks to connect Jews and Jewish spirituality to nature through outdoor activities. Contact 718-576-1302.
- Teva Learning Center is a nondenominational Jewish environmental educational organization. Contact 212-807-6376.
- The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences is an international organization that voices a Muslim perspective on environmental issues. It publishes the newsletter EcoIslam. It is based in Birmingham, England. Contact 44 (0)121 440 3500.
- The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (formerly the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship) was founded by a group of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant theologians, environmental scientists and economists to foster care for the environment among people of faith. The group’s Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship has been signed by many religious leaders. Contact 703-569-4653.
- The National Religious Partnership for the Environment is an umbrella organization consisting of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches of Christ and the Evangelical Environmental Network. The group works to lobby legislators and effect legislation on environmental issues. Contact 413-253-1515.
- The Regeneration Project is a San Francisco-based interfaith organization that works to link faith and ecology. Its main project is Interfaith Power & Light, which promotes renewable energy and energy conservation among congregations nationwide. There is a list of Interfaith Power & Light offices in different states. Contact 415-561-4891.
Denominational ministries and statements
- The Episcopal Ecological Network is a ministry of the Episcopal Church that advocates on behalf of the church for care of the environment. A list of committee members based across the United States is posted at its Web site.
- The Mennonite Creation Care Network encourages the church to engage in care of the environment and serves as a network for Mennonites engaged in that work. Contact 260-799-5869.
- The National Council of Churches of Christ Eco-Justice Programs Web site maintains an anthology of environmental statements of 14 member denominations.
- The Southern Baptist Convention passed a statement on evangelicals and environmentalism at its 2006 annual meeting.
- The Unitarian Universalist Association has a Ministry for Earth that certifies UU congregations as “green sanctuaries.”
- The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society has resources at its “Hope and Action” Web site on environmental issues.
- The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a statement on the environment at its 2003 convention.
- The Rev. Jim Ball is president of the Evangelical Environmental Network in Washington, D.C. Contact 202-903-0209.
- Edward Brown is the founding director of Care of Creation, a Christian environmental mission agency based in Madison, Wis. Contact 608-469-7821.
- Cassandra Carmichael is director of the National Council of Churches’ Eco-Justice Programs. Contact 212-870-2227.
- John Carr is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ executive director of the department of justice, peace and human development. He is on the board of trustees of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. Contact via the communications department of the USCCB, 202-541-3000.
- The Rev. John Chryssavgis is the theological adviser to the ecumenical patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America on environmental issues. Chryssavgis’ writings include Beyond the Shattered Image, about Orthodox perspectives of the environment. Contact JChryssavg@aol.com.
- Calvin DeWitt is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a co-founder of the International Evangelical Environmental Network. He identifies himself as an evangelical Christian. Contact 608-265-2564, email@example.com.
- Selena Fox is a high priestess and senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church and pagan resource center near Mount Horeb, Wis. One of the group’s main concerns is environmental preservation. Contact 608-924-2216, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Paul Gorman is the founder and executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment in Amherst, Mass. The partnership, which says it represents 100 million Americans, is an alliance of major faith groups and denominations across the spectrum of Jewish and Christian communities and organizations in the United States. Contact 413-253-1515.
- Fazlun Khalid directs the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences in Birmingham, England. He co-edited Islam and Ecology. He wrote an article for Our Planet on the Islamic approach to environmental protection. Contact 44 121 440 3500/8218, email@example.com.
- Evonne Marzouk is executive director of Canfei Nesharim, an organization of Orthodox Jews committed to preserving the environment. Contact 212-284-6745.
- Ronald Sider added link is a professor of theology, holistic ministry and public policy and director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He is president of Evangelicals for Social Action. Sider has written several books, including Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving From Affluence to Generosity, a 1977 book widely recognized as fueling the current Christian movement to care for the environment. Contact 484-384-2990.
- Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth is a medical doctor and former emergency room director and chief of medical staff who now writes, preaches and teaches full time about faith and the environment. He is co-founder of Blessed Earth, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading environmentalism among churches. Contact through Blessed Earth’s Web site.
- The Rev. Jim Wallis is founder and editor of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical magazine in Washington, D.C., and a signer of the Evangelical Climate Initiative statement. Contact through Tim King, 202-745-4636 or firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
- Rabbi Arthur Waskow is a Reconstructionist rabbi who is director of the Shalom Center, which promotes activism and education around Jewish environmentalism. Contact 215-844-8494, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- J. Baird Callicott is a professor of philosophy and religious studies at the University of North Texas in Denton. He has written several books, including In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy and Earth’s Insights: A Multicultural Survey of Ecological Ethics From the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback. Contact 940-565-2266, email@example.com.
- Thomas Richard Dunlap is a history professor at Texas A&M University in College Station. He is the author of Faith in Nature: Environmentalism as Religious Quest. Contact 979-845-7107, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Roger S. Gottlieb is a philosophy professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. He has written several books on religion and the environment, including A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, and he edited Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Contact 508-831-5439, email@example.com.
- Bron Taylor is a professor of religion at the University of Florida, where he teaches many courses on religion and ecology. He oversees the university’s master’s and doctoral programs in religion and nature and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature and the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. Contact 352-392-1625 ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Steven Bouma-Prediger is the author of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. He is a professor of religion at Hope College in Holland, Mich., where he leads the environmental studies program. Contact 616-395-7757.
- John W. Hart is a professor of Christian ethics at Boston University. He has written three books about Christian environmental theology. One of his primary areas of academic focus is on ecology as a bridge between science and religion. Contact 617-353-3032.
- Laurel D. Kearns is an associate professor of the sociology of religion and environmental studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J. She teaches courses on Christianity and ecology and has written about eco-theology and the evangelical environmentalism movement. Contact 973-408-3009.
- Jame Schaefer is an associate professor of theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee. She specializes in the intersection of Christian, and especially Catholic, theology and the sciences, including environmental science. Contact 414-288-3742, email@example.com.
- Sarah McFarland Taylor is an associate professor of religion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. She is the author of Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (2007), about the growing number and strength of environmentally activist Roman Catholic nuns. She has also written about creation spirituality and the general “greening” of religion in America. Contact 847-491-4361, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Fred G. Van Dyke is a professor of field biology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. He has written about Christian and evangelical involvement in the environmental movement, including Christian activism that attempts to influence public policy. His Web site contains links to his articles on the effect of Judeo-Christian ethics on environmentalism and evangelical involvement in conservation. Contact 630-752-5724, Fred.G.VanDyke@wheaton.edu.
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He has written about the religious and spiritual dimensions of the environmental movement. Contact 202-994-5704.
- Ismar Schorsch is chancellor emeritus at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He worked with former Vice President Al Gore to create the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. Contact 212-678-8951, email@example.com.
- Martin David Yaffe is a professor of philosophy and religion studies at the University of North Texas in Denton. He is the editor of Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader. Contact 940-565-2266, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- S. Cromwell Crawford is a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu. He has written about Hindu ethics and the environment. Contact 808-956-4200, email@example.com.
- Vasudha Narayanan is a religion professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and she specializes in Hinduism and the environment. Contact 352- 273-2928, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Stephanie Kaza is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington. She has written about Buddhist-based environmentalism, including the ecological practices at Western Buddhist retreat centers. Contact 802-656-4055, Stephanie.Kaza@uvm.edu.
- Kenneth L. Kraft is a professor of Buddhist studies and Japanese religions at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., where he teaches a course on Buddhism and ecology. He is co-editor of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism and several articles on the general greening of Buddhism. Contact 610-758-3370, email@example.com.
- Harry Brown is executive director of Maine Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit organization based in Brunswick working to bring environmentally friendly electricity to consumers in the state. Contact 207-721-0444, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Betsy Hardy is coordinator for Vermont Interfaith Power & Light, a group that works to educate faith communities and individuals about global warming and engage them in conservation. Contact 802-434-7307.
- Donald K. Swearer is a visiting faculty member in Buddhist studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He is an expert on ecology and Buddhism. Contact 617-495-2889, email@example.com.
- The Rev. Floyd Flake is a former U.S. congressman and pastor of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, N.Y. He was one of the signers of the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Contact 718-206-4600 ext. 0.
- Mark E. Graham is an associate professor of moral theology at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., where he teaches a course on Christian environmental ethics and another titled “Caring for the Earth.” He has written about sustainable agriculture as a Christian ethic. Contact 610-519-4703.
- The Rev. Fletcher Harper is an Episcopal priest and executive director of GreenFaith, an interfaith organization that works to connect faith to care for the environment in New Jersey. Contact 732-565-7740, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Patrick N. Allitt is a history professor at Emory University in Atlanta. He has written about American Catholics and the environment. Contact 404-727-4471, email@example.com.
- E. Calvin Beisner is spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and also is an author and speaker on the application of the biblical worldview to economics, government and environmental policy. He is in Florida. Contact 954-547-5370, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- The Rev. Wellington Boone is a bishop and pastor of the Father’s House and Wellington Boone Ministries in Norcross, Ga. He was among the signers of the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Contact 770-840-0888.
- The Rev. Gerald Durley is pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. He has promoted the Canadian documentary The Great Warming, about climate change, to his congregation and other local ministers, rabbis and imams. Contact 404-752-6869.
- Eric M. Woodrum is a professor of sociology and anthropology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He has written about the effects of religion and theology on the environmental movement. Contact 919-515-9027, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sid Brown is a professor of religion at Sewanee, The University of the South, in Sewanee, Tenn. She has taught a course on Buddhism and the environment. Contact email@example.com.
- Darby Kathleen Ray is a professor of religious studies and director of the Millsaps Faith and Work Initiative at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. She is the editor of Theology That Matters: Ecology, Economy and God. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Catherine M. Roach is an associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She is an expert on the spiritual and religious idea of “Mother Nature.” Contact 205-348-8415, email@example.com.
- Gerald Smith is a religion professor at Sewanee, The University of the Southeast, in Sewanee, Tenn. He has taught a course on religion and ecology. Contact 931-598-1144, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- David Haberman is a professor of religious studies at Indiana University, where among his interests is religion and ecology. Contact 812-855-8894, email@example.com.
- James B. Martin-Schramm is a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He has written about population, consumption and Christian ethics and about Christian environmental ethics. Contact 563-387-1251, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- John T. McGreevy is a history professor at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind. He is co-author of an article about Catholic involvement in the environmental movement in the mid-20th century. Contact 574-631-7085, email@example.com.
- Sara Shady is an assistant professor of philosophy at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. In May 2006, she gave a presentation titled “An Ethical Response to Global Warming” as part of the college’s “Christian Responses to Global Warming Forum.” Contact 651-638-6174, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Darren E. Sherkat is a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He is the author of a paper on religious influence on environmental concern and activism that appeared in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Contact 618-453-7619, email@example.com.
- Lisa Sideris is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. She wrote Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology and Natural Selection, which looks at Christian environmental ethics and its relationship to Darwinian theory. Contact 812-855-6119, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Susan Power Bratton is the chair of the environmental studies department at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She is the author of Environmental Values in Christian Art (2007). Contact 254-710-3405.
- Christopher G. Ellison is a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written about religious influences on the environmental movement. Contact 512-232-6312, email@example.com.
- Laura Hobgood-Oster is a professor of religion at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she has taught a course on religion and ecology. Contact 512-863-1669.
- The Rev. Sally Bingham is an Episcopal priest who leads the Regeneration Project, which sponsored “Spotlight on Global Warming,” a program that showed the film An Inconvenient Truth in thousands of congregations of all faiths across the country in the same week in October 2006. It also sponsors the Interfaith Power & Light program, which fosters statewide coalitions of congregations of all faiths to work on the issue of global warming. The Regeneration Project is based in San Francisco. Contact 415-561-4891.
- The Rev. Charles E. Blake Sr. is a bishop and pastor of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. He was among the 86 signers of the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Contact 323-733-8300.
- The Rev. Heather Clements is a professor of systematic theology at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif. She has written about an Anabaptist and Mennonite environmental ethic. Contact 626-815-6000 ext. 5239, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Rabbi Mike Comins is the founder of TorahTrek, an organization that connects Jewish spirituality to outdoor adventures. He is the author of A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways Into Judaism (2007). He lives in Los Angeles. Contact email@example.com.
- Michael E. Lodahl is a professor of theology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He has written about Methodism and its relationship to nature and about Wesleyan thought and environmental ethics. Contact 619-849-2331, MichaelLodahl@pointloma.edu.
- Vijaya Nagarajan is an associate professor in the department of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, where she teaches a course on religion and the environment. She is an expert in the religious traditions and ecology of South India. Contact 415-422-5837, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lance Nelson is professor and chairman of theological and religious studies at the University of San Diego. He is an expert on religion and ecology in Hindu India, including the religion’s attitudes toward animals. Contact 619-260-4054, email@example.com.
- Tri Robinson is the founding pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, Idaho. He is the author, with Jason Chatraw, of Saving God’s Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church’s Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship. Contact 208-377-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ines Talamantez is an associate professor in the religious studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches a course on American religion and ecology. Contact email@example.com.
- Duncan Ryuken Williams is an associate professor of Japanese religion at the University of California, Berkeley. One of his areas of study is Buddhism and environmentalism. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.