We present a guest essay from Melanie Griffin, director of Sierra Club’s Partnerships Program.
I’ve been a "professional environmentalist" for 25 years now. While the right wing paints a picture of environmentalists as negative obstructionists and prophets of doom and gloom, I don’t fit that description and neither do most of my environmentally inclined friends. It’s true we are forced to spend a lot of our time "stopping" things — hazardous waste dumping, irresponsible development, oil drilling in America’s Wildlife Refuges and the like. And if you’re paying any attention at all to the current trends and predictions about global warming, or to the Bush Administration’s unraveling of decades of basic environmental safeguards, you probably wonder how a career conservationist ever gets out of bed in the morning.
But let’s face it, to dedicate your life to protecting the planet from basic human behaviors like greed and power and selfishness, you’ve got to be an optimist at heart. You have to believe that you can make a difference with your life — that there is hope.
Even in these dark days for our public health and wild heritage, I believe there is real cause for hope. It seems that help is on the way from a "higher power." Everyday, I hear about Christians, Jewish leaders and other people of faith joining the struggle to protect creation. At the local level, congregations are greening their houses of worship with energy efficient technologies and natural lawn care, and even some high profile politically conservative evangelical leaders are speaking out about global warming and the extinction crisis.
The media is all abuzz about these strange bedfellows and unnatural allies. But I don’t find the growing religious engagement in environmental issues all that surprising. As a committed Christian myself (I’m head elder at my church, consider myself "born again" and would call myself an evangelical if I didn’t think it would clear the room) I wonder what has taken this alliance so long to come together.
A survey of Sierra Club members found that nearly half attend worship services at least monthly, they just don’t necessarily talk about their spirituality at Club meetings. And most of the members of my church will tell you that they gain real insights into God when they are out in the natural world. They feel a sense of connection with the Creator when they enjoy creation, and they feel that it’s part of their calling to protect it.
Whether this Christian environmental movement is a new alliance or simply many people like me finally putting the two separate halves of their lives together, it just makes sense. The themes of responsible stewardship, loving your neighbor (including future generations) and activism on behalf of the poor (who are most affected by polluting facilities) are age-old biblical principles.
In particular, I am hopeful that Christians and other people of faith can join together to bring healing to our nation, especially in these politically divisive times. It’s so sad that some Christian leaders spend their time trying to divide people, instead of working to promote unity and solutions. And it’s downright crazy that they have managed to turn the care of our planet into a partisan political issue. In my humble opinion, these folks need to step away from the politics of pride and power and realize that something is terribly amiss when Jesus’ followers are working on the side of the powerful and the rich, instead of the poor and suffering.
I also believe that environmentalists need to reject those that preach cynicism and anger and instead tap into the optimism and hope that I believe fuels us at our deepest levels. And those of us who pray need to get over being shy about sharing the spiritual reasons for our activism. Together, people of faith — Democrats and Republicans — can bring hope to a hurting planet. We can care for creation as God intended. At least I hope so.