Bully Pulpit: Clergy Preach Conservation

Article excerpt

Theological heavy-weights are descending on Washington this week to deliver a politically pointed sermon on the environment: Protection of nature is important in itself, but it's as important to people - particularly the poor and vulnerable - as it is to plants and animals.

Some 20 leaders from the major faith groups - including Roman Catholic, Jewish, mainline Protestant, Orthodox, and evangelical - will meet Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, as well as Vice President Al Gore and other senior members of the Clinton administration.

The timing of the meetings Wednesday and Thursday - just after President Clinton's State of the Union address and just before release of his budget - reflects an urgency in the religious leaders' message. It also points up a growing activism by mainline churches on environmental issues. In total, the groups represent some 100 million worshippers, though not all presumably agree on every cause and concern. "The moral integrity of environmental protection is at stake here," says the Very Rev. James Parks Morton, former dean of the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. "It's hard to be poor in America without bearing disproportionate burdens of poison and pollution." At a time when campaign finance scandals fill the news, the leaders stress that they are not simply another political action committee or special-interest group come to wheedle or twist arms. "We're not the green party at prayer," says James Carr of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There's not a PAC treasurer among us. We bring a very different set of assets." The gathering is organized by the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, comprising the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and US Catholic Conference. "For us it really is a Biblical issue, a spiritual issue," says the Rev. Stan LeQuire of Wynwood, Pa., director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. The evangelical group, which has about 1,100 affiliate churches and several hundred campus organizations in the United States, has taken the lead on endangered species issues. "The core of it for us is that the Lord God is the creator of everything and has entrusted it to us for our stewardship," says Mr. LeQuire. More than 'good works' To many religious leaders, tackling the environment as a contemporary issue - whether by preaching sermons, promoting congregational recycling efforts, protesting logging in the redwoods, or lobbying against a local waste incinerator - is more than a worldly activity. "Clearly the 'good works' part is important," says Rabbi Daniel Swartz of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Md. "But there is more to it than that. A presence in the natural world helps you understand that there are lots of wonderful things, and not all of them are created by humans. The sort of humility you can get from that is a fundamental religious attitude. …

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