Green Religion: A Shepherd Protects His Own Backyard; but of Respect for the Land, a West Virginia Librarian Takes on Mining Companies-In the Name of Jesus Christ

By Juarez, Vanessa; Gates, David | Newsweek, August 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

Green Religion: A Shepherd Protects His Own Backyard; but of Respect for the Land, a West Virginia Librarian Takes on Mining Companies-In the Name of Jesus Christ


Juarez, Vanessa, Gates, David, Newsweek


Byline: Vanessa Juarez and David Gates

They don't get much more Red State Christian than Allen Johnson. He and his wife, Debbie, live in Dunmore, W.Va. They home-schooled their four sons, and on their one fuzzy TV channel, they watch only reruns of "Little House on the Prairie." This hardly sounds like a hotbed of environmental activism. But Johnson, cofounder of Christians for the Mountains, is as hard-core as any Birkenstocked Berkeleyite--not just living a purist, back-to-the-land lifestyle, but demonstrating at a coal-mining company in Charleston, even visiting a Rainbow Family gathering where people tend to take a drug or two. Johnson admits he's an out-of-the-box thinker, but "Jesus thought out of the box too."

The Johnsons are part of a movement called Eco-Christianity. Or, more broadly, Green Religion. No one knows how large it is. But over the past 20 years or so, green organizations with a specifically spiritual orientation have been springing up. Episcopal Power and Light. Restoring Eden. Shomrei Adamah ( "Guardians of the Earth"). Some groups are small--Christians for the Mountains invited 20 people to its initial meeting and will be having its first open conference this fall--but they're increasingly putting aside differences and working together to educate and lobby. Johnson hopes the stewardship of the land will be a unifying, not a dividing, issue. Believers disagree on many subjects, but, he says, "God has called all of us seriously, and we should agree on one thing: to take care of his earth."

Visiting Haiti in 1993 changed Johnson. He went there with a Christian Peacemaker team and saw desperate farmers cutting down grapefruit trees to make a cash crop of charcoal. "I just started sobbing," he recalls. "It really hit me that impoverishment is so closely tied into environmental destruction." Back in West Virginia--a poor state suffering environmental damage from the coal industry--Johnson quit a good job as a nursing-home administrator and went off to a seminary in Philadelphia, visiting his family every couple of weeks. …

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