Churches Take Big Mutual Step to Renew Genesis Ecology
Our churches are beginning to taste the first fruits of the of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment campaign, a $4.3 million effort to place environmental issues at the heart of religious life.
It is a hopeful moment.
Four major faith groups: the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches, the Consultation on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Evangelical Environmental Network, have joined together to green the nation's 53,000 congregations.
Major funding commitments are coming from Pew Charitable Trusts and the Nathan Cummings, Ford, Rockefeller, Surdna and C.S. Mott foundations. The project's goal "to secure the long-term engagement of the religious community with issues of global sustainability and justice," is noble indeed.
The partnership evolved from a process that began in January 1990, when three dozen scientists issued an "Open Letter to the Religious Community." It said the peril to planetary ecology must be recognized "as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension." Several hundred senior religious leaders responded. A Joint Appeal by Religion and Science for the Environment was formed as the result of an October 1990 breakfast hosted by a bipartisan congressional committee. Among the hosts was Vice President Al Gore, then a U.S. senator from Tennessee.
As part of the broader ecumenical effort, environmental educational packets, assembled through the offices of the U.S. Catholic Conference, will shortly be shipped to every Catholic parish in the nation.
On another front, one of the first major conferences to be hosted as a result of the partnership, Caring for Creation, took place in Kansas City, Mo., two weeks ago. Hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas and the Stewardship Office of the Episcopal Church, it featured speeches by prominent environmentalists from the ranks of science and religion.
One of these speeches by biologist, botanist and member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 1990, Peter Raven, offered grave reminders about how we humans "have violated the Genesis trust." Genesis, he said, "evokes a divine pact with all living things on Earth. We have gotten carried away with the concept of dominion and subjugation and have lost the concept of caring." The planet, he reminded us, with its 10 million kinds of living organisms, "is a living system - and we forget this only at our peril."
The starting point of the conference's various, spiritually inspired reflections, was this: The Earth is primary. Human beings, while playing a sacred and even special role in God's divine plan, are derivative of the planet that is, derived from chemicals, atoms, the seas, plants and animals of Mother Earth. And that we depend upon Mother Earth to enhance creation.
We were told that tragically we are not doing this, not enhancing creation. Instead, we are killing the planet, extinguishing life forms, and, as a result, may possibly be on the path to our own extinction as a species.
We were told that in order to change course, to know what to do we first need to know who we are.
We were reminded that our planet, the only known life source in the universe, is about 4.5 billion years old; life itself, about 3.5 billion years old, the first 2 billion of which consisted only of bacterial life. However, these bacterial were involved in a photosynthesizing and oxygen-yielding process. As a result of this process, oxygen entered into a fragile equilibrium with ozone, producing protective earth shield, allowing more varied forms of life development.
We were reminded that the first nine-tenths of our earth's life story occurred entirely in the seas, only during the last tenth did life emerge from sacred waters. …