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Religion & the Environment

Hey friends, This fits right in with the previous posting....

>X-Sender: horizon@swva.net (Unverified)
>Date: Fri, 08 Oct 1999 13:04:35 +0000
>To: lrhleebs@pop.usit.net
>From: Shireen Parsons <horizon@swva.net>
>Subject: Religion & the Environment
>Religion and the Environment
>By Shireen Parsons
>The faithful are flocking to the defense of the Earth, and religious belief,
>which has long been seen as a source of division and strife, has become the
>foundation of a diverse and growing constituency. Whether they call the
>object of their worship God, Jehova, Allah, Creator, or Great Spirit, they
>are united in their belief that we are one with Creation, that Creation is
>perfect and beloved by the Creator, and that we must cherish and protect the
>Earth and all its life.
>The Hindu Swami Vivekananda said, "As different streams having different
>sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different paths which men
>take through different tendencies various though they appear, crooked or
>straight, all lead to God."
>Here is a sampling of some of the spiritual paths that have led the faithful
>to become advocates for environmental justice.
>Ann Alexander, a staff attorney with the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic in
>Newark, New Jersey, is Chair of the Christian Environmental Council of the
>Evangelical Environmental Network, a national council of Christian leaders
>who are concerned with the issue of Creation care. 
>She says she'd be the first to admit that Christians have often been on the
>wrong side of environmental issues in recent years. "But," she adds, "if you
>look back through the whole of Christian history, to the early Christian
>writers, there was an intense appreciation of nature, and the understanding
>that it reflects the Creator, and, for that reason, is worthy of great care
>and respect."
>Ann says that, throughout the Bible, there are clear indications that we
>were given a stewardship role on Earth, as in the very beginning of Genesis,
>where we are called upon to have dominion over the Earth. She finds the fact
>that many Christians take it to mean we must subdue Nature and master it an
>unfortunate distortion of the word "dominion."  
>She says that, in context of the rest of the scriptures, the model for
>dominion is God's dominion over humanity -- a relationship of love,
>sacrifice, mutual service. Also in Genesis, we're told to take care of the
>Garden, to tend it and keep it. 
>CEC members believe humans are distinct from other life on the planet, and
>that, with that distinction, comes the responsibility described in the
>scriptures. Ann says, "Nothing is ever said about maximizing the economic
>return from the land; the land is to be managed to take care of the poor,
>and also the animals, and the prophets indicated that the health of the land
>relates directly to the spiritual health of the people." She points out that
>the New Testament indicates Christ's sacrifice was universal, not just for
>humans -- "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son."  He
>loved "the world."
>In October, 1998, the CEC passed a Resolution on Forest Ecosystems,
>affirming, in part, that "forest ecosystems are an integral component of
>God's good creation, wholly having intrinsic value...." The resolution
>advocates the end of old-growth logging and the end of commercial logging on
>national forests.
>The CEC also has passed resolutions urging Christians to apply scriptural
>principles to the private property "takings" issue, and advocating
>strengthening the Endangered Species Act.
>Contact the CEC at:  PO Box 7536, Boulder, CO 80306-7536; 303-449-9089; or
>email Ann Alexander at alexander@kinoy.rutgers.edu.
>Dan Pierce, Professor of History, the University of North
>Carolina-Asheville, teaches southern history and environmental history. The
>son of a Baptist minister, he is also a member of the Evangelical
>Environmental Network.
>Growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina in the 60s and 70s
>gave him his environmental conscience. At that time, there was a lot said in
>church about Christians' responsibility to the environment. 
>During the 60s, many people began to blame environmental problems on the
>Judeo-Christian world view of humans' dominion over nature, and a rift has
>developed between many Christians and environmentalists. Dan says, "Genesis
>tells how God created the heavens and the earth, and the land and the sea,
>and all the animals, and, after He creates all these things, it keeps saying
>that God saw it and it was 'good.'" He wonders, "If you believe that, how
>can you say, 'I can do whatever I please to God's good Creation'?" 
>So, he's trying to close that rift, working with the Western North Carolina
>Alliance, and also with churches, to bring out the areas of agreement. He
>says, "For the environmental movement to succeed here in the Bible Belt, we
>have to involve the evangelical Christians." "We have to reach out to them,
>make them feel welcome, and educate them as to their Christian
>responsibility to the environment. 
>Jim McKinley is Pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in
>Hendersonville, North Carolina. Before attending Harvard Divinity School, he
>was director of stewardship and protection planning at the Nature
>Conservancy for five years, and then worked as a rafting guide and kayak
>Jim believes we are part of Creation, which supports all life. He came to
>religion through his interest in the environment -- his background is
>ecology and evolutionary biology. He says his love for the natural world
>made him look beyond that. 
>One of the principles of the fellowship is the inherent worth and dignity of
>every being. Another is respect for the interdependent web of all existence.
>Some of Jim's sermons are directly related to the environment, but almost
>all of them tie into it in some way. He says, "If we accept our spiritual
>connection to the environment, our relationship to it will be one of
>compassion and care -- we have to choose between a lifestyle that's
>life-confirming and one that's life-denying." 
>Howard Hanger, is the minister of ritual at the Jubilee Community in
>Asheville, North Carolina.
>He says, "We call ourselves 'a call to life' -- we're an inclusive Christian
>community, meaning that we use a lot of different traditions." He adds, "Our
>primary focus is the Christian perspective, but we're not saying that Jesus
>is the only way -- we take a Creation Spirituality approach, which has come
>from indigenous peoples and our ancient forebears." In Christian terms,
>Creation Spirituality means that every creature is a word of God. 
>Many of Jubilee's members belong to environmental organizations. In their
>worship, they acknowledge that what we do to the trees, or the water, or the
>air... is part of our relationship to God. Howard says this inspires them to
>move into the world with a different awareness, and, therefore, whatever
>they do is a spinoff of that awareness. 
>They gather in a former nightclub, and about 650 people attend Jubilee's
>three services every Sunday -- they can seat up to 320 people for each
>service in chairs arranged in concentric circles. They also have twilight
>rituals and bonfires. Howard asserts: "Worship that bores people is a sin." 
>Ina Warren is a member of  the Jubilee Community. During the week, she
>teaches natural history courses at Brevard College. On Sunday mornings, she
>provides "nature moments" for all three services at Jubilee. She says,
>"Incorporating humor, word plays, and puns in the meditations have made them
>a Jubilee favorite, giving our jubilants a weekly dose of a part of Creation
>in a light-hearted but factual and friendly sort of way."
>Mark Jacobs is director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
>He's been involved in environmental matters since his teenage years. As a
>college student, he spent time in Israel at a religious seminary, where he
>became aware of the resources within the Jewish tradition that address
>environmental and social justice problems. "In those traditions," he says,
>"I found no distinction between the environment and humanity, so I was able
>to combine my environmental commitment with my Jewish commitment." 
>The COEJL's mission is to engage Jewish institutions and individuals in
>bringing the moral passion of Jewish tradition and social action to
>environmental stewardship for the sake of humankind, future generations, and
>all of Creation.
>Mark explains that, while the Old Testament admonishes us to care for the
>Earth, the Talmud is quite specific about this. For example, in a commentary
>on Deuteronomy 22:6, Nachmanides wrote, "Torah doesn't permit a killing that
>would uproot a species, even if it permitted the killing [of individuals] in
>that species."
>Current focuses of the COEJL include endangered species, forests, and
>habitat on public and private lands. They fought to repeal the timber
>salvage law and are pressing for the expansion of the moratorium on logging
>in roadless areas of our national forests. The COEJL is a member of the
>National Religious Partnership on the Environment.
>Contact the COEJL at  443 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016-7322;
>212-684-6950 ext. 210; coejl@aol.com; or check out their web site at
>Dr. Ayub Ommaya, professor of neurosurgery at George Washington University,
>represented the Islamic environmental perspective at an interfaith forum on
>the environment held at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in
>Washington DC. He was also a signatory to the 1995 World Scientists' Warning
>to Humanity, which stated that human beings and the natural world are on a
>collision course, and detailed the fundamental changes required to avoid the
>He's interested in the environment because, as a scientist, he can't help
>but realize it's importance, and also because of the teachings of Mohammed,
>which include this verse from the Quran: "Whatever is in the heavens and
>whatever is in the earth declares the glory of Allah; to Him belongs the
>kingdom, and to Him is due (all) praise, and He has power over all things."  
>He says the Quran repeatedly states that we were created as vice-regents, or
>guardians, of the world. "We're told of the importance of observing Nature,
>to see how beautiful and wonderful it is, and that we must not destroy it."
>As Abu al-Faraj, an early Muslim legal scholar explained, "People do not in
>fact own things, for the real owner is their Creator; they only enjoy the
>usufruct of things, subject to divine law."
>"Throughout the history of Islam," Ommaya says, "there have been specific
>laws as to how to treat land that is unoccupied -- how to take care of the
>trees, and how, even in battle, you don't destroy the forests." "It's a
>direct ecological mandate -- amazing, because it was written in the 7th
>Byron Hoggatt, Public Information Officer for the Baha'is of West Virginia,
>is a student of nursing at West Virginia University Tech and a nurse extern
>in oncology. For 15 years, he has operated ILM International, a consulting
>firm in social and economic development with projects in Cape Verde, West
>Africa, Sakah Republic of Siberia, and New Mexico.
>Byron explains that the Baha'i teachings on the environment describe Nature
>as our sacred trust, and call for a balanced, harmonious approach to
>development and conservation. 
>The Baha'i Writings proclaim the unity and sacredness of all of Creation,
>and that every element of Creation reflects attributes of the Creator. More
>than a century ago, Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith, wrote, "Every
>man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed,
>inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his
>prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power
>is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of
>all men." 
>American Baha'i communities and individuals have participated in efforts to
>preserve such natural and cultural treasures as the redwoods in the
>northwest, the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico, and the
>Everglades in Florida. 
>Byron believes West Virginia's most compelling issue is mountaintop removal
>coal mining. He says, "Mountaintop removal benefits only a privileged few,
>while its direct costs are the irreversible destruction of the homeland of
>the Appalachian people and the death of their communities." "It is clearly
>counter to the long-term well-being of this region, where the roots of
>social, economic, and environmental injustice go deep." 
>The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Charleston will be mobilizing
>advocacy with other grassroots networks and coalitions in coordination with
>regional and national Baha'i communities to stop the environmental and human
>injustice of mountaintop removal. "When people of faith join together to
>effect justice," Byron says, "we find the spiritual commonalties that unite
>and empower us."
>Sandy Thorn and Connie Stone are faith keepers for the Appalachian American
>Indians of West Virginia. Sandy is part Cherokee and Eastern Sioux; her
>Indian name is Dancing Star Woman. Connie's heritage is Cherokee; her Indian
>name, "Maka," means "Earth." They counsel and offer spiritual guidance, give
>spiritual names, and perform ceremonies for the tribe, which actually
>consists of about 40 different tribes. 
>Sandy explains that, in past generations, West Virginians of Indian ancestry
>couldn't acknowledge their heritage because, if they did, they couldn't own
>land, and faced other forms of discrimination. Therefore, most members of
>the AAI never fully learned tribal spiritual traditions. In fact, since many
>of them were raised in the Christian religion, they grew up believing that
>the Indian traditions were pagan. 
>She says that, although it's been the belief of Christians that Indians
>believed in many gods and worshipped trees and animals, that's never been
>true. "We try to help our members understand that they can be Christians and
>still follow the Native American way without being seen as pagan." 
>What Christians haven't understood is that Indians don't worship a tree, but
>see the Creator in trees and all of Creation. This is why Indians believe
>that all of Nature is sacred, and that they must preserve it and be grateful
>for whatever they take from it. They know that, if we don't stop destroying
>the land and the water and the air, none of us will survive. 
>"Christians and Indians worship the same God," Sandy says, "the same God
>worshipped by the followers of all the other faiths; and all faiths teach
>that we must love each other and care for the Earth."
>Connie says Indians demonstrate their reverence for the environment not by
>joining organizations, but in quiet ways of conserving and preserving. Like
>the man who takes stones from a stream bed to build his campfire ring, and,
>after the fire has died down, returns the stones to the stream bed and
>leaves the site undisturbed.
>As Leon Shenandoah, an Iroquois, said, "Every human being has a sacred duty
>to protect the welfare of our Mother Earth, from whom all life comes. To do
>this we must recognize the enemy -- the one within us. We must begin with
>**** This article originally appeared in Appalachian Voice. ****
>Shireen I. Parsons
>Christiansburg, Virginia
>"This is the Changeless Faith of God, 
>eternal in the past, eternal in the future."   
>                                           - Baha'u'llah

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