Religions find new soul mate in ecology
Congregations are increasingly addressing environmental issues as
part of their agendas
Sedensky AP in CCTimes 2002.9.28
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Between bites of kugel and sips of matzoh ball
soup, the conversation at Rabbi
Jon-Jay Tilsen's Shabbat dinner each week inevitably goes in one
Tilsen points out his home's energy-saving, fluorescent lighting
to each guest as he tackles a subject
more and more religious leaders are broaching: environmentalism.
Religious groups around the country are finding ecological issues
hard to ignore. Clergy are speaking
from the pulpit on global warming and Arctic drilling and practicing
what they preach in their own
churches, synagogues, temples and mosques.
At Tilsen's Congregation Beth El-Kesser in New Haven, incandescent
lighting has been replaced and
new, more efficient heating, and air-conditioning systems have been
installed. The sanctuary's ceiling
will be lowered and its walls moved in to reduce the area that must
be heated and cooled.
Even the ner tamid, the tiny red light that indicates the location
of the Ark of the Covenant, which holds
the Torah, will be replaced to make use of natural light.
"We're still not the most energy-efficient synagogue or religious
institution, but we have put a lot of
effort and money into it," Tilsen said. "We're just playing
Across faiths, the environmental movement has been evolving slowly
over the last decade or more.
Denominations have started looking into their traditions, examining
how their beliefs could be applied
to ecological issues and releasing statements outlining their positions.
Many Christian and Jewish groups have set up offices or assigned
directors to deal exclusively with
being green. Muslim, Buddhist and some other faiths have also taken
up the issue.
Paul Gorman, head of the National Religious Partnership for the
Environment, said 21 states now have
interfaith global warming and energy campaigns. But Gorman estimates
that for every house of
worship where the environment is an active issue, there are 100
where it is not.
"We're only just beginning to learn to practice what we preach,"
In Los Angeles, the newly opened Cathedral of
Our Lady of the Angels is partially powered by solar
panels mounted atop the Roman Catholic church's conference center.
In Palatine, Ill., the Sikh Religious Temple has added water-saving
taps and cut its energy use by $720
And in Wynnewood, Pa., the Evangelical Environmental Network is
gearing up for "What Would Jesus
Drive?" a national campaign urging people to think about their
"We basically just want to get the question out there,"
said the Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the
network. "Is transportation a moral decision? We definitely
think it is."
The Rev. Tom Carr, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Hartford
and a member of Connecticut's
Interreligious Eco-Justice Network, has cut energy use -- and costs
-- at his church. He has spoken out
on environmental issues, which included lending his support to campaigns
against the "Sooty Six," the
name environmentalists give the state's oldest and most-polluting
Hartford Seminary has made changes on its campus, from ending
use of chemical weedkillers and
pesticides on its lawns to supplying mugs for coffee instead of
paper and plastic foam cups. In July, the
seminary switched to Green Mountain Energy Co., which provides energy
from sources including wind,
water and natural gas.
Green Mountain supplies power to hundreds of houses of worship
in eight states. With its power
typically costing up to 11/2 cents more per kilowatt-hour, it's
not an easy choice for some
"They're literally putting their money where their beliefs
are," said John Holtz, a spokesman for the
Some religious groups have resisted the movement. Gorman said
some denominations are suspicious
of the paganism sometimes associated with ecology or believe the
movement is based more on liberal
politics than theology.
But there is no question that religious groups have started to
lobby on environmental issues and that
politicians are aware of their efforts.
In February, 1,200 religious leaders sent a letter to senators
urging energy conservation as a "morally
superior" alternative to drilling for oil in Alaska. Last year,
12 Catholic bishops were active in protecting
the Northwest's Columbia River watershed. And in 1998, mainline
Protestant churches lobbied for the
passage of the Kyoto Protocol.
In a letter to President Bush after meeting with European environmental
ministers in March 2001,
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman wrote:
"For the first time, the world's
religious communities have started to engage in the issue. Their
solutions vary widely, but the fervor of
the focus was clear."