Sustainability in the Sermon

  • Gloria Dei Pastor David Carlson says the Christian bible offers many lessons about the importance of living in ways that sustain other creatures (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)

Many business people are rethinking their

operations. They’ve been influenced by a

science-based approach to sustainability

that started in Sweden. It’s called the

Natural Step. Stephanie Hemphill reports

some non-profits are getting involved.

She recently visited a church that’s

thinking more about its impact on the

environment:

Transcript

Many business people are rethinking their

operations. They’ve been influenced by a

science-based approach to sustainability

that started in Sweden. It’s called the

Natural Step. Stephanie Hemphill reports

some non-profits are getting involved.

She recently visited a church that’s

thinking more about its impact on the

environment:

The folks at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Duluth Minnesota are studying
more than their Bible these days. They’ve been learning about how the
ideas in the Natural Step can make their church operate more sustainably.

One Saturday in the church basement, about a dozen people from churches
around the region are talking about what sustainability means.

Judy
Isaacson is from a small church in the country.

“It’s a growing understanding that we as individuals have to be responsible
for what we do, and then I think a big part is helping people understand
it’s not that difficult to live up to what our values are and what we see
happening.”

Isaacson says it’s easier to talk about the practical ways to be
sustainable than to expound on the theory. She’s been learning how to
encourage everyone in her church to get involved in making small changes.
Like using less electricity.

“We’re the newbies at our church; we’ve only been in the church six years.
And by having someone who’s been there forever change the light bulbs, it
was very easy because she had credibility within the congregation.”

For many Christians, the Natural Step fits right in with what they call
“creation care.” For them it means taking care of what God created.

The Natural Step publishes its principles on the internet, along with
inspiring examples of how it’s working in various places around the world.

In Duluth, a non-profit group brought the Natural Step to town. Experts
from Canada gave several day-long training sessions to about a dozen
businesses and organizations that committed to a year-long effort to put
the ideas to work.

Sue Anderson took part in the training. At the Saturday workshop in the
church basement, she mentions some of the things the church has done.

“The use of glasses and cups, reuseable items. We kind of got that going
through a lot of different committees, you know our neighborhood breakfast
and things like that.”

No more throw-away styrofoam cups. That fits in with one of the principles
of the Natural Step: don’t wreck the earth by building more landfills than
you absolutely have to.

Another principle is: use less fossil fuel, and other resources that have
to be mined from the earth.

When they replaced the roof at Gloria Dei, they added a lot of insulation.

David Carlson is pastor of Gloria Dei. This year he used Lent as a chance
to educate the congregation. He asked people to go on a “carbon diet” for
Lent.

“There’s usually a confession and forgiveness of not only the brokenness
that we have with God and between us and other people, but also the
separation that we have with creation. And this is one way that we can
participate in the healing of God’s creation.”

Carlson says a lot of church members are taking on projects. One man is
promoting the idea of ride-sharing to church.

“He is offering a free pillow-pack of fair trade coffee to anyone who comes
to him during coffee hour and says that they car-pooled that day. It’s
trying to remove barriers for people that may be in the way of taking
further steps. And they may be small. But they may make a difference.”

The biggest difference this group might make is offering their experience
to others. The non-profit group behind the Natural Step in Duluth is
documenting their progress and hoping others will join in.

For The Environment Report, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

Related Links

Mountaintop Mining (Part Three)

  • Christians for the Mountains field worker Robert "Sage" Russo standing on Kayford Mountain overlooking an MTR site in West Virginia (Photo courtesy of Christians for the Mountains)

Environmentalists have been fighting to stop mountain top removal coal mining for
decades. They say they want to preserve the mountains, the water that’s polluted by the
mining and the people. But many of the people don’t want the help. They want the jobs
provided by the mining operations. Sandra Sleight Brennan reports the struggle
between the two sides is complicated. Now churches and synagogues are introducing
religion into that struggle:

Transcript

Environmentalists have been fighting to stop mountain top removal coal mining for
decades. They say they want to preserve the mountains, the water that’s polluted by the
mining and the people. But many of the people don’t want the help. They want the jobs
provided by the mining operations. Sandra Sleight Brennan reports the struggle
between the two sides is complicated. Now churches and synagogues are introducing
religion into that struggle:

The line drawn between environmentalists who want to stop mountain removal
coal mining and the coal miners who depend on it for jobs has always been
smudged.

Often the environmental activists had relatives and close friends who worked for
the mining companies. There aren’t a lot of jobs in the Appalachian Mountains.
Of the jobs that are there, the coal mining jobs pay the most.

In the small Appalachian towns in the coal fields, the God-fearing families who
depended on the mining jobs have often seen the environmentalists as people
who were out to destroy their way of life.

But lately some people are seeing things differently. More than a dozen churches
and synagogues have passed resolutions against mountaintop removal mining.

Allan Johnson is the co-founder of Christians for the Mountains, a group that’s
sided with the environmentalists.

“It’s a serious issue, ultimately it is a moral issue and, as a moral issue, we’re appealing
to the religious communities, the Christian communities. We’ve got to do right. We
cannot destroy God’s creation in order to have a temporal economy.”

And Johnson is getting help from other Christians. Rebekah Eppling is an
Ameri-Corps VISTA volunteer. She’s working with Christians for the Mountains.

“We present ourselves that we are a Christian organization and we are working for
Creation Care and we are following the Biblical mandate to take care of God’s planet – it
brings a different sense of what we’re doing to people. So a lot of people who
traditionally wouldn’t be interested all the sudden start to realize the different aspects of
it. It kind of hits a different spark for them.”

Creation Care is how some Evangelical Christians describe their brand of
environmentalism. One of the most prominent spokesman for Creation Care is
Richard Cizik. He’s a former Vice President of the National Association of
Evangelicals.

“We say Creation Care because first of all we believe the earth was created and
second of all we know from God’s word in Genesis that we are to care and protect
it. So, we call it Creation Care.”

The group, Christians for the Mountains, works with many different
denominations. They teach people who want to get involved about the issues
surrounding mining. They go into detail about how the short term benefit of the
destructive form of mining not only alters the mountains, but pollutes the streams
and ultimately the drinking water. They point out that once the coal fields are
mined, the jobs are gone and the communities are left to live with the damage to
the environment.

Volunteer Rebekah Eppling says there’s resistance to the message.

“The term environmentalist is kind of a dirty word in the coalfields region. Since we are a
religious organization that puts us in a unique spot.”

“We do get some pretty harsh criticism.”

Allen Johnson with Christians for the Mountains.

“We are concerned about people’s jobs. We want to have a healthy economy. And it is
not a healthy economy in that area. If you go down into the area with the mountaintop
removal is going on it in some of the impoverished areas in the country.”

Like the more traditional kinds of environmentalists, these Creation Care
environmentalists have ties to the community. Eppling says her family comes
from an area that’s targeted for coal mining in the near future.

“My family is very supportive of what I’m doing. Because they see the place where they
used to live are now being destroyed. The mountain very close to where my
grandmother and father grew up its being blasted away. My father and his family are
from Boone County – which is one of the big coal producing areas. Coal River runs right
behind his house where he grew up.”

The Christians for the Mountains know the families that depend on the coal
mining don’t always understand why anyone would want to stop one of the very
few industries that offer good paying jobs in the region. But Rebekah Eppling
says there has to be a better way than blowing up the tops of the mountains and
filling the valleys with rubble.

“It’s not just environmentalist versus workers. It’s a very complex. It’s not just about
stopping coal – it’s about bringing in more options for people.”

And some of those options include preserving the environment by finding alternatives for
the region – such as wind energy, tourism, and not letting the mining companies decide
the fate of the Appalachian Mountains and the people who live there.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sandra Sleight-Brennan.

Related Links

Mega-Churches Clash With Local Governments

Religious groups are suing local governments across the country for denying permits to build religious buildings. Part of the reason is that many churches are building bigger buildings that take up acres of land. And many of the disputes are between rural neighborhoods, and so-called mega-churches, with buildings over 50 thousand square feet. A federal law limits the power of local governments to say “no” to buildings designed for religious use. The GLRC’s Linda Stephan reports:

Transcript

Religious groups are suing local governments across the country for denying permits to
build religious buildings. Part of the reason is that many churches are building bigger
buildings that take up acres of land. And many of the disputes are between rural
neighborhoods, and so-called mega-churches, with buildings over 50 thousand square feet.
A federal law limits the power of local governments to say “no” to buildings designed for
religious use. The GLRC’s Linda Stephan reports:


Bay Pointe Community Church prides itself on a contemporary worship style.


(Sound of singing, “Show your power, oh Lord our God, oh Lord our God”)


Members believe it’s their job to reach out to the world, and to the local community.
(Sound of singing, “to Asia and Austrailia, to South America and to the United States.
And to Michigan and Traverse City”)


But some people in the community think the church would be a bad neighbor. Right now,
the church in northern Michigan meets in a high school auditorium. But members have big plans for a
building of their own. It’ll be 58-thousand square-feet. That’s plenty of room for
Sunday school classes, a gym/auditorium, and even space enough to rent out to a
charter school on weekdays.


A year ago local township officials shot down those plans. They said the building’s
“too big,” that it would clash with the area, and that it would cause too much traffic.
Then the church sued, claiming religious discrimination.


The church has some unhappy neighbors in the rural area where it plans to build.
At a public hearing, resident Brian Vos told local officials NOT to back down,
regardless of the lawsuit.


“This isn’t about a church, this is about future development. Heck, Wal-Mart
could come in on East Long Lake. And if they had church on Sunday, you’d have to approve it.”


But, rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending itself in federal
court, the township settled out-of-court. It agreed to let the church build its building,
and even to let it expand to more than 100 thousand square feet within a few years.


Many residents are NOT happy with the deal and they’ve threatened to recall
the entire township board.


There are similar cases across the country. A recent federal law limits the ability of
zoning boards to say “no” to churches and other religious groups who want to build,
or to expand. Jared Leland represents the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The group is bankrolling lawsuits on behalf of churches across the nation. Leland says
the law was created because zoning boards have used bogus arguments to deny permits
to religious groups they don’t like:


“For instance, a Buddhist meditation center was being restricted from existing in a
particular district because they would generate too much ‘noise.’ They
were silent meditation Buddhists. There would absolutely be no noise coming from such.”


Leland says because of the law, today, a municipality needs a
“compelling government interest” to deny a religious building project.
That’s a serious issue that has to do with health, safety, or security.
He says municipalities are usually worried about how a building will look,
or about parking. And he says that’s not enough:


“For instance, if they say, well, something this large is gonna generate too
much traffic, it’s gonna cause parking concerns in the residential district,
those are not compelling government interests.”


But some say putting a mega-church in an area where the community
wants to preserve farmland or keep sprawl away from greenspace should be enough.


“The question is: What is valuable to Americans?”


Marci Hamilton is an expert on church-state law at Cardozo Law School in New York City.
She argues that residential neighborhoods should have some say about what’s being built
next door, through their local government.


Hamilton says the law that Congress passed, RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, is an unprecedented Congressional power grab
from local governments. She says people expect local officials to protect their
neighborhoods from problems like traffic, and noise.


Hamilton says since just the threat of a federal court case is often
enough to force a settlement, there’s an incentive for churches to sue
local governments. Even where the case has no merit under RLUIPA:


“What we’re seeing is almost anything appearing on the mega-church campuses.
We have one in Texas that has a McDonald’s on campus. We have a mega-church in
Pennsylvania that has an automobile repair. I think it’s hard to argue that
those largely commercial activities appropriately fall under RLUIPA.”


Hamilton says she believes the Supreme Court will eventually rule
that the law violates state’s rights. But the High Court has yet to hear a
land use case under this law.


For the GLRC, I’m Linda Stephan.

Related Links

Church Takes a Stand Against Sprawl

  • Sunday mass is much emptier than it used to be at St. Josaphat Parish in Detroit. Only a few dozen Catholics attend mass here each Sunday, though there's room for 1200 - many parishioners have moved to newer churches in the suburbs. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)

When people left inner cities, many things followed. Newer, better schools were built in the suburbs. And strip malls and shopping centers sprang up. But back in cities, stores and restaurants shut down. Schools and churches also closed. Now, the Catholic church is encouraging people to work together to prevent more urban sprawl. Catholic clergy say they don’t want to close perfectly good churches and cathedrals only to build new ones farther and farther out into the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

Transcript

When people left inner cities, many things followed. Newer, better schools were built in the
suburbs. And strip malls and shopping centers sprang up. But back in cities, stores and restaurants
shut down. Schools and churches also closed. Now, the Catholic church is encouraging people to
work together to prevent more urban sprawl. Catholic clergy say they don’t want to close perfectly
good churches and cathedrals only to build new ones farther and farther out into the suburbs. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:


Twenty-five years ago, Loraine Krajewski lost nearly everything. She lost her home and she lost
her church. Both were demolished when General Motors built a sprawling auto plant over
Poletown, a Polish-American neighborhood at the border of Detroit. Krajewski says it was the fight
of her life.


“I did things I never thought I would do. I picketed, I mean, in rain and snow. I wrote
letters, I mean, to Congressmen and to our council and everything. And I went to meetings
that would last until one, two o’clock in the morning at times, and I took time off from work
to go downtown to the council meetings.”


Krajewski was mad at the city of Detroit for letting it happen. And she was mad at the Catholic
Church in Detroit for not fighting the project. But not mad enough to leave the church. Krajewski
and others forced out of Poletown found a new parish in the city, called St. Josaphat.


Krajewski headed for the suburbs after Poletown disappeared. But she still returns to the city every
Sunday for Mass at St. Josaphat. It’s a 15-mile trip.


“We decided we are not going to let another Polish church go down the drain. And that’s
why I’ve been coming here. It’s just too bad that we don’t have a larger congregation.”


More parishioners would make Krajewski feel more sure that St. Josaphat would always be here,
that it was safe from closing down. But it’s not safe. Only a few dozen Catholics show up here
anymore for Mass on Sunday. And the church can hold 12-hundred people.


Father Mark Borkowski is the pastor at St. Josaphat. He says people like Krajewski, who are
coming from 10, 15 or 20 miles away, are the only ones keeping his church open. But just barely.


“If we were to live on Sunday collections alone, the parish would not be able to survive. So
with our monthly fundraising dinners, we can survive. But there’s a difference between
surviving and flourishing.”


People left the churches when they left the city for bigger plots of land and better schools. And the
Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit followed its people. Catholics built new churches in the suburbs.
But now, the Archdiocese is rethinking its role in urban sprawl.


Father Ken Kaucheck is on the Detroit Archdiocese urban sprawl committee. He says the church is
concerned about sprawl because it creates social and economic inequities between cities and
suburbs.


“It creates blight. It creates loss, it creates desolation and desecration. And it destroys not
only communities, but therefore, it destroys the lives of people.”


Kaucheck says the main tenet of the church’s anti-sprawl campaign is encouraging local
governments to work together on economic development. He says if communities are not trying to
one up each other to win new development projects, there would be less incentive for companies to
move farther into rural areas.


Kaucheck says the church wants its priests to talk about sprawl in their Sunday sermons. He calls it
“stirring the population” to affect social change.


“It’s government of the people, for the people and by the people. That’s what a democracy
is about. But somebody has to raise the question and you raise the question, faith-based,
through the scriptures. Is this what the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to? No, it doesn’t call
us to sprawl, it calls us to solidarity in community, and to looking at how service of one
another sometimes means dying to myself, that means maybe I’m going to have to give
something up.”


It isn’t likely the church’s urban sprawl committee will be able do much to bring people back to
parishes in the city. Father Mark Borkowski at St. Josaphat prays about the problem to the
Madonna. Her picture is at the center of the church’s main altar.


“My personal reason for the novena is to say to the Blessed Virgin Mary, ‘I haven’t got a
clue as to what to do, so I’m turning the problem over to you. This is your shrine, if you
want to stay here Mary, do something to help us help you stay, and help us stay here. When
the problem is too big you have to turn it over to a higher power.'”


The Catholic Church now hopes to protect churches that could become the next victims of sprawl.
Those are in places that once served the early waves of Catholics leaving Detroit for the first
suburbs.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.

Related Links

Churches Struggle With Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl is affecting communities across the Great Lakes region. In one Ohio community, residents are turning to their churches to fight back. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:

Transcript

Urban sprawl is affecting communities across the Great Lakes region. In one Ohio community,
residents are turning to their churches to fight back. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen
Schaefer reports:


Forest Hill Presbyterian Church was built in Cleveland Heights 100 years ago. Pastor John Lentz
says, in its heyday, some 15-hundred people regularly walked to church services every week.
Today, the congregation totals just 600. Lentz says it’s a constant struggle to replace those who
leave his flock for the greenfield developments that surround the urban center.


“Churches are anchors of communities and I think we need to be active in the kinds of issues that
affect our communities, like fair and open housing and education, and really make it our mission to equip
faithful people to, you know, walk the walk.”


He and other religious leaders have banded together to form the Northeast Ohio Alliance for
Hope. The group is working with 15 Cleveland suburbs, taking on issues like predatory lending,
school funding, and home repair.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Schaefer.

PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM TAINTED FISH (Part II)

The people most at risk from contaminants in fish often don’t know it. Different chemicals found in fish from many inland lakes, including the Great Lakes, can be harmful to human development. State governments issue fish consumption advisories that recommend limiting eating such fish. In the second of a two-part series on contaminants in fish… the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that not everyone learns of the advisories:

Transcript

The people most at risk from contaminants in fish often don’t know it.
Different chemicals found in fish from many inland lakes, including the
Great Lakes, can be harmful to human development. State governments
issue fish consumption advisories that recommend limiting
eating such fish. In the second of a two part series on contaminants in
fish… the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that not
everyone learns of the advisories:


Horace Phillips likes to fish. He can often be found casting a line into a
lagoon off of Lake Michigan on Chicago’s south side. He says he and a lot of
his fishing buddies know about the fish consumption advisories, but he doesn’t
think he eats enough to matter…


“Sure, it’s always good to know, but, as I say, I’m not consuming that much fish.”


That’s because Phillips gives away much of the fish he catches. Like a lot of
anglers, he enjoys the sport, and shares what he catches with friends and
relatives. He doesn’t remember getting a fishing guide when he got his fishing
license, but the retailer was supposed to give him one. It not only outlines limits
on the amount of fish an angler can take, but also includes recommendations
on how much fish he should eat in a given month.


But Phillips says he thinks he learned about fish contaminants from the
newspaper. He never really thought about passing on the warning to people
with whom he shares his fish.


“I suppose the same literature that’s available to me is also available to them.”


But often the people who prepare the fish or who eat the fish don’t have a
clue that there’s anything wrong with the fish.


We should note here that fish is nutritious. It’s a good low-fat, lower calorie
source of protein. Eating fish instead of higher-fat and cholesterol laden foods
is believed to help lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure,
diabetes and several forms of cancer. Pretty good food, fish.


But some fish contain PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls – believed to cause
cancer. Chlordane, a pesticide, has been found in fish. And methyl mercury is
found in some fish. These chemicals can cause serious health problems,
especially for children and fetuses. They can disrupt the systems that
coordinate the nervous system, the brain, and the reproductive system.


Studies have shown women store some of these chemicals in their
fat tissue until they become pregnant. Then, those chemicals are passed
to the child they’re carrying. Studies have indicated that of mothers
who ate three or more fish meals a month, those with the highest exposure
gave birth to children with health problems.


They had significant delays in neuromuscular and neurological development.
Those children continued to show short-term memory problems at age four… and
significant reduction in IQ and academic skills at age seven.


Barbara Knuth is a professor of Natural Resource Policy and Management at
Cornell University. She says given the health concerns with eating too much contaminated fish, the information about restrictions needs to be more widely distributed.


“Where we need to focus effort now is not so much on the angler, but we need to be focusing
on the people with whom they’re sharing those fish, the women, their wives, mothers
of childbearing age, women of childbearing age, children, because that’s where we now know,
scientists now know – who are studying this – where the real health effects are.”


But where to start? After all, the fish might come from a friend… it might be at the deli… it could be on the plate at a local restaurant. There are no rules requiring a notice that fish is from a lake, or the ocean, or farm-raised. So, how do you get the word out?


One federal agency is working to get the information to those at highest risk by going through their doctor. Steve Blackwell is with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.


“We’ve taken on trying to reach health care providers that are serving the target
population, the most at-risk population of women, children, pregnant women and reach those
groups such as OBGYNs, family physicians, pediatricians with this information to help raise
awareness within that group that serves the at-risk population to try and make sure that they’re receiving the message and they’re not telling their patients something different from what the patients may be hearing outside that realm.”


Whether the doctors are actually passing on the concerns about contaminated fish is a
whole other question. But assuming they are, there’s still another concern. Many of the women who are most at risk might not see a doctor until the day the baby is due. Poor women… the very same women who might rely on fishing for a good part of their diet… might not be told
about the risks.


And so their children are born into poverty… and the added burden of chemicals that can hurt their development. Blackwell says reaching those women is something the federal government cannot do alone.


“You want to reach those people through local leaders, through churches, through
institutions that aren’t medical.”


And that’s best done, Blackwell says, by local government, not the federal
government. But state budgets are strapped. And, in some cases, states are
reluctant to raise awareness of an issue that they really can’t fix. A source within
a state agency told us that an higher-ranking official indicated to
him that he didn’t want to assign a full-time person to work on fish contamination
awareness alone because it would send the wrong political message. Another state stopped publishing fish consumption advisories as a budget cutting move… that is… until local reporters exposed that particular budget cut.


In short, warning pregnant women and women of childbearing age about the dangers of
eating too much contaminated fish and how that could damage their children’s
intellectual and physical development has not gotten enough attention yet to become a
political priority.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.