Meredith Event Explores Religious Views on Environment

Is God an environmentalist? That was the topic of conversation at a Religion and the Environment panel discussion hosted by Meredith College’s Center for Women in Ethics and Public Life on March 10, 2009.

Meredith Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy Steven Benko said the panel was meant to illustrate “how different faith traditions approach environmental issues and what work is being done in response to global climate change.”

The Reverend Canon Sally Grover Bingham, one of the first faith leaders to fully recognize global warming as a moral issue, is a priest in the Diocese of California and co-chair of the Episcopal Diocesan Commission for the Environment. She talked about her more than 25 years of environmental action, including founding The Regeneration Project, which is focused on its Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) campaign, a religious response to global warming that includes a national network of over 5,000 congregations.

“We are in a crisis in many areas, economic and environmental,” Bingham said. “These are things that people of faith are called to take care of … some of the steps we take to protect the climate may also help boost the economy.”

Bingham believes that religious leaders can play an important role in environmental action.

“The religious voice brings moral values to the discussion,” Bingham said. “Clergy may have far more impact than politicians or religious leaders.”

Following Bingham’s remarks was Jonathan Merritt, a faith and culture writer whose work appears regularly in publications such as “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” “Relevant,” “HomeLife” and On Faith in “Newsweek.” He is finishing his first book on a Christian response to environmental crises.

Merritt talked about an experience in class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master of divinity, that led him to become involved with the environmental movement.

His instructor said “God has written two books, one is scripture and one is nature. When we destroy God’s creation, it is similar to tearing a page out of the Bible.”

Merritt is the founder of the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, which has gathered more than 600 leaders who are concerned about the Earth’s future.

“The very first job we were given was to cultivate and keep the Earth,” Merritt said. “Scripture is replete with the creation care ethic … in Genesis, God went green and never looked back.”

Also offering his perspective was Fred Hain, a professor of entomology at NC State University and a former member of the Land Stewardship Council, which provided materials on environmental issues that could be used in religious presentations.

Hain said his “take home message” to the audience was “if you have a religion that says you have a sacred responsibility to protect this planet, then that’s okay with me.”

Barb Baranski, who is an active member at Kadampa Center for the Practice of Tibetan Buddhism, presented a religious perspective that fit Hain’s description.

Baranski is interested in exploring how Western values and lifestyles can benefit from the wisdom she sees in the Buddhist teachings about compassion. She mentioned Buddhist principles that apply to environmentalism, including considering consequences before taking an action and making mindful decisions.

“Even simple actions that you do can have a big impact … contemplate what you plan to do and its consequences,” Baranski said. “We must make mindful decisions [regarding the environment]. Humans have stewardship, not dominion over the Earth.”

The Religion and the Environment panel discussion was part of Meredith’s annual “Religion and Social Issues” series, which has previously examined religious perspectives on issues including immigration and capital punishment. Rev. Bingham’s appearance was made possible by funds from Meredith’s Staley Lecture Series.

Date Submitted: 2009-03-13

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