Apr 22, 2009 Houston Chronicle
Apr. 22, 2009 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- The talk at Deer Park United Methodist Church, blocks from the refineries and chemical plants that line the Houston Ship Channel, is of compact fluorescent light bulbs, more energy-efficient air conditioning units and solar panels.
Each could save the church money, but the Rev. Randy Smith also sees them as an extension of his faith: To be a good steward of the Earth is to reduce the church's emissions of carbon dioxide.
"As I read Scripture and think about what it means to us," Smith said, "it's clear that our task is to tend to creation."
As thousands of save-the-planet celebrations and tree-plantings occur nationwide today, the 39th annual Earth Day, many faith communities now see the release of heat-trapping gases from industry and vehicles as threatening a precious gift from God.
On Tuesday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a campaign declaring a moral duty to confront climate change. The group called on the faithful to "tread lightly and act boldly" -- to reduce their emissions, or carbon footprint, because floods, hurricanes and other effects of global warming will disproportionately hurt the poor.
"The real 'inconvenient truth' is that those who contribute the least to climate change in our own country and around the world will suffer the most and have least capacity to respond," said John Carr, executive director of the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, alluding to the title of former Vice President Al Gore's documentary about global warming.
The environmental movement in the U.S. historically didn't draw significant attention from mainstream religions. But in the past decade, as scientific consensus emerged on human-made climate change, evangelical Christians, among others, began to make the biblical case for action, starting with God's command to Adam to be a good steward of the Earth.
And more than two-thirds of Roman Catholics now see the impact of climate change on the poor as a serious moral issue, according to a Zogby International poll.
"For us, this didn't start with Earth Day," Carr said. "It started with Genesis."
But there isn't unity on the issue. Some Christians believe that environmental degradation and natural disaster may be signs of the Second Coming, while others hold that fighting against abortion and same-sex marriage are higher priorities.
For some congregations, the challenge has been in translating the notion of environmental stewardship into concrete codes of behavior, said Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, which helps several religious groups, including Evangelical Lutheran, Jewish and Presbyterian, on the issue.
For example, food pantries should provide a compact fluorescent light bulb with each bag of groceries, she said.
"The food is gone in two or three days, but that light bulb will be there a long time, save money, and it says that this isn't a boutique product," said Moorhead, whose group also lobbies state lawmakers on environmental concerns.
At Deer Park United Methodist, the new light bulbs and air conditioning unit are a start, with some weighty discussions ahead.
The environment came up often in a recent, 10-week study of Genesis that Smith led.
Smith said he has seen growing awareness among his congregation, many of whom work in the nearby chemical plants and refineries, of the damage that industrial emissions can cause.