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Recycling called 'doing the Lord's work'

June 11, 1998|By Dennis Shaw

Dennis Shaw

There are many good reasons to recycle, but I never thought of it in a spiritual context. So I was surprised several weeks ago when a reader left a message on my answering machine, thanking me for "doing the Lord's work" through this column.

I hope that doesn't mean she thinks I'm being "preachy" when I urge people to be environmentally aware. I know from bitter experience that trying to tell people what to do, or making them feel guilty, just doesn't work. But her comment did make me more aware of the increasing role that churches are taking in environmental activities.

It's not unusual to hear local preachers speak on topics related to the environment, or congregations take steps to change their consumption habits. For example, members of Haven Lutheran Church in Hagerstown decided last year to stop using plastic foam coffee cups because they're "not earth-friendly."

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In May, I attended a program at St. Agnes Parish Center in Shepherdstown, W.Va., on "Ecological Christianity: The Key to the Future of the Church and the World." It was sponsored by Shenandoah Valley Chapter of "Call to Action" to discuss the responsibility of Christians to the environment. I've also attended an issues forum at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Waynesboro, Pa., called "Caring for Our Home, Planet Earth."

Across the nation, church denominations and religious coalitions are making the natural environment more a part of their doctrine and activities. Among them are North American Coalition on Religion and Ecology, National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and Christian Society of the Green Cross, a ministry that helps people "care for creation in a way that is faithful to Jesus Christ, biblical revelation and scientific analysis."

Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for people in need of affordable shelter, has an environmental initiative for construction practices that ranges from using recycled materials to making sure homes are well insulated and energy-efficient.

Members of Evangelical Environmental Network have testified before Congress to urge support for the Endangered Species Act, which they see somewhat as a modern-day Noah's Ark. And the leader of the world's 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians has declared that polluting air, water and land is a sin.

Some church leaders are wary of such involvement, fearful that secular environmentalists care more about wildlife than people. But others point to what they see as a firm foundation in scripture for caring for the earth. They have Scripture to back that up, such as the Lord in Genesis telling humans to be good stewards of the earth. And a "wilderness experience" was a formative part of the religious growth of biblical figures, including Moses and Jesus.

Also, it's certainly no new development to hear preachers speak against our over-emphasis on possessions and consumption at the expense of spiritual values.

I'm sure many church leaders and members are "doing the Lord's work" for the environment in many ways. I welcome them to contact me and tell me what they are, so I can write about them in a future column.

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at P.O. Box 276, Clear Spring Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

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