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Spirit“Our souls are deepened through a strong relationship with nature.”
For GreenFaith, the central value of Spirit is about making the connection between the theological and the environmental. Speakers from GreenFaith, including Executive Director Reverend Fletcher Harper and Rabbinic Fellow Rabbi Lawrence Troster, give lectures at houses of worship, interfaith gatherings, nature centers, and other locations. (1) Beginning from the belief that many people experience the sacred in natural world, GreenFaith seeks to unite that spiritual experience with the theological teachings of particular traditions.
Stewardship“Our consumption habits can help heal and restore the earth.”
Once this connection is established, GreenFaith works with congregations to make changes in their own use of water, electricity, and food. These “environmentally responsible consumption habits” are described in several brochures published by GreenFaith: “Food and Faith”, “Stewarding Energy in Your House of Worship”, “Stewarding Water in Your Home” and “Stewarding Energy in Your Home.” (1) Church groups can sell water conservation kits as fundraisers; congregations can work with GreenFaith to determine how energy-efficient their house of worship is. The “Building in Good Faith” initiative is a partnership between GreenFaith and the Healthy Building Network to “develop green building and maintenance guidelines tailored specifically for religious institutions.” (4)
Justice“Our advocacy helps protect the poor, and all life, from a toxic environment.”
GreenFaith casts itself as a “religiously based advocate for the protection of the earth” (1), and through its Justice programs it seeks to act on regional environmental hazards outside the scope of any single congregation. During a set of “Environmental Health and Justice tours,” members of GreenFaith became aware of some large-scale problems that were damaging the health of New Jersey residents. In one case, GreenFaith filed a brief with the Department of Environmental Protection about a paper plant in violation of emissions standards. In another, a tour of Newark led to learning about Newark Bay’s high dioxin levels and plans for dredging the bay. GreenFaith joined a lawsuit that advocated for responsible dredging and careful cleanup. (6) GreenFaith has also extended its outreach into urban congregations to determine what kind of aid they can provide; a campaign about high diesel emissions and the resulting increases in asthma and respiratory trouble is underway. (2)
Sustainable Sanctuaries: Uniting All Three Core ValuesThe Sustainable Sanctuaries program is designed to help congregations “model environmentally sustainable behavior to their members and become centers of religious-environmental activism.” (1) The program is tailored to each individual congregation, which chooses from a “Menu of Options” offering projects in the areas of Spirit, Justice, and Stewardship. Over two years, the congregation may opt for installing solar panels, hosting a series of sermons on the relationship between their tradition and environmental justice, an energy audit, an Environmental Health and Justice tour, and many other methods of becoming more environmentally responsible and active.
Building GreenFaith, Today and TomorrowIn reflecting on what has made GreenFaith possible, Reverend Harper says that making the connection between the religious tradition and the environment is absolutely necessary, in order to "find ways to build bridges between experience, belief, and behavior." (3) Creative leadership helps, and a period of “working very hard to define what success looks like” are also important, so that the vision of the group can be defined, communicated, and acted upon. (2)
With awareness of environmental problems increasing daily, GreenFaith believes it can offer a means of integrating an ecological dimension into the theology of its member communities. The fusion of religious concern and environmental activism provides new energy for both. In closing, Reverend Harper offers this insight into the religious-environmental movement: “Religions have the opportunity to bear a powerful countercultural witness about what it means to be a developed society—that restraint and simplicity have a place in postmodern society.” (2)
Sources1) GreenFaith main website. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from http://www.greenfaith.org.
2) Harper, Fletcher. Telephone interview. March 20, 2006.
3) Harper, Fletcher. “Religion and the Earth on the Ground: GreenFaith's Experience in New Jersey." Eco-Spirit: Religion, Philosophy, and the Earth. Edited by Laurel Kearns and Catherine Keller. Fordham Press, scheduled for publication in spring 2007. Permission granted by the author.
4) Building in Good Faith main website. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from http://www.buildingingoodfaith.org.
5) “Evangelicals and the Environment.” Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Episode 920, January 13, 2006. Available online at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week920/cover.html.
6) Martin, F. Timothy. “Activists Oppose Plan to Dredge Up Agent Orange Residue in NJ Bay.” The New Standard January 27, 2005. Available online at http://newstandardnews.net/content/?action=show_item&itemid=1414.