Send your prayers

Paul Andersen

It’s about time religion enters the debate on the environment. Faith-based support for God’s creation might help avert the catastrophes of industrial pollution, species extinctions, drilling in Alaska and opening roadless areas to energy development.The National Council of Churches recently announced it has launched a Western public lands initiative “to address growing threats to our nation’s public lands and associated resources.”What’s novel about this initiative is the linkage between religion and nature. Finally, it appears that church groups are prepared to cast off their traditional anthropocentric view of divinity and embrace a more ecumenical and inclusive appreciation of the natural world in God’s great plan.Where the NCC has previously addressed a range of environmental issues, including air and water pollution, global warming and energy conservation, now the group is widening its grasp of the interwoven web of life.According to its announcement, “the NCC will encourage its member denominations and partner organizations to make responsible stewardship and management of public lands an integral part of their efforts to protect and care for God’s creation.”This is a surprising step for a faith-based Christian organization since Genesis is widely interpreted to say that God granted mankind dominion over the earth and the animals and all things that creepeth upon the earth.Most Christians define dominion as man’s unfettered will to act upon the land in whatever manner he chooses, be it exploitive or destructive. Only the few dare to interpret the mandate with moral caution, saying that dominion implies careful stewardship of the Lord’s gift.There is another directive in Genesis that instructs man to “keep” the Garden of Eden, which implies care and sensitivity toward creation. With this assignment, man becomes a tender of the land.Again, the interpretations depend on your point of view. Some define keeping the garden as the practice of intense cultivation. Others see it as the preservation of wild, pristine places. I favor a middle ground that does both.The National Council of Churches specifies that “through worship, education and advocacy, the initiative aims to begin answering the Biblical call to protect and redeem God’s lands,” which leans more toward a conservation ethic than the plunder of nature.Showing considerable foresight, this faith-based movement “will focus on oil and gas development, which has emerged as a major threat to the health and productivity of millions of acres of Western lands managed by the federal government. “If not conducted responsibly, energy development can disturb or kill wildlife, degrade soil quality, pollute water sources, scar landscapes, destroy cultural artifacts and disrupt other uses of the land, such as ranching and recreation.”This faith-based approach to land management is most appropriate when dealing with the Bush administration and a president who regularly convenes with the Almighty through prayer. If there is a conduit to Bush through hosannas, then it’s time to start praying for a sound energy policy, a de-escalation of natural resource exploitation, a compassionate approach to biodiversity and, while we’re at it, to a kinder, gentler foreign policy.And if those directives fail to reach Bush through the filters of his priestly cabinet and managers, then the next prayer is obvious. “Dear God, please grant the American electorate the intelligence to choose a more enlightened president in 2008!”Paul Andersen hopes the message gets through. His column appears on Mondays.