Countering Objections to Environmentalism in Congregations

business woman with palm upIt would be heavenly if everyone in our congregations saw Earth care as integral to faith and mission. But, alas, it is not so. Sincere people of faith can see the issue differently and have various objections to it—it could alienate people, it’s too political, too “new age,” not part of our spiritual mission, too depressing, etc. How could you answer them and address their concerns? Here are some ideas.

It could alienate people. Not if we do it right and are sensitive to people, educating them about why caring for the Earth is part of our religion. Even if we do everything we can, and a few people leave, we bless them and let them go. We can’t compromise our principles to please everyone. And it’s more likely that a vibrant “green” congregation will attract rather than alienate people (I’ll say more about that in a later article).

The environment is a political issue, not a religious one. Who says so? Deeply rooted religious values of loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, and working for justice are intimately connected to protection of God’s creation. Sacred scriptures and religious leaders all see Earth care as a moral and religious issue first and foremost. The forces that want to continue to ravage the Earth for monetary gain are more than eager to present this as a divisive political issue so no action is taken. Our job is to make this a universal, moral issue.

It’s too New Age. Some people equate environmentalism with worshipping nature and questionable practices like using crystals, astrology, and Tarot cards. It’s up to us to hold up another face of Earth care that is solid and attractive to religious people and in line with the traditions they value. We can also educate people about the difference between worshipping creation and reverencing/protecting it as a part of love for God.

It’s not part of our spiritual mission. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, religion was never separated from the real world, and put into an ivory tower. Concern was given to building God’s just reign on Earth, and that includes environmental justice.  A healthy Earth is the necessary foundation for anything spiritual. There will be no spiritual mission if we do not protect the basis for all life.

We already have a social justice ministry. The integrity of the Earth is too foundational to be a small part of many other justice issues. It can’t be optional, one of numerous important things to care about. The seriousness and far-ranging consequences of climate change and other environmental devastation make it a center-stage issue.

We’re too busy to take on something else. Could be. Then perhaps something else less important needs to go to make room for an Earth care ministry. It doesn’t have to be greatly time-consuming. Lots of resources and help are out there to make it easier to do. Ever hear of Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition? That’s why we exist.

It’s too depressing. Yes, it can be, but surely faith gives us strength and hope to look at hard truths and do something about them, rather than stick our heads in the sand while things only get worse. Research shows that people can face depressing and horrible realities as long as creative solutions and stories of hope are also presented. If people can’t face environmental issues in a community of faith that offers prayer, hope, solutions, and God’s grace, then where can they? Faith offers the good news that God is on our side, is working creatively through us, and will always be faithful.

Other objections will probably crop up, but know there are ways around them. If we are loving, sincere, and respectful in presenting the case for religious environmentalism, that can change hearts and minds.