For most of my life, I have been a “Christian with conjunctions.”
So I’m a Christian BUT… I’m not like that street preacher who yells about hell and damnation on the downtown corner.
I’m a Christian BUT I’m different from the televangelist who raises his fist in the air and screams about salvation.
My own priest, the Rev. Thomas Murphy, first described himself as a Christian with conjunctions in a sermon the morning before our Episcopal congregation took to the streets during a festival in downtown Asheville, N.C. Across the street from a karaoke booth, we handed out cold water to festivalgoers and offered a simple ministry with no judgment or obligation.
For most of us, it was the first time we had prayed the Eucharist in public, with our colleagues, students, and neighbors walking past. The white banner above us proclaimed: “God loves you. No exceptions.”
I have realized that the ubiquitous street preacher has something to teach me: there is virtue in being bold about my faith. Through my research on congregations and climate change, this public witness to God’s love has become easier for me as my church life now reflects my deep value of God’s good earth.
The stakes of silence are high. If we don’t speak out and act on our moral mandate to reconcile with creation, we risk destroying God’s very creation.
Such public testimony came to the White House for a “Greening America’s Congregations” event, held Sept. 13 in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program and the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. As the Rev. Sally Bingham, founder of The Regeneration Project and its Interfaith Power & Light campaign told the faith leaders, “How can you sit in a pew, profess a love of God, and not care for God’s creation?”
On a practical level, the EPA is calling on congregations to improve energy efficiency through their Portfolio Manager tool, which helps houses of worship track energy use. The White House will recognize houses of worship that cut their energy use by 20 percent. Congregations are eligible to earn EPA’s ENERGY STAR rating for houses of worship.
The organization Interfaith Power & Light, which provides a religious response to global warming, organizes additional incentives to encourage energy efficiency through its 2012 Cool Congregations Challenge. The deadline for entering the challenge is October 18, 2012. Congregations can enter one or more of four categories to win $1,000, receive national recognition, and save on their energy costs. Houses of worship can download a guide and project ideas at www.coolcongregations.org, a site that includes success stories and a list of 25 climate actions that cost less than $25.
The winners from 2011 reflect the range of actions that address global warming while transforming faith communities through public witness for the earth. The energy efficiency winner last year was St. John’s Episcopal Church in Vernon, Conn., which decreased its energy usage by 22 percent through energy upgrades. In the category of sustainable grounds and water conservation, Central United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC created a community garden for its diverse urban neighborhood.
For inspiring parishioners, Congregation Beth Shalom in Bloomington, Ind. used scriptural teachings, “tasks of the month,” and intergenerational activities to help congregants cut their household energy use. And finally, First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque, N.M. was the renewable energy winner for investing in solar power through a lease-to-own program that will supply 75 percent of the church’s energy needs while saving $70,000 over 20 years.
Certainly, these actions by individual congregations might seem small in the face of the global threat of climate change. But the EPA estimates that if congregations in the U.S. cut energy use by 20 percent, they could save a total of $630 million and prevent the emissions of more than 2.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking 480,000 cars off the road.
To that end, the organization Interfaith Power & Light now has affiliates in 39 states, representing more than 14,000 congregations and reflecting enormous potential for collective action among believers and beyond the church walls.
Perhaps I’ve been a Christian with conjunctions in the past, BUT that’s a public witness that deserves shouting from the mountaintops.
Mallory McDuff, Ph.D., teaches environmental education at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She is the author of Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect Earth’s Climate and Natural Saints.
Photo credit: puttsk/shutterstock.