Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Christian Environmentalists Are Out to Save the Earth

Former Foursquare church pastor Peter Illyn used to preach from a pulpit, but nowadays he takes the gospel outside to the great outdoors.

"I work with a group called Target Earth -- we're all about serving the earth and serving the poor," Illyn, 42, says. "We were made to love God, love people and love creation. Environmental stewardship is part of our calling as Christians, but the church has remained silent for so many years that we've defaulted to New Age pagans and industrialists."

Illyn's "green gospel" cause and that of other Christian environmentalists has won the attention of "Outside," a national outdoor and recreation magazine that investigates the movement in a 12-page article. The cover for the March issue declares: "God's Green Army Wants You! Holy Rollers Invade Environmentalism."

Inside, the magazine says that Illyn's crusade to bring environmental awareness to America's evangelical youth is "but one sign of the greening of religious communities across the nation." Big environmental issues have been affected by the "faith community" in the past two years, "Outside" adds.

The report notes how the National Council of Churches, the country's largest coalition of Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations, is in the process of lobbying for national and international action on global warming. Meanwhile, in Southern California, a group called Christians Caring for Creation is suing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services to protect the endangered Alameda whipsnake and arroyo toad. In the Bible Belt, local preachers are spearheading a grassroots campaign to save the Southern forests from chip mills.

Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE), the nation's largest interdenominational coalition, says such eco-faith activism reflects "a profound shift in religious belief." Member groups of NRPE include mainline and African-American Protestants, Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox and evangelical Christians.

"This isn't just another issue for us," Gorman tells "Outside." "We're not interested in being the shock troops for the Green Party. Care for creation has become a central element of religious life."

But many evangelicals are skeptical of the idea of Christian environmentalists. "Outside" says that for some Christians, environmentalism "still carries the taint of loose-moral liberalism. There's a suspicion that Illyn's message could be the thin end of the wedge: tree-hugging today; gay marriage tomorrow. Lions may one day lie down with the lambs, but can the beef-eating, pro-life, Jesus-is-Lord soul savers lie down with the tofu-frying, pro-choice, proudly pagan flower children long enough to save the earth?"

Gary Phillips, a Methodist minister and environmentalist in Chatham County, N.C., says that non-Christian conservationists are also leery of evangelical environmentalists. "I try to get them to look at the full breadth of spirit as part of their work and overcome their resentments against the right-wing Christian church. Environmental people are scared to death of religious people."

The magazine says the new wave of Christian environmentalists are "God's Greens...waging holy war on behalf of an embattled creation. But, critics ask, is this a truly divine cause -- or the devil's work?"

Charisma News Service. Used by permission.

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