Earth stewards: Faith communities should lead the way
April 16, 2009 · Updated 4:11 PM
By STANTON BROWN
As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, I think of Dr. Robert D. Morris’ 2007 book, “The Blue Death”: “If we do not take on the stewardship of our planet with evangelistic fervor, we will accumulate an ecological budget deficit that future generations can never repay.”
Faith communities are in a unique position to spearhead that stewardship effort.
They can demonstrate to society how to live with an ecological footprint that uses the earth’s resources sustainably and recycles wastes to the environment responsibly.
In areas as diverse as forestry, water management, agriculture, energy, fisheries and biodiversity, faith communities can significantly influence the world. They can be the role model that the entire globe emulates.
According to Gary Gardner’s 2002 Worldwatch Paper, “Invoking the Spirit: Religion and Spirituality in the Quest for a Sustainable World,” faith communities have five assets that can be leveraged to significantly influence sustainability. They are moral authority, worldviews, material resources, congregants and community.
The moral authority of faith traditions provides a means for appealing to the spiritual depths of individuals to take on the greatest challenge in the history of humankind. This provides a forum to communicate and disseminate information for most of the world’s population.
Faith communities have worldviews that go beyond regional concerns. Many consider the world and nature as God’s handiwork and as humanity’s responsibility for its stewardship. When such worldviews are combined with moral authority, the potential for sustainable influence is tremendous.
Religions own up to 7 percent of the land area in some countries. In the U.S., there are over 260,000 houses of worship, making up 5 percent of the commercial building floor space. If religions make a concerted effort to lower their environmental footprints, they will demonstrate how to make changes necessary to sustain human life on planet Earth.
In addition, there are at least 150 faith traditions with more than one million followers and about 85 percent of all humans belong to some faith tradition. If each encouraged its adherents to reduce, recycle and reuse and to become “greener” consumers, this would have a significant influence on the planet.
Another outstanding capability of all religions is community building. The same social ties that link congregants of the same faith together can be instrumental in building communities that work together to become responsible users of the earth’s resources and conscientious generators of waste.
Over 100 years ago, Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, left these words for all of humanity to contemplate: “Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, [feeleth] indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men.”
Stanton Brown is a member of Baha’i Community of Bainbridge Island.