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Idaho religious leaders agree on earth stewardship

A Methodist, a Catholic, a Native American, a Baha’i, two Buddhists and a fundamentalist Christian chimed in agreement that people, especially followers of their faiths, are to care for and be stewards of the earth, of all creation.

They presented their views in “Environmental Crisis?” a panel discussion on religious perspectives on the environment, co-hosted by Earth Day Coeur d’Alene, Diakonia and the North Idaho College (NIC) Diversity Events Committee on April 20 at NIC.


Panelists discuss earth stewardship.

One panelist, Pastor Paul Van Noy of Candlelight Christian Fellowship, said that to prepare for the event, organizers asked him to recruit someone who believed the rapture would be soon, so believers could trash the earth.
“I couldn’t find anyone, and if I knew someone who believed that I’d set that person straight,” he asserted.  “We will be judged on how we treat God’s creation.”

The speakers gave statements on their faiths’ positions, answered questions from the audience and gave closing statements.

In addition to Paul, panelists were the Rev. Bill Brackett of Community United Methodist church, Father Roger LaChance of St. Pius X Catholic Church, Merle SiJohn, Native American Traditionalist from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, George Mark of the Baha’i faith, Tom and Joan Holland of the Buddhist faith.

Bill expressed his passion for caring about the environment.  He read “The Natural World,” a United Methodist Church statement on social principles.  The document says all creation is God’s and people are responsible for the ways they use or abuse all parts of creation—air, water, soil, fish, birds, animals and people.

“All are to be valued,” he said, noting that the document recognizes that economic development has led to human advances and also to defoliation of forests, the disappearance of species and a consumptive spirit that has destroyed the “heritage God entrusted us with.”

Bill said Christians are responsible to change economic, political, social and technical lifestyles to support ecological sustainability by reducing and recycling industrial, nuclear, municipal and personal wastes, by preserving forests and plant species, by supporting alternatives to chemicals for growing and producing foods, and by other actions “to maintain the integrity of the earth.”

Father Roger read from Pope John Paul II’s January 1990 World Peace Day pronouncement that “peace comes from God the Creator and is for all creation.”  Peace is threatened by the arms race, conflicts and injustices among the nations.  Those threats come from a lack of respect for creation.

“We face widespread destruction of the environment and cannot keep using it as in the past,” he said, calling for a new ecological awareness and awareness that people and creation are interdependent, so coordinated solutions are necessary.

The foundation for ecology and for respect of the environment is in Genesis 1, that God saw what God created and said it was good, he said, pointing out that when God told the human family to be stewards of creation, God did not “give us a blank check to do with nature as we wish.  You cannot interfere with one part of the ecosystem without having impact on other parts of it and on future generations.  We are in a global village.”


Earth Day panel

Father Roger believes in teaching the moral principles and the theology of ecology to the young.

“We are to respect and have reverence for all of life, from the unborn to natural death, from beasts of the field to the whole earth,” he said.   “When we are at peace with God we will build peace with all creation and with all peoples.”

Merle denounced how poor care of the environment and land is ruining the water on the Coeur d’Alene reservation.   Because trees have been cut for agriculture, the soil runs into streams, so the water is no longer cold enough to support fish.

Tribal members can no longer dig plants for medicines along the streams.  Short winters change conditions in the mountains, so people have to go higher and farther for wild berries, fruits and plants for food and medicine.

“Global warming is destroying things, but human beings can do something to restore the environment for future generations.  We can plant trees along rivers and protect the atmosphere.

“Indians all over the country are suffering from global warming.  The human race needs to get together and care for Mother Earth.  She is crying,” Merle said.

George shared Baha’i understandings that the universe reflects God’s glory and all existence depends on God.

“Bahullah outlines the relationships between humanity and the earth.  Awe and gratitude to the earth are part of spiritual maturity.  The creation is a divine trust,” he said.  “The new epoch will bring peace and enlightenment, but to achieve that humanity must recognize its unity and that there is one God.”

Bahullah saw that one day all religious traditions would cooperate in the harmony needed, and earth would be one commonwealth of nations with global citizens.

He sees that new order as based on economic justice, racial equality, gender equality, universal education and harmony of science and religion.

Conflict between spirituality and materialism, war and unmoderated human consumption arise from “sickness based on materialism and self-centeredness,” he said, calling for breaking the human barriers to fruitful relationships and a worldwide society with diverse peoples.

Tom said that Buddhism offers the perspective of perspective.  If he held up a coin, he said, some would see the head and some the tail:  “Our views differ.  It’s not that I’m right and you’re wrong, but that we have two views of the same thing,” he said.

While many think environment and human beings are separate, he said each depends on the other.

“For people to be happy, we need to care for the environment or it will not exist,” Tom said.  “The industrial world has turned to science to control things in ways that have consequences and disrupt the food chain.

“We need to learn to live together in the environment, to unite and work together in one of many non-governmental or grassroots programs to support the environment while it still supports us.

“I hope that we of all religions can unite our hopes, so we can improve the environment and our lives,” Tom said.

Paul described himself as a Bible-teaching, right-wing fundamentalist Christian who believes in the rapture.  In doing so, he dispelled some stereotypes.

He asserted that people are to care for the earth created by God, as described in Genesis, and to relish that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” as described in Psalm 24.

“If you believe in the Bible, it is there.  We are entrusted with the care of the earth, for all creation,” he said, reminding of the scripture in which Jesus said that the sparrow that falls to the ground has God’s attention.

“God holds us responsible if we destroy the earth,” he said.  “Sin is putting self ahead of God’s plan for us.”

From Ezekiel, he read about God sending a famine when people disregarded God’s standards.

“If people humble themselves, pray and turn,” he read in 2 Chronicles, “God will heal the land.”

“Bible-believing Christians know the earth belongs to God, so we are to care for all creation—men, women, children, fish, birds, animals, plants, land, water and sky,” Paul said.

Is the environment in crisis?  If so what is your religion doing about it?

: Mother Earth is crying.  Something needs to be done.  People have a responsibility to care for Mother Earth.

Bill: The crisis boils down to a matter of the heart and a matter of justice.  Our hearts are out of sync with the needs of people all over the world.  Our priorities are out of whack.  When part of the family hurts, we all hurt.  When the earth and environment hurt, we also hurt. 

How is the religious community taking leadership to promote public policy to protect the environment?

Father Roger:  The Pacific Northwest Catholic Bishops prepared a pastoral letter on the Columbia River Watershed, “Caring for Creation and the Community of God.”  Religious communities have held hearings to raise public consciousness that God entrusts the resources and creatures of creation to our care.  We need to share resources equitably.  We need the many statements of churches to reach the ears of legislators.  So write and phone them.

George: Baha’i are not involved in politics, because politics is divisive or results in compromise.  We must act from the grassroots, from the bottom up, getting people together to talk about their lives and the environment.  The more we consult with each other the more truth will come forward.  We work with NGOs to help change the world.

Tom: We must work from the bottom up.  A new president or pope will do little.  We need to clean up our neighborhoods, as our neighborhood does.  From gathering a few people to clean up yards, we how have had up to 300 involved, helping clean up the nearby park and stream.  Helping can become infectious.

Paul:  It’s both top down and bottom up.  To go after the heart, area pastors will meet at noon on May 5 at the Coeur d’Alene City Hall to celebrate National Day of Prayer.  When hearts change, everything changes. 

Does the religious right want to destroy the environment so the rapture will come more quickly?

Paul: Some think Christian fundamentalists believe they are to welcome environmental destruction to hasten the Apocalypse.  I believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ for his people, but I know that in the interim we are to care for the earth and we will be accountable.  God will judge those who destroy the earth.

How does population control affect the environment?

George: Baha’i believe we have enough resources for everyone, but disparities prevent equal distribution of resources.  So we are back to spiritual issues and human barriers.  We need to undo racism and other barriers.  The earth has enough to support human lives.  Through ignorance, we stop the flow of bounty.  Through our intelligence, we can create a world in which everyone has shelter, men and women have equal opportunities, and we have economic justice.

Father Roger:  The greatest gift is life.  The Gospel calls us to respect life.  It is not respecting life for parents to have as many children as they want if they are unable to care for them.  We all need to take responsibility.
Merle: We need to take care of everyone in the world.  Water is the giver of life, so we need to keep water clean.  To do that, we need to keep the air and ground clean. If we care for water, we will all be able to live.

Do you teach your followers to be responsible stewards?

Father Roger: Whenever we open the Word, we talk of stewardship, which is discipleship.  How are disciples to live?  We are to live as children of God, as brothers and sisters.  We teach about disciples’ responsibility to care for one another and for the earth as part of their moral, emotional, physical and spiritual lives.

Paul: The Bible mentions the earth 987 times.  To teach through the Bible as we do, we teach of stewardship of the earth.  The Bible teaches us to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To teach that is to teach stewardship.

As the environment degrades, what will result?  Is there a solution?

Paul:  The Bible says our days are numbered.  Times and events will change.  We believe in the rapture of the church through history and prophecy.  We are assured of a millennial reign of Jesus Christ, and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  We may destroy earth because of sin, but God has a remedy for sin and for the consequences of sin.  Lack of stewardship is a sin, so we will have consequences, but Jesus paid the price for our sins and will provide us with a beautiful world.

Tom: We are trashing the earth.  We see people miserable, and damage continuing to spiral.  We have to raise interest in the environment, so people become involved.

George: Jews expected a Messiah to come as a king, but Jesus came as a carpenter and Mohammed came as a goat herder.  God gives us choice, so it’s up to us.  Advances in civilization often come from martyrdom, imprisonment and suffering.  Bahullah says men and women are equal, but it’s difficult for us to live that way.  He said that religion without science is superstition and science without religion is monstrous.  For God’s kingdom to come, it will take the hard work of followers of Judaism, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Bahullah and others.  If we follow God’s messengers, we can do it.  If we ignore them, nothing will happen.  When we unite and work, something will happen.

The following is a summary of the closing remarks:

Bill:  I am touched by the unanimity of spirit here.  We are standing on holy ground.  Because it is holy, we are responsible for it and for all those we love all around the world.  We have both personal and social responsibility for the world in which we live.  No holiness is separate from the social holiness of how we treat other people.   Caring for the environment is a social, moral, spiritual and ethical issue, not just an environmental or economic issue. 

Father Roger:  There is no solution to ecological problems without looking at our lifestyles of instant gratification and consumerism.  We are insensitive to the damage we cause.  We need a conversion of the heart to value human persons and life. Simplicity, moderation, discipline and sacrifice are actions that need to be part of our daily lives lest we all suffer from the careless habits of a few.  Caring for earth is not just a sentiment or political action to create paradise lost. 

Through education to change hearts, we can change thoughts and behavior.  We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.  We need to respect nature and love neighbors.  In Coeur d’Alene, we are in contact with the healing power of nature and its beauty. We are responsible for how we relate to the beautiful world God has given us.

Merle: As a child, I remember stopping to buy pop and candy.  We threw candy wrappers out the car window.  My dad told us not to litter.  He taught us to work in harmony with Mother Earth.  If we all thought about doing that—people all over the earth—it would change much.  Mother Earth is crying and we need to do something about it.

George: A prayer of Bahullah reminds us to bless this spot, house, place, city, land and sea—everywhere.  God made it, and we need to praise and glorify God for it.

Joan Holland: When I was young, I did not worry about the environment.  I thought I would be dead before there would be any problems.  When I became Buddhist, I realized that if one person makes an inner reformation it can change the environment for all time.  Buddha respects all human life.  If we can engage in dialogue, we can change the environment for the better.

Paul: Psalm 24 sums up that the earth is the Lord’s, so we can change the destiny for everyone by letting the “king of glory” come into our lives.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © May 2005