Saving More Than Souls: Religious Groups Seek “Renewal” for the Environment

May Nature Remain BeautifulBuddhist monks are ordaining trees. Future Jewish leaders are learning about sustainable living. Evangelical Christians are fighting mountain top removal. Muslims are giving away organic meat to the poor during Ramadan.

These are just a handful of the stories told by veteran filmmakers Terry Kay Rockefeller and Marty Ostrow in their upcoming documentary, Renewal.

RENEWAL is the first feature-length documentary to capture the breadth and vitality of America’s religious-environmental movement. In rural communities, suburbs and cities, people of faith are rolling up their sleeves in practical and far-reaching ways. Offering a profound message of hope, RENEWAL shows individuals and communities driven by the deepest source of inspiration – their spiritual and religious convictions – being called to re-examine what it means to be human and how we live on this planet .

(from renewalproject.net)

This evening marks the premiere at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the first of seven screenings. Next weekend, Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology is hosting a conference which will screen the film. Renewal has also been selected to be featured at the Atlanta Film Festival in April.

The Renewal Project wants to see secular and religious groups build partnerships that will strengthen their efforts. They are looking for clergy, congregational networks, environmental activists, local governments, civic organizations, scholars and theologians to join The Renewal Circle. Members of The Renewal Circle get advance copies of the film to share with their organizations and tips on how to work with the film.

In the news: today’s Boston Globe review of the film.

Photo: courtesy of Flickr, licensed for public use through Creative Commons.

  1. Chad Crawford

    Catchy title, but it will have to wait for the sequel. Like Gaiaists, these religious communities are exploring the connection that humans have to the Earth and rethinking the tendency in Abrahamic faiths toward anthropocentrism, but each religious tradition is doing this without abandoning what makes their own faith unique among other traditions.

  2. Bobby B.

    From Merriam-Webster online:

    1 : considering human beings as the most significant entity of the universe
    2 : interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences

    Ideally, the Abrahamic faiths are to be God centered. A complication is introduced in Genesis when God creates man in “our image”, but that is explained later when we learn that God exists as a Triune God. Either way, I agree that human-kind is connected to the Earth but not as cohabitants with all other plants and animals. Mankind was given dominion and charged with being a good steward, not to degrade himself or to elevate lesser life to his equal. As such, there are elements in the green movement that demonstrate beliefs that should be unacceptable to people of faith. These groups have leaders that say things like:

    “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” — Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

    This should present quite a problem for those of us who practice one of the Abrahamic faiths. A little investigation of the modern green movement will lead to enlightenment. Today’s green movement is made up of a number of front organizations and they all share a symbiotic existence. The animal rights activists, the alternative energy crowds, the anti-chemical (i.e. pesticides & fertilizers) protectors, the anti-nuclear zealots, the pro-abortion groups, the anti-oil/coal/natural gas bunch, etc. all exist under today’s Green Umbrella. I purposely omitted political and socio-economic affiliations to avoid expanding the discussion. Now, for the most part, these individual groups stand together on the issues that affect any part of the whole. That – IMHO – should make it difficult for someone who follows one of the Abrahamic faiths to get caught up in the movement. To be truly green, one would also have to accept animal equality and abortion as a right. So, can such a person effectively serve both the Green Movement and Abraham’s God? I personally do not believe it is possible in the purest sense of doing so. To effectively do so, one must replace God (i.e. abandon their faith) with another. Hence, my use of the term Giaism.

  3. Patrick

    Bobby B.

    I really do not understand how Christians don’t see their responsibilities to Gods creation. We are stewards of the earth, that means we take care of it, not that we are allowed to use it for whatever we want. When an English lord appointed a steward to his estate did he expect him to take care of his animals or to slaughter and eat them before they could propagate? Did he expect his steward to kept his quarters at 90 degrees in the winter even if it meant cutting down all the estates trees? A steward is supposed to care for something, not use it up. The fact that we have cause the extinction of species put here by God is a terrible sin. That we have leveled mountains raised by god is an affront to him.

    Doing what the bible said and protecting Gods creation is in no way opposed to faith. You don’t have to be pro abortion to be an environmentalist any more than you have to be a communist to believe in helping the poor. How is protecting creation going to raise animals above humans? Am I worshiping the bald eagle if I want my grandson to feel the same wonder at the majesty of creation that I feel when I see one soaring out of the sky?

    I don’t know what church you belong to but if you feel that using up Gods creation amounts to faith I truly pity you.

  4. Bobby B.

    “if you feel that using up Gods creation amounts to faith I truly pity you.”

    Patrick, you’re not quite absorbing (or blatantly misrepresenting) the perspective from which I argue. I do believe in conservation, however, not today’s version of environmentalism; what I call The Green Religion.

    How do you know that God gets angered if we level a mountain? What if we do so to expand farm land to feed the hungry people? The Bible is filled with statements, which indicate that God holds man in higher esteem than the beasts or even the earth itself. For example:

    “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” – Matthew 6:26

    “Heaven [is] my throne, and earth [is] my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what [is] the place of my rest?” – Acts 7:49

    So, if I level a mountain to benefit mankind or spread the Gospel at the cost of a few critters and some scenery, is it really a sin?

    You see, my questions regarding Green Evangelicals revolve around the theological acceptance of the Green Religion and all of its many front groups as a whole. People on your side typically say that most – if not all – Christians are a “certain way” or have “certain beliefs” even though there are many different religions within the Christian faith. If those on your side can make blanket statements without regard to so-called Christian diversity, why can’t I do the same with all of the organizations that make up today’s Green Religion? I even believe that there is some justification behind making such prejudiced statements. If you were to poll Christians about their beliefs regarding the death penalty, abortion, gun rights, nuclear energy, pesticide bans, the endangered species act, etc., you would expect a high percentage to answer the poll along a similar line. I would expect the Greens to also answer in lock-step, albeit the answers would likely be the opposite of the answers provided by the Christians. Additionally, you know as well as I that if a popular Christian pastor gets accused in a scandal involving sex, drugs, etc., the public immediately questions his faith. The public convicts him via guilt by association and says that a true man of God wouldn’t do such things, right? So, how can a Christian adhere to the ecological aspects of the Green Religion and remain separated from the largely liberal-socialist base that makes up The Greens? Is it possible to be a devout Christian and a committed Green?

    To close, yes mankind is responsible for the extinction of a few species in modern history, but how many more died as the result of natural disasters (hurricane, psunamis, volcanoes, etc.) or the natural ecological shifts (ice ages) before recorded history. Is it really proper to lay all of the blame for the planet’s ills on mankind’s doorstep? Do tigers consider the risk of devouring all of the resources at their disposal when they hunt? If they cause some critter to become extinct, do we impose bans on their way of life?

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