Faith The Other Renewable Energy

God said, "Let there be light. And there was light."

The Bible says that God spoke first of energy. According to the Bible, it was light, the purest, most heavenly form of energy, that was present at the creation. All the rest followed this divine radiance. Now we are engaged in an effort to capture energy as pristine as that first light. The effort is based on the universal spirit of all creeds to honor and respect God's creation: the earth.

This fundamental value invests all faiths and their surrounding communities as they strive to care for God's handiwork and save it from the wrath of global warming. Faith-based communities are an essential element of the national effort to build a new clean-energy nation, following the path of other successful movements, from abolition to the labor movement to the peace movement. They organize in the basement, then sing hymns upstairs, and share commitments and values at all levels.

A new clean-energy movement is uniting all points of the religious compass. Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Muslims are joining hands. This work must succeed if the earth is to be saved. While these faiths may disagree on the age and origins of the planet, they agree that as our home, it deserves our devoted stewardship. Church offers a moral center for millions of Americans and a point of departure for engaging in good works in the world. Today, the alliance of the faith community and secularists may be the planet's best chance for survival. In the past, it has been one of the most powerful alliances for change this country has ever known.

All faiths contain a central thread of our responsibility to care for God's work. The Koran is replete with references to the precious resources of air, water, and land.9 Native American tribes invoke the Creator's spirit in their efforts to preserve the salmon in our western rivers. Environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. has pointed out that most faiths describe the wilderness as a place to seek spiritual enlightenment and renewal.10

But until recently, faith communities have not been powerfully engaged in the effort to create a clean-energy world and stop global warming. The task was left to those who have maintained a secular belief that the first light described in Genesis was really the big bang. But now the faith community has arrived, a cavalry from Calvary. The Creator's creation is now being protected by those who believe in Him, a troop of energy angels. They have arrived just in time.

One of those energy angels is Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, an organization whose member groups represent 100 million people of faith. One hundred million people can get a politician's attention. Gorman's principle is simple: "The environmental movement has been a solely secular movement for too long. Every national movement from abolition of slavery on has been based on a deep resolve based upon faith. It takes deep faith to move mountains."11

This insight led Gorman to join others to establish a national movement in the cause they call "creation care."

"We represent a diverse coalition, from the Jewish community to the Christian Evangelical community to Catholics and the mainline Protestant groups," he explains. "But no matter where they fall on the orthodoxy scale, they all contain some kernel of the concept that man has a responsibility to tend to [God's] garden." He is right on that, since the Bible says, "The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it" (Gen. 2:15). Notice that God's direction to "care" for his creation was not optional.

So Gorman and his tribe went forth over fifteen years ago and began to build a politically active national coalition to bring down to earth, and to Washington, D.C., God's admonition to care for his work and to turn faith into action. Now the groups in Gorman's coalition are forging a national consensus among those of faith to demand attention to the problems of the planet. One of their primary successes is getting members of Congress to understand that they will have a large faith community with them if they support the environment. Gorman quotes one conservative Republican senator as telling him, "You guys are really helpful. I get the science of global warming, but I've got to talk with my Southern Baptists. I want to help on climate change and by getting those folks on board; it is a huge help."

Their success comes because they mix the profound with the prosaic. Gorman says eloquently, "The care of the earth is a part of our search for a deeper understanding of human purpose." They also use edgy marketing campaigns to capture the fleeting interest of the general public. Among them are the "What Would Jesus Drive?" and "How Many Jews Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?" campaigns. (The answers are, respectively: "Any fuel-efficient car" and "Two—one to screw it in and one to count the electrical savings of using a compact fluorescent bulb.")

More important, the campaigns have given the clean-energy movement a values-based voice. "Morality matters on the environment, but the environmental community has sometimes lacked a vocabulary to express that morality. We have helped integrate that central tenet into the policy discussion," says Gorman. Perhaps because Gorman is the product of an Irish Catholic mother and a Russian Jewish father, he is particularly adept at melding diverse moralities. Now he is "broadening the base" with organizers in an expanding universe of states, including North Carolina, New Mexico, and Kansas.

Gorman knew he was achieving success when one day on a lobbying visit, a congressman asked an older woman in the group how long she had been an environmentalist and she indignantly replied, "Why, young man, I've been a Christian all my life!" Gorman's organization now delivers that message to congressmen through the power of e-mail. And the power of prayer.

Gorman has a comrade-in-arms, Richard Cizik, who works in the vineyard of public opinion to spread the gospel found in Psalms 24:1-2: "The earth is the Lord's and all that it holds, the world and its inhabitants. For he founded it upon the ocean, set it on the nether-streams."

Cizik is vice president for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, and he now dedicates his life to stopping the destruction of the world and its inhabitants. He was moved to action by a meeting in 2006 with Harvard's E. O. Wilson, who told Cizik and his group that if humankind does not change, 50 percent of the world's species will be extinct by the turn of the century. Seeing that prospect, Cizik shares this prediction: "When the Creator comes to judge you, what will he ask? Will he ask you how you were created? No. He will ask you, 'What did you do with my creation?' "12

So Cizik has mounted a national campaign to share his community's view that humankind must deal with global warming as an act of grace. He has produced a movie, The Great Warming, narrated by Keanu Reeves, and has sent DVDs to 50,000 churches across the country. He now focuses on Republicans with the message that the evangelical community will consider them "unjust doers" if they do not face global warming. He minces no words in saying that if Republicans do not accept that responsibility, it would be "the biggest Republican failure since civil rights." But he says he is making progress in that regard. "My friends in the Republican Party are starting to accept science again. That will eliminate the stigma of the Scopes trial. It will be a great advance for both the evangelical community and the Republican Party."

That is pretty good work for a fellow who wanted to be in the foreign service until he met Norman Vincent Peale, who told him, "God could use a few good diplomats." Now he is using his skills to keep the Genesis story blooming: "And God saw that this was good. And God said, 'Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.'"

With Paul Gorman and Rich Cizik, congregations across the country are spreading the seeds of clean energy. If those seeds sprout in the halls of Congress, they just might protect God's seeds on earth.

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