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Heaven on earth: Religion returns to the environment

Published: Sunday, April 21 2013 1:50 p.m. MDT

Nash stressed that God cares deeply for all life, especially his children (D&C 59:16-20), and concluded with his experience hiking in the trees and mountains of his home state:

“I loved in my childhood to be in the woods, and to sense … the silent, eloquent witness the towering evergreen trees bore of the Creator. As I grew older (I went) beyond the woods, to hike the magnificent granite rocks and peaks rising above the timberline … (which) speak of the power and majesty of God — and His matchless genius for beauty.

“Our test on this Earth is whether we will choose wisely and follow God, treat His creations with respect, and use them to bless our fellow man and woman. The better we care for the Earth, the better it will care for us.”

Mainline advocacy

For Sally Bingham, it started in the 1980s with a simple observation.

She was a mother of three, sitting in her Episcopal congregation in California when it occurred to her, “Why don’t our clergy ever talk about care for God’s creation over the pulpit?”

Bingham had recently been invited to serve on the board for the Environmental Defense Fund and kept hearing about problems such as deforestation and overfishing.

“We have prayers in the Episcopal Church for reverence for the Earth,” she said. “Why aren’t we actually doing anything about it?”

No member of the clergy she asked — and she asked many — could offer a satisfactory answer. “They would say, ‘The environmental community can do that’ or ‘We’re about saving souls.’”

“Well, there won’t be any souls to save if we don’t have (clean) air and water,” Bingham responded.

Finally someone asked her, “Why don’t you go to seminary and find out where the disconnect is between what we believe and how we behave?”

“Well, I have time to go to school,” thought Bingham, whose youngest child was in second or third grade. So she enrolled at the University of San Francisco as a 45-year-old freshman and then entered the Episcopal seminary.

Ten years later, she was ordained to the ministry and founded Interfaith Power and Light, a religious environmental advocacy organization.

Today, more than 14,000 congregations have signed a covenant with IPL, indicating their commitment to implementing solutions ranging from solar power to organic gardens to energy-efficient light bulbs.

“I didn’t see myself as a leader in the religious community,” Bingham said. "I had to overcome lots of skeptical feelings. But I asked myself, ‘What if Mary had said, “No?”’”

She currently serves on President Obama’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. When asked if political advocacy might rub some the wrong way, Bingham, who took the question while on a break from lobbying on Capitol Hill, responded: “Our message is not one of politics, it’s one deeply rooted in theology, which says we are the stewards of creation.”

Citing the two great commandments, she said, “If you love your neighbor, you don’t put engine oil in the storm drain behind your house. You don’t pollute your neighbor’s air or water. You’re kind to your neighbor.”

Given the disconnect she felt a quarter-of-a-century ago, does she believe that religion is finally returning to the environment?

“What gives me hope is that more and more people are getting on board,” she said. “I feel like it’s happening.”

EMAIL: dward@deseretnews.com

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