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Interfaith Power & Light seeks to protect our earth as creation of God

I went to church Sunday, and I sent a Valentine’s Day card to a U.S. senator.

The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham: "If you love your neighbor, it is not right to pollute the air your neighbor breathes."

I went to church on Sunday, and I sent a Valentine’s Day card to a United States senator. The card didn’t cost me anything. They were handed out at the church. In fact, more than 1,000 churches across the country gave away the pre-addressed cards.

The Valentine message spoke of love — for creation. In the small print it got down to the business of telling the senator to allow the EPA to continue to enforce the rules and regulations of the Clean Air Act, for the love of God.

The coordinated effort to inspire the faithful and to drive a message to elected officials came from the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham. The San Francisco-based preacher is the head of an organization called Interfaith Power & Light (IPL). It is an ecumenical organization of churches that believes the faith community must lead in protecting the earth as a creation of God. “Loving Creation” sermons were delivered in 39 states by preachers, rabbis and imams.

I spoke at an IPL event in Minnesota two years ago and met the Rev. Bingham. I talked to her Saturday before the national “preach-in.” I asked her if it was tough preparing a sermon when half of the congregants are disbelievers.

“There is this group of people who have rejected the science and have made a political decision about climate change,” she said. “We are not going to try to change their minds. If we push at them and say, ‘You are wrong and we are right,’ we do ourselves a disservice.”

When Sally Bingham talks, even on the phone, she never gets far from her central position. “God calls us to love creation,” she said. “God put Adam in the garden to keep the garden clean and green. If you love your neighbor as yourself, it is not right to pollute the air your neighbor breathes. You don’t have to believe the science of global warming.” It is enough, she suggested, to simply believe in God.

Congressional hearing
Illinois Republican Congressman John Shimkus believes in God. He said so in a congressional hearing. He stepped into the pulpit and preached from Genesis and Mark. His take was different than Sally Bingham’s. Shimkus said God promised that he would never destroy the earth, and suggested we needn’t worry about global warming because God wouldn’t let man destroy His creation.

It may seem odd to those who read this column regularly that I agree, for the most part, with Rep. Shimkus. I’m fairly certain that man won’t destroy the earth. To make myself clear, let me paraphrase that great philosopher, the late George Carlin. Carlin said he was annoyed by people shouting, “Save the Earth!” He said what they should be saying is, “Save the People!” The earth, he said, didn’t need saving. Carlin was pretty sure that the earth would get along just fine without us. Maybe better.

That idea was one of the underlying points of the sermon I heard at St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka. The Rev. Gwin Pratt was preaching to the choir. St. Luke has its own sustainability project. It grows vegetables for the poor in its garden. It is no stranger to controversy. Ed Bradley paid it a visit for “60 Minutes” when St. Luke gave sanctuary to El Salvadorans running from death squads.

The Rev. Pratt told the church: “God wants us to love our neighbors. But, who are our neighbors? Does that just mean people like us?” The Rev. Pratt said it is clear that plants, trees, animals, insects, microbes “and all life are our neighbors.”He quoted a Hebrew Midrash, a story he’d heard from a rabbi: “God said to Adam, this is the last world I shall make. I place it in your hands.”

Rabbi Warren G. Stone wrote: “I fervently believe that climate change, with the destruction that it is wreaking on our fragile, sacred earth, has become the most profound religious issue of our times. Like Adam, we have been warned and cannot plead ignorance.” The Rev. Pratt adds, “When we harm the earth, we are harming the body of God.”

Over at the Lyndale United Church of Christ, the Rev. Don Portwood was sermonizing along similar lines. Like Pratt, Portwood has taken the scripture seriously. In order to reduce carbon emissions, Portwood’s church joined with two other churches, First Christian Church and Salem Lutheran Church, in one building, and now three different denominations work and worship in one place.

The churches have cut their collective carbon footprint by two-thirds. The combined church is called the Springhouse Ministry Center in Minneapolis. They did some renovations, and the architect employed energy-savings designs comparable to a LEED Gold standard.

After the church let out at St. Luke, the Rev. Pratt talked to me about what he was trying to accomplish. “I think one of our missions is to understand that the earth is holy and deserves our devotion, care and love — just as we are called to love God,” he said.

Entrenched interests
I reminded Rev. Pratt that he was taking on a mighty foe: entrenched economic and political interests afraid they would suffer if we cared for nature as a holy place.

Pratt said: “People of faith must lead on this issue.” He said the faithful are particularly well suited to this kind of battle. “Why?” he asked rhetorically. “Because we will not be fatigued. Our faith will carry us. We will honor God’s body.”

The Rev. Bingham told me that it wasn’t her intention to change peoples’ minds. But, she said, it happens. “We have a man in Delaware,” she said, “who is a conservative Republican and has always been a denier of the science. He now serves on the steering committee for Interfaith Power & Light.” Then she added, “It is like the prodigal son.”

Today senators from across the country will be opening up Valentine’s Day cards from as many as 25,000 church members. The cards ask the officials to let the Environmental Protection Agency do its job of protecting our neighbors from those who would do them harm, and as the Rev. Pratt says, “hurt the body of God.”

A Valentine card to creation. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.