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Finding a Greener God

By Stephen Carter-Novotni · November 28th, 2007 · The Road to Wellness
Christian environmentalism can sound like an oxymoron. The religion's most visible adherents, the fundamentalist right, are like Holocaust deniers when it comes to global warming and favor business interests over green ones.

Yet Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth, author of Serve God, Save the Planet, is part of an emerging community of green Christians who believe saving the planet is a spiritual imperative. Sleeth spoke to a group of more than 80 interested people last week at the church I attend, Vineyard Central in Norwood.

"Here we have this person who we say is our savior," Sleeth says of his understanding of God. "He doesn't own a horse. If he ever had one, it was borrowed. He has essentially no possessions, and then we have our life over here. I don't know how we reconcile these things except we try to move from here to there."

Sleeth says he believes the planet is dying as a result of pollution. He says the controversy over the severity of the problems misses the point.

On whether global warming is completely man-made he says, "I can't tell you with 100 percent certainty, but I do know when I drive into a city and there's a dome of smog over the top, that is man-made."

More than five years ago, Sleeth, a medical doctor, sold his big house in the suburbs, gave away many of his possessions and moved to a home that's the size of his old three-car garage. The biggest part of his carbon footprint -- the measure of a person's ecological impact -- comes from traveling to conservative and liberal churches around the country to bring the message that something has to change.

Environmental stewardship is a recurring biblical theme, Sleeth says. Symbols like the Tree of Life, Jesus' career as a carpenter and descriptions of the wonder of creation aren't there by accident, he says.

Sleeth hopes to inspire the faithful to carry a greener cross. In that, he says, he's not offering an answer to the problems but a call to self-sacrifice, likening today's sins of pollution and excess to slavery.

"Before there was oil, before there was gas, we used humans for energy," he says.

He argues that it was the churches that led the movement against human bondage and who, again today, must stand for environmental justice and simple living.

Sleeth says he wants to help people move beyond apathy.

"We're so focused on everything we make and not what God makes," he says. "It's not when we have dominion over the Earth that we get into trouble. It's when these things have dominion over us."

CONTACT STEPHEN CARTER-NOVOTNI: snovotni(at)citybeat.com


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