Green Church: Making Creation Care a Holy Cause

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BOISE, Idaho -- Creation care has become a popular cause in many churches these days, but one of the most fervent is the Vineyard Boise Church in Idaho.

For years, Senior Pastor Tri Robinson had shied away from preaching about the responsibility God gave mankind in Genesis to be the stewards of the Earth, to make creation care a priority.

His congregation was mostly conservative, and he, like many of them, tended to associate environmentalism with liberals. So he didn't want to risk driving away those conservatives in his church.

But Pastor Robinson was neglecting the fact that the Vineyard Boise had grown and thrived on a beautiful 22-acre spread in the midst of Boise's poorest neighborhood because of an environmental miracle.

Elisha's Eco-Miracle

The bank had wanted a million dollars for those 22 acres, far more than the Vineyard Boise could afford.  It was then that the Environmental Protection Agency drilled test-holes and found a dry cleaner had polluted the land's soil and ground water.

"So the EPA condemned the property," Pastor Robinson explained.

In the face of that, the bank dropped the price of the land to $170,000. The church scooped up the property at that bargain price but was faced with the fact it couldn't build anything on the condemned land.

At that time, church-cleaner Ray Gallegos read about how the prophet Elisha in the Old Testament had healed polluted waters with salt.

"He came to me and said 'I think that if we'd put salt in these EPA test-holes on this property, God would heal the water," Pastor Robinson recalled. 

The congregation purchased the salt, "and we poured it in these holes and prayed over the holes," the pastor said.  "We called the EPA, asked them to come and re-test the water -- and the water was pure!"

Pro-Life, Pro-Creation

Still, even in the face of such an eco-miracle, Pastor Robinson stayed away from preaching about environmental stewardship.  

Then during the 2004 presidential election, his adult children were complaining to him about their choice of candidates.

"If we vote one way, we're voting against the sanctity of life, which we don't want to do," the pastor recalled his children saying.  "But if we vote the other way, we're voting against the environment."

His son and daughter thought a politician who is pro-life should also be pro-environment since that also concerns living things.

As Robinson's son, Brook, told CBN News, "If you're pro-life, how can you not be pro-creation?"

After that, Robinson felt convicted about his judging the environmentalists he felt were too liberal.  

"People who I was calling environmental wackos, tree-huggers, who are really looking for God and seeing Him in nature.  And because of my attitude toward them, I was literally pushing them away from the kingdom of God."

Robinson recalled the first chapter of Romans, which explains how crucial creation is. 

"It says that man is without excuse from knowing God because He's revealed Himself through all that He's created," Robinson said.

A Welcome Message

With some fear and trembling, Pastor Robinson decided to preach about creation care and call his church to fight the environmental damage and pollution harming Americans' lives and killing millions of people in the Third World.

"If we actually care about the sanctity of life, then we should care about the environment because, when an environment becomes unsustainable, it kills people," he said.

He was surprised that instead of cold shoulders, he received standing ovations, something he'd never experienced before.  

"I literally started weeping because I saw that I had touched a nerve in my congregation," Pastor Robinson recalled.

Since then, the Vineyard Boise has launched a number of environmental initiatives, making it probably the most famous "green church" in the nation.

There's a major push for church members to grow food in their own pesticide-free gardens or buy it locally, both for health reasons and the good of the planet.

"By growing it yourself, you're not relying upon bringing it in from other parts of the world," Robinson's son, Brook, told CBN News while standing next to his large backyard garden.

The Garden of Feedin'

Many congregants are working in the church's vast garden, the largest in the Boise area, dubbed "The Garden of Feedin'."   It supplies more than 30,000 pounds of fresh, healthy, organic produce to the needy.  

Vineyard Boise members, many right inside the city of Boise, are raising their own chickens.  

"You know what you're getting because you know what you're putting into them," Brook said of his chickens. 

The Vineyard Boise also put a major emphasis on recycling and reusing.  "Sustainability" has become an important word in this church.

Idaho is home to millions of acres of pristine wilderness. The church pushes families to get out into the forest so they can learn to appreciate the beauty of  creation and pass that love down through the generations.

They're volunteering with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies, doing things like clearing and sprucing up trails and cleaning up parks.

Vineyard Boise has started up a large program in their on-campus school that trains people to go to Third World lands to salvage water sources, clean up the environment, and renew depleted soil.

Kip Sykes, who supervises the teaching of Environmental Impact at the school, said of this work, "We all live on this rock. There's really no other place to go.  We better take care of it."

Pastor Robinson pointed out that for centuries Christians have sent out medical missionaries to deal with problems that could have been prevented if the environment had been dealt with "upstream."

"So why don't we go upstream and find out what's causing the problem and start fixing it there?" he suggested.

Creation Before the Creator?

But there are Christians who are concerned about this green, creation care emphasis in some churches.  

Ned Ryun of the conservative group American Majority in Purcellville, Va., worries who the green churches' allies will be.  

"You look at some of the hyper-environmental groups, their end-goal ultimately, if you really want to be honest, is fewer human beings," he told CBN News. "And they're putting the creation before the Creator."

Ryun said he hopes green Christians won't buy into governmental solutions, rules and regulations for environmental problems. 

"If you're adding all these onerous economic burdens and regulations, you're leading to less economic freedom, which ultimately will lead to less religious freedom and less political freedom," Ryun pointed out.

But Pastor Robinson noted the green emphasis has paid dividends, especially spiritual ones. 

"Where most pastors were afraid that doing something like this would hurt their church, we grew through it," Tri stated, adding, "It gave us access to people who we would never have had access to before."

'A Pretty Good Scrounger'

Church member Inga Johnson is a role model for how to grow your own food and live simply in a non-wasteful way.

Many in the Vineyard Boise meet this senior citizen while she's serving at the church's coffee bar where she knows most of them by their orders, not their names. "And I'm like 'Hey, you're Double Mocha Hold the Foam!'" she laughed.

Johnson lives in a 400-square foot house on a tiny property.  But she took its flat lawn and covered almost every foot with terraced gardens, fruit trees, bushes and vines, fed by her own compost, and bordered by rocks she's collected for free across the years.

Using mostly free supplies, she and relatives built a chicken coop, root cellar, patio, pond and greenhouse. 

"I'm a pretty good scrounger," Johnson said of her parsimonious lifestyle. "I've always been attracted to small places.  I love yard sale-ing. I love thrift stores; I love reusing things."

Mass Green Experiment

On the other side of the size scale is Pastor Robinson's 80-acre Timber Butte Homestead in the mountains north of Boise, which is one mass green experiment in sustainable living.

"The hay feeds the cows, the cows feed the garden, and the chickens feed the garden," he explained.  "One thing feeds the next thing until it finally feeds us."

His 2,500-square foot home is built to be super-energy efficient.  "The whole house runs off of a wood-stove," he said, and added, "It has solar hot water."

The house, guesthouse, barn and other structures are made almost exclusively from local materials.

The Vineyard Boise pastor and his wife work a large pesticide-free garden, orchard and vineyard.  "I think a Vineyard pastor should have a vineyard," he joked.

He hopes his home and lifestyle can be role models of living green. And they hope all Christians will join them and that together they'll change the Earth for the better.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.