Christian Environmentalists Are Out to Save the
By Eric Tiansay
- Former Foursquare church pastor Peter Illyn used to preach
from a pulpit, but nowadays he takes the gospel outside to the great
"I work with a group called Target Earth -- we're all about serving
the earth and serving the poor," Illyn, 42, says. "We were made
to love God, love people and love creation. Environmental stewardship
is part of our calling as Christians, but the church has remained
silent for so many years that we've defaulted to New Age pagans
Illyn's "green gospel" cause and that of other Christian environmentalists
has won the attention of "Outside," a national outdoor and recreation
magazine that investigates the movement in a 12-page article. The
cover for the March issue declares: "God's Green Army Wants You!
Holy Rollers Invade Environmentalism."
Inside, the magazine says that Illyn's crusade to bring environmental
awareness to America's evangelical youth is "but one sign of the
greening of religious communities across the nation." Big environmental
issues have been affected by the "faith community" in the past two
years, "Outside" adds.
The report notes how the National Council of Churches, the country's
largest coalition of Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations,
is in the process of lobbying for national and international action
on global warming. Meanwhile, in Southern California, a group called
Christians Caring for Creation is suing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Services to protect the endangered Alameda whipsnake and arroyo
toad. In the Bible Belt, local preachers are spearheading a grassroots
campaign to save the Southern forests from chip mills.
Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership
for the Environment (NRPE), the nation's largest interdenominational
coalition, says such eco-faith activism reflects "a profound shift
in religious belief." Member groups of NRPE include mainline and
African-American Protestants, Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox
and evangelical Christians.
"This isn't just another issue for us," Gorman tells "Outside."
"We're not interested in being the shock troops for the Green Party.
Care for creation has become a central element of religious life."
But many evangelicals are skeptical of the idea of Christian environmentalists.
"Outside" says that for some Christians, environmentalism "still
carries the taint of loose-moral liberalism. There's a suspicion
that Illyn's message could be the thin end of the wedge: tree-hugging
today; gay marriage tomorrow. Lions may one day lie down with the
lambs, but can the beef-eating, pro-life, Jesus-is-Lord soul savers
lie down with the tofu-frying, pro-choice, proudly pagan flower
children long enough to save the earth?"
Gary Phillips, a Methodist minister and environmentalist in Chatham
County, N.C., says that non-Christian conservationists are also
leery of evangelical environmentalists. "I try to get them to look
at the full breadth of spirit as part of their work and overcome
their resentments against the right-wing Christian church. Environmental
people are scared to death of religious people."
The magazine says the new wave of Christian environmentalists are
"God's Greens...waging holy war on behalf of an embattled creation.
But, critics ask, is this a truly divine cause -- or the devil's