Faithfully green

Several Columbia churches incorporate caring for the environment into their worship
Saturday, April 21, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:08 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
From left, Scott Parsons, his wife, Sarah, and Tiffany Malloy place “no dumping” stickers on sewers on the campus of Stephens College on April 1. The three are members of The Green Chair, a Christian congregation involved in environmental activism.

Tiffany Malloy tries to be a good environmentalist every day, but this is especially true on Sundays. Global warming and pollution are ultimately social justice issues, Malloy says, and completely in line with her Christian faith. Still, she hears genuine reservations about her activism from some of her Christian friends.

“They can be leery of it because the stereotype is that it’s very left-wing,” she says . “People will joke and say, ‘Oh, are you guys tree huggers?’”

If you go

Eden Summit When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., today Where: Community United Methodist Church Price: $10 with lunch, $3 without lunch, free for students, can register online at Schedule:
  • Keynote speaker, Jan Weaver at 10:30 a.m.
  • Workshops at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Related Media

Malloy’s church, The Green Chair, is a small Christian congregation that just celebrated its one-year anniversary. Church members recycle at their Sunday services, participate in Earth Day and are passionate about protecting God’s creation — the earth. Earlier this month, church members placed about 150 “no dumping” stickers on sewer drains on the Stephens College campus. Pastor Brian Evans says environmentalism is simply being a good neighbor, something that Jesus taught.

“When you take that first step to care for the environment,” he says, “all those other steps are easier to take.” Today, Evans’ congregation will take part in the Eden Summit, a faith-based counterpart to Earth Day at Community United Methodist Church. The event is a first for Columbia, and was organized by the Methodist Church’s Office of Creative Ministries. The theme of the summit is to remember what the Earth was like when it was first created.

Malloy and her husband, Jake, have also taken the lead in planning the Green Chair’s booth at Columbia’s annual Earth Day street fair. Although she has been recycling for a while, Tiffany Malloy was moved by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” to take more action in her daily life, such as setting her thermostat to 69 instead of 72. She says she is frustrated by the attitude, held by many evangelical Christians, that because God is in control, taking action on behalf of the environment is misguided or futile.

“It’s a bad attitude to have, to say ‘I’m just going to take as much as I can, ’ instead of serving like Jesus,” Malloy says. “It’s God’s creation and we need to take care of it and be faithful to that.”

The Green Chair is an example of a shift that has been taking place between evangelical Christians and the environmentalist movement. In February, the Evangelical Climate Initiative released a statement, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” that argues global warming is real and that it will devastate the earth’s poor.

The statement was criticized by conservative Christian groups, especially some leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals. Since then, the NAE leadership has had a change of heart and now publicly supports protection of the environment, what they call “creation care.” But other Christian conservatives, such as James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, argue that climate change is the result of human spiritual transgression. Dobson’s group issued its own statement that said, in part, “we tremble to consider the consequences to a nation that spends billions for pure air and water, yet whose land ­— amongst other ills ­— is polluted by the blood of more than 40 million innocent pre-born children.”

The conflict is familiar to Mel West, who has long worried about Christian conservatives’ focus on abortion and homosexuality, rather than issues of social justice, including the environment.

“If we lose it, it won’t matter if you’re gay, straight, male, female, black or white,” he says. “We are all in trouble.”

A Methodist, West has been concerned about the environment since the 1940s, a time when he says the church was more aware of the need to protect the environment. “The church was more rural then, and rural people realize the importance of creation and the importance of keeping it for future generations,” West says.

West says that attitude began to change in the 1960s and the rise of what he calls the “if it feels good, do it” generation. “Now we are in the generation of ‘if it makes money do it,’” West says. “I guess each generation has their thing.”

Over the years, West has collected a small library of books that advocate both Christian and secular environmental action. One of his favorites, first published in 1915 and now out of print, he lovingly calls a classic: “The Holy Earth” by Liberty Hyde Bailey, who said that hurting the Earth is an affront to God.

West has been urging several local congregations to form environmental policies that include a comprehensive recycling plan, the installation of compact fluorescent lighting and landscaping that requires less water. However, he said he has not heard back from any. “Everyone should have one; why should the church be exempt?” West says. “The church should be a model for the community.”

Today, at the Eden Summit, West will try to spread this message to Columbia churches. He has prepared homemade pamphlets, bearing his logo, “An Earth-Care Printing,” that encourage the formation of “Eden Clubs” to promote care of the earth in line with Biblical teaching about creation and earth stewardship.

“My dream would be that 50 percent of the people there would start an Eden Club in their Sunday school or church,” he said. “My second vision is that churches will begin to think more seriously about this and see their place in it.”

West credits his friend Jan Weaver, director of environmental science at MU, for triggering his more recent activism. Weaver, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, is the keynote speaker at the Eden Summit; she will discuss the impact of “creation awareness” on children.

“If you believe that God created the earth,” she says, “then we are failing God.”

Weaver is hopeful about the future of the environmental movement and believes that society is in the midst of a paradigm shift. Hurricane Katrina was a turning point, she says, making people more aware of the possibilities of extreme weather events, which many scientists think are linked to climate change. “No responsible scientist would say that warming caused Katrina,” she says. “But what warming does is load the dice.”

Mark Haim, organizer of Columbia’s Earth Day street fair, says that faith-based groups such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the Unitarian Universalist Church and Ozark Avalon, a Wiccan Church of Nature, have all been taking part in Earth Day activities in the past. He would welcome the involvement of more mainstream congregations.

“It’s something I think is long overdue for the more mainline faith communities in our country to take more seriously stewardship of the earth,” Haim says.

Pastor Evans describes The Green Chair as a “missional church” focused on replicating itself in like-minded congregations. He says it is attractive to younger Christians who seek to put their faith into action. “I think what we are doing is a lifestyle,” he says. “It’s a call to be different.”

He says the mandate to care for the earth can be found in the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

“It says ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’” Evans says. “Not ‘on heaven as it is in heaven.’ It’s not about hanging on until you die and then going to heaven; it’s about bringing heaven here.”

Isaac Johnson went to The Green Chair’s Sunday services for the first time a few months ago, attracted by the church’s belief that caring for the earth is a Christian duty. He works at the Office of Creative Ministries and is helping to organize the Eden Summit. Johnson has tried to make small changes in his life that reflect his concern for the environment. He plans on getting an energy audit, a free service of the city of Columbia’s water and light department, to learn how he can reduce his personal energy use.

Johnson is optimistic that more Christians will get involved in the larger environmental movement.

“I think it’s a healthy trend,” he says. “Neglect of the earth is an injustice. As a Christian, I see this earth as a gift."

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