Corporate America Goes Green, Will Pulpits Follow?


The March issue of Delta Airlines' in-flight magazine has a green theme. An SUV, the 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, is being sold as the green car of the year. BASF, a chemical company, brags about its breakthrough product: a biodegradable plastic bag. Target has a print ad with the title "Love your mother (earth)." Clorox sells a cleaning product made from plants and markets its support for the Sierra Club.

According to the New York Times, Wal-Mart sold 100 million compact fluorescence bulbs in a 12-month period and claimed a 15 percent improvement in energy efficiency in its stores and trucks. Wal-Mart is going green.

If corporate America is going green, politicians are stride for stride with CEOs. Newsweek magazine's mid-April cover story is about which of the three major presidential candidates is the "greenest of them all." Unlike President Bush's seven years of inaction on global warming, Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama are all committed to addressing climate change. McCain's close colleague, Senator Joe Lieberman, is a cosponsor of "America's Climate Security Act," a bi-partisan Senate bill that tackles global warming.

On the eve of Earth Day 2008, CEOs and politicians are all reaching for the championship green jacket. Will pulpits follow their leadership?

Pro-environmental preaching among evangelicals, Southern Baptists and other conservative Protestants has been a minor note, if one at all.

Ethics professor Henlee Barnette wrote the first Southern Baptist book on the environment in 1972, shortly after the birth of the environmental movement in 1970 under the leadership of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. Barnette's book, The Church and The Ecological Crisis, wasn't published by the Southern Baptist Convention, however.

Almost 20 years later, I wrote the second Southern Baptist book on the environment, Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Christian Guide to Protecting the Earth. It was released by Southern Baptist publishing house and read in a "book club" of nationwide Baptist women.

Nonetheless, two books on the environment in two decades in the nation's largest Protestant denomination suggest that the issue isn't much of a priority, which in itself should challenge the claim that Baptists are people of the book--the Bible.

I have asserted, argued, claimed and promoted the idea that the Bible is God's green book. Humorously, MSNBC runs weekly a clip of my handing Al Gore a green Bible at the New Baptist Covenant meeting, at least according to phone calls and emails from folk who tell them that they have just seen the clip.

Last week, someone in Washington, D.C., told me that he was watching MSNBC with a colleague when that video clip came on. He blurted out that he knew that guy. His colleague replied that of course he did. It was Al Gore. The teller of the story said, "No. He meant "the other guy."

Obviously from my vantage point, the Bible is green and the biblical witness has a powerful moral message for our culture about protecting the environment, even if too many Bible readers ignore the moral memo. Nonetheless, it's never too late for preachers and Sunday school teachers to recover the Bible's moral teachings about earth care. Next Sunday, the Sunday before Earth Day, would be a good time to rediscover what the Bible's pro-environment message.

Here are some beginning biblical memos:

Deuteronomy 20:19-20 reads: "When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for you may eat of them, but you shall not cut them down…. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down."

The moral memo: protect fruit trees.

Deuteronomy 22:6-7 reads: "If you chance to come upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall let the mother go, but the young you may take to yourself; that it may go well with you, and that you may live long."

The moral memo: preserve species.

Deuteronomy 23:12-13 reads: "You shall have a place outside the camp and you shall go out to it; and you shall have a stick with your weapons; and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it, and turn back and cover up your excrement."

The moral memo: conserve community surroundings from human waste.

Leviticus 25:2-4 reads: "When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard."

The moral memo: conserve the soil.

We need our church leaders—preachers and Sunday school teachers—to speak up on the Sunday before Earth Day with a moral text about earth care when everybody else is talking about the environment. After all, our motive should be different from others.

CEOs go green for profit. Politicians go green for votes. Preachers and Sunday school teachers go green for faith.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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