For many years, Earth Day and other environmental efforts were rejected by a large number of Christians who viewed these causes as too far to the political left or representing liberal values that were not in line with their biblical beliefs and values. The winds have shifted over the past few years and more and more Christians have embraced green living and helping to improve the environment.
For the third year, the Earth Day Network engaged thousands of Catholic parishes around the U.S. to participate in its Earth Day Sunday program. In 2006, a number of evangelical leaders and organizations started the Evangelical Climate Initiative. What started as a call by 86 leaders and organizations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions has expanded into a full-fledged campaign to advance climate change policy based on “principles that derive from faith in Jesus Christ and the conviction that we are called to protect God’s creation.” The ECI is now supported by 260 evangelical leaders.
Among the ministries to be birthed out of the climate-change movement is Blessed Earth. Based in Wilmore, Ky., Blessed Earth is an educational nonprofit that seeks to build bridges between measurable environmental change and meaningful spiritual growth.
It’s a mission that sums up the life’s work of Blessed Earth founder and Executive Director, Dr. Matthew Sleeth. A former emergency room physician, Sleeth traded his successful career in medicine for an unconventional one. As he began to pursue the truths of the Bible, he accepted Christianity. As he looked around the world in which he lived, he saw a dying planet.
Sleeth was particularly convicted by Matthew 7 and the parable about seeing sawdust in another’s eye while having a plank in your own eye. “I realized I was contributing to the problem,” he said.
Sleeth and his wife Nancy downsized and simplified their lives. “We got rid of a bunch of stuff and began to live our lives more meekly.” That meant moving into a house that was the size of the garage in their former house and cutting their electrical use by 90 percent.
While growing in his newfound Christian faith, Sleeth was told by his then minister that he had “the theology of a tree hugger.” “It was not meant to be a compliment,” he said.
“I took what he said and looked for answers in the Bible and underlined everything the Bible said about God revealing himself through creation and tasking us to take care of creation. I paid a lot of attention about what the Bible said about trees and tree huggers. I found that my pastor was wrong and the church for many years had been wrong.
“The issue of the environment polarized a lot of people. A lot of people saw it as a liberal issue and therefore not a biblical issue. Some of the people who had been speaking out about this had also been vocal about speaking against people of faith. But people have changed. The Holy Spirit is working in the church.”
Last year, Sleeth was on the road 270 days and estimates he has spoken 850 times over the past two years. He addresses Christian and non-Christian groups and a large number of secular organizations all over the globe.
Sleeth wrote his first book on the issue, “Serve God and Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action,” and has another book planned for release later this year. Nancy, who also is part of the Blessed Earth ministry, recently authored, “Go Green, Save Green: A Simple Guide to Saving Time, Money, and God’s Green Earth.” Their daughter Emma, a student at Asbury College, has written a creation care book for youth.
What’s the first step one can take to improve the earth?
“A practical first step,” Sleeth said, is to find out what your energy bills are and try to cut them 10% or more. Establish a goal and use your savings for the church. You can replace your traditional light bulbs with CFLs or begin using clotheslines for starters.”
The Blessed Earth Web site contains many practical tips for green living.