Creating faith-based awareness of environmental issues

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By Sandy Barnes

A rabbi and two Christian ministers offered their perspectives on environmental awareness during an interfaith discussion on Sunday evening.

“We are having a huge impact on this planet,” said the Rev. Peter Sawtell, executive director of Eco-Justice Ministries of the United Church of Christ. 

Over the past 100 years, humans have dramatically affected the Earth with “soaring and powerful technology,” he said.

Along with global warming are equally important issues such as loss of biodiversity, disruption of the chemical balance on the planet, and ocean degradation, Sawtell said.

“We have raced past the ability of the planet to flourish,” he said. “There are multiple, interlocking problems. Humanity is living out of balance with the way the world works.”

The environmental crisis cannot be solved simply by passing laws, he remarked.

“We have to change the human understanding of its place in creation.”

Embracing the principle of peace with justice and answering the core ethical question “Who is my neighbor?” can be a different approach to addressing environmental issues, Sawtell said.

Rabbi Marc Soloway of Congregation Bonai Shalom in Boulder talked about the Jewish community farm established through the Hazon program.

“Hazon has become the largest faith-based organization,” Soloway said. 

Since its founding in 2007, Hazon, which means “vision,” involves people and organizations in efforts to create a healthier and more sustainable environment, he explained.

Currently, there are 70 Jewish communities in the country that partner with farmers, he said.

“Food is so important,” said Soloway. “We’re growing good, organic food. I think it’s changing the paradigm of the way we eat. … We have a sense of connection with growing our own food.”

Along with a large garden, there are chickens, goats and a beehive on the Jewish community farm, he said. 

Much of the food grown at the farm is donated to disadvantaged people in the community, Soloway said.

“Last year, we donated 1,000 pounds to disabled veterans,” he said.

While discussing ways to lessen the human impact on the environment, the rabbi said that one option is for people to eat less meat — a choice he has made.

“The original vision of the Garden of Eden is humans as vegans,” Soloway said. 

Because of the Jewish history of being in exile, environmental efforts have taken time to develop, he said.

“The eco-Jewish movement has grown massively in recent years,” Soloway remarked.

“Who are we in relation to all of life, creation?” asked Vie Thorgren, founder and executive director of the Center for Spirituality at Work in Denver.

While working with the poor, which she discovered was her calling, Thorgren said she began realizing how they were impacted by environmental issues. There is a great inequality between polluters and victims, she said.

“That started a connection process for me.”

“Our most recent popes have been the most outspoken,” she said.

Pope John Paul II called the environmental crisis “a moral issue,” Thorgren said.

People of the Catholic faith are encourage to take the St. Francis pledge to pray and reflect, act to change behaviors and choices, and advocate on behalf of those without a voice, said Thorgren. 

When asked about the problem of overpopulation, Thorgren said there is a misconception that the Catholic Church wants people to have as many babies as possible. 

“ 'Be fruitful and multiply’ is the only commandment we’ve obeyed,” said Sawtell. “We haven’t thought through the repercussions of overpopulation.”


Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.