EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. The National Association of Evangelicals has signed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Challenge and announced the signing during a Nov. 6 luncheon at an Eden Prairie church. The NAE is now encouraging its churches, member denominations, organizations and academic institutions to reduce their energy consumption by 10 percent using the free tools available through Energy Star Congregations.
Attended by more than 60 pastors and church-building managers, the Creation Care and the Church Luncheon featured presentations on how churches could protect the environment while lowering their monthly bills.
"The EPA estimates that if 300,000 houses of worship cut energy use by 10 percent, nearly $200 million would be saved that could go back into ministry," said Jerry Lawson, national manager of the Energy Star Small Business and Congregations Network. "There are a lot of churches that, other than paying the bill, don't really think about energy use in the church."
Lawson explained that the Energy Star Congregations program was designed to help participants analyze, track and reduce energy use. The program's Web site offers users the ability to track electrical, gas and water usage. The site also provides tips to reduce energy use as well as ways to express "environmental stewardship" in lay terms.
Churches that document energy savings of 10 percent or more using the program's Portfolio Manager will be recognized by the NAE and the Energy Star program.
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, a winner of the 2007 Energy Star Congregations Award, reportedly saved $1 million on its energy bill last year.
In addition to saving money, speakers at the Creation Care and the Church Luncheon said Christians have a responsibility to care for the environment.
"We urge members of the faith community to shape their personal lives in creation-friendly ways by recycling," said the Rev. Rich Cizik, NAE vice president for governmental affairs. "Stewardship is an important biblical principle. Nowhere in the Bible does God condone mismanagement or waste."
Jim Ball, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, told luncheon attendees that on a policy level in Washington, D.C., evangelicals are recognized as the "go to" religious community for environmental issues.
"Do we behave as if the world is ours, or do we actually live as if the world belongs to Christ?" Ball asked.
He encouraged pastors and church members to consider how "environmental degradation" harms "the least of these."
Ball cited one health study that suggested one out of every six children born in America is afflicted with disabilities that are attributed to mercury poison from air pollution caused by coal-burning facilities.
"This is sobering information for those of us who are Christians," Ball said.
Creation Care controversy
Cizik has been an outspoken advocate for environmental protection since his "conversion" to creation care at a 2002 climate change conference. He said he sees the issue as both good public policy and a biblical command, describing a "loving God who loves the cosmos."
"I believe the Bible teaches about sustainability, but we just don't see it," Cizik said. "If God loves it, should we be about destroying it? I don't think so. This is conservative evangelicalism as far as I can tell."
Some prominent evangelical leaders disagree. In March, a group of religious right leaders, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, wrote a letter to the NAE calling for Cizik's termination.
The letter called Cizik's efforts a "relentless campaign" against global warming and said his work was detracting from more pressing moral concerns. The letter also said human-induced global warming was an unsettled scientific issue, and that Cizik's views "extend beyond the NAE's mandate and its own statement of purpose" despite a 2004 NAE document that places "creation care" alongside such public policy priorities as nurturing the family, the sanctity of life and caring for the poor.
The NAE board declined to chasten Cizik. Leith Anderson, newly elected NAE president, has stood by him on the issue. In August, Cizik and Anderson joined a group of evangelical pastors and scientists on a weeklong trip to Alaska to witness the effects of climate change in the region.
Cizik called some of the letter's criticism "unfair" and explained that he views creation care as an additional issue, not a "replacement issue."
"The conversation about what should be on the evangelical agenda is extraordinarily important and helpful to the movement as a whole," Cizik said. "And I think evangelicals have spoken clearly on the issue."
Cizik also views environmental issues as a bridge to reach the intellectuals and leaders of society.
"This issue represents the greatest opportunity for the American evangelical community to witness to secular people and share the gospel," Cizik said. "I believe we in the evangelical community don't have to have this 'anti-science' attitude, and we can lead on these issues."
To learn more about the Energy Star Congregations program, visit www.energystar.gov/congregations.