This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Plenty of concern for God's creation comes from folks in the pews."
Used to be that when a young family considered joining the church, they'd ask about its nursery and check the bathrooms," the Rev. David Mason, pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo., said. "Now they ask if we have gone green. People care."
His own passion to preserve and celebrate the earth revs up when he pedals along the KATY and other rails-to-trails paths in Missouri, Nebraska and Illinois. He's saddened by debris floating in rivers, trash along highways and plastic shopping bags ballooning from tree branches, but he's far more worried about carbon emissions and pollution he can't see. His dream is to reduce the carbon footprint at his church and then proclaim: "Green Valley goes Green."
Many in his flock are fascinated by nearby wind farms in the King City area. Still even those members tease Mason for "hanging out with the godless crowd" when he stops at a popular grill to have a veggie burger.
Many Baptists and other evangelicals are shy about joining with liberals who support other issues that are anathema to them, such as abortion, Mason said: "Some fear guilt by association.
"But stewardship of God's earth is not just political; stewardship is for all of us."
Don’t be too hasty
Not all evangelical pastors have the environment on their radar. In interviews, staff at seven evangelical churches in the St. Louis suburbs had scant interest beyond a chance to cite a few Bible quotes. None of these recycles its campus paper.
"At First Baptist (Church of Arnold), we don't recycle," said the Rev. Brad East, the Jefferson County church's senior associate pastor who also oversaw construction of its $7 million building. "We don't want to be sidetracked on non-essential issues. Those (environmental) priorities are not as high as evangelism, following the great commission" to spread the Gospels.
"We care, we pick up stuff on our property," said the Rev. Randy Shuler, pastor of Chesterfield Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, when asked about the extent of its stewardship.
Evangelicals' conservative culture prevents them from chasing trends for fear that they are mistaken, several evangelicals said. While rural evangelicals who grow corn see profits because of the demand for ethanol production, most evangelical ranchers and farmers who feed corn to their cattle or chickens are paying dearly for the ethanol rush.
"Everything I have heard says that ethanol is not good for the earth," said the Rev. David Mason, a St. Joseph, Mo., Baptist pastor keen on many environmental issues.
At First Baptist Church of Belton, south of Kansas City, where bedroom communities are encroaching on rural areas, many members have long been interested in the conservation of the state's wildlife, forests, streams and open spaces.
"We have lots of avid hunters, and they go for food, not for trophies," said the Rev. Brian Baker, the associate pastor. "They teach their kids to respect what God has blessed us with. Then, you are blessed."
His congregation shares its 11 acres with the wider community. The public exercises on its 1.4 mile walking path, and local teams use the ball fields from sunrise to sunset. Baker is also interested in getting his community and Missouri in general more involved in wind power and other alternative energy sources.
Baker can do more than preach about it. In addition to being an associate pastor, he is the state representative from Missouri's 123rd district. He's a Republican who says Democrats don't have a monopoly on concern for the earth.
"Republicans know that you do not have to be 'left-wing' to care about nature or respect creation. I certainly believe that candidates like Sarah Steelman and Kenny Hulshof (candidates vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination) will start a dialogue that moves in that direction," he said. "If I were advising them, I would!"
Stewardship, he emphasizes, is separate from the issue of global warming. "One can debate the 'global warming' issue all day and all night," said Baker. "But everyone I ever talk to agrees that there is still a moral obligation to use our natural resources in a responsible and fiscally conservative way."
What are Evangelical Christians
Evangelical Christians are those who believe that the Bible is holy, infallible, and literally true and their authority for life and faith and that Jesus is their personal savior whose message they are commissioned to spread. While evangelical Christians are "born again," not all born-again Christians are evangelical. Many born-again Christians do not take the Bible literally and do not believe that they are obligated to spread the Gospels. They say they have a personal relationship with Jesus and believe that they are going to heaven because his death saved them.
Patricia Rice has written about the environment and religion for many years, both regionally and internationally.