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NCC nudges James Watt toward greater greenness

Washington, May 26, 2005—In response to “The Religious Left’s Lies” an editorial by James Watt in the May 21 edition of The Washington Post in which he accuses the National Council of Churches USA of using the environment for political gain and trying to divide people of faith, the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC’s General Secretary has issued a statement calling for Watt to be an advocate for the environment in word and deed. 

Watt (right) was President Reagan's Secretary of the Interior from 1981 to 1983.

According to Edgar’s statement, NCC’s “God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States,” which Watt challenges in his editorial, “calls on those who have preached against environmentally sustainable living either in voice, practice, or apathy to begin a new path—one that glorifies God and protects God’s creation. The path to which we are called is not ‘business as usual,’” said Rev. Edgar. 

The statement goes on to say, “We believe that we are judged not by words alone, but by our acts. We invite Mr. Watt to join us, not just with words about the importance of caring for God’s creation, but also in deeds as well.” 

The statement has sent to the Post for publication. The full text of the statement is below:  

In his editorial in the May 21 edition of The Washington Post, Mr. James Watt made several allegations that must be challenged. Whereas we are thrilled that Mr. Watt agrees with us that caring for God’s creation is not only important but is a biblical mandate; we are grieved at his many assertions to attack those who he assumes have a different political orientation than he does.  

The National Council of Churches USA addresses caring for God’s creation because of our call as stewards and guardians of justice, not for political gain. We have been working on environmental issues—air and water pollution, climate change, sustainable living, and environmental health—for more than two decades and without heed to partisan politics. Our letters of concern and calls for action have gone out to Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Political terms like “liberal” and “conservative” are not terms that represent the ministry that we believe God has called us to do together. 

NCC represents 36 member communions including historically African-American churches, Baptists, Orthodox communions, Quaker bodies and other peace churches as well as mainline Protestant and Anglican denominations. Many of our member denominations as well as the 45 million congregants who attend their churches each week would hardly describe themselves as “liberal.” In fact, the NCC does not take a stand on many of the so-called “liberal” issues of our time, because they are matters on which our broad, diverse community of faith groups do not hold a consensus.  

Therefore, although we do not take positions on abortion, gay marriage, and ordination of homosexuals, we find solid common ground upon which to act on other critical issues including the health of our earthly home. We are in agreement that millions of children—all of whom are created in God's image and many of whom live in low-income neighborhoods—should not continue to be subjected to asthma and other ailments because of air pollution from power plant emissions. These are the theological beliefs upon which the 11 top theologians who issued the “God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States” are standing.  

Our “God’s Earth is Sacred” statement, which was first drafted in the fall of 2004, outlines our historic work to protect God’s children and God’s creation but also notes our failures as humans to care for God’s Earth. These top theologians issued a call to our churches based on their knowledge and experience as pastors, scholars, and community activists. Because their experiences do not reflect those of Mr. Watt and his circle of friends does not negate the fact that they had those experiences and that they should be able to relay them in a manner they deem appropriate. 

The harsh reality is that our environment has been severely and adversely affected by over-consumption, misguided choices and a general lack of vision of the consequences our actions will have on future generations. The truth is that well-intentioned people of faith have, whether deliberately or not, participated in practices that have harmed God’s Earth and many of its inhabitants. We must speak boldly and courageously to put an end to this tragedy.  

This is the challenge put forth to all Christians in this ecumenical statement, which calls on the Church as a community to work towards the common goal of providing a safe and healthy environment for our children and all of God’s Creation. Furthermore, the statement calls on those who have preached against environmentally sustainable living either in voice, practice, or apathy to begin a new path—one that glorifies God and protects God’s creation. The path to which we are called is not “business as usual.”  

We are saddened that rather than work with us to advocate for better environmental stewardship among Christians, Mr. Watt instead decided to focus on the part of the statement with which he disagrees.  

The Prophets of the Bible always called God’s people to honor God both in word and deed. The Book of James says, “faith without works is dead” (2:26). We believe that we are judged not by words alone, but by our acts. We invite Mr. Watt to join us, not just with words about the importance of caring for God’s creation, but also in deeds as well.

Contact: NCC News. Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350, Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252


 

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