From: Alisa Tang, Associated Press
Published November 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Religion Can Be Powerful Tool for Protecting Ecology, Environmentalists Say

BANGKOK, Thailand − Religion can be used to mobilize people to protect the environment because spirituality is closely linked to nature, members of a panel on faith-based conservation said last week.


Some "earth-keeping churches" in Africa hold services outdoors and baptize their members in running rivers, which strengthens their dependence on and respect for the environment, said Solomon Zvanaka, director of the Zimbabwean Institute of Religious Research and Ecological Conservation.


Zvanaka spoke at a press conference at the meeting in Bangkok of the World Conservation Union in Bangkok, attended by more than 6,000 government officials, scientists, executives and environmentalists.


He said his organization has found that faith can be used to "mobilize people to take care of nature through their belief system."


"If people have to be baptized in running rivers, it will cause members not to pollute their waters so they can be baptized in running water which is clean. If people have to have their services under trees, it will cause members not to deforest their areas," Zvanaka said.


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Other speakers, who included Buddhists from Cambodia and Thailand, noted the strength that religious institutions have in many communities.


"Some of our surveys in poor communities show that poor people often do not have very much faith in their governments and leaders, but they do have faith in their religious leaders, so it's clear to me this is an area we can be doing more in," said Tony Whitten, the World Bank's senior biodiversity specialist for the East Asia and Pacific Region.


The bank gives major financial support to environmental projects.


A Rocha International, a Christian conservation group, is trying to encourage faith-based environmentalism in Europe and the United States, said Peter Harris, the group's director general.


"Environmental stewardship is at the heart of Christian faith, and it's a tragedy that many Christian groups, particularly in the Western world, have completely forgotten this," Harris told The Associated Press.


"There's this feeling -- particularly in the U.S. Christian community -- that environmentalism is somehow hostile to Christian belief," he said. Some conservative Christians associate the environmental movement with progressive political activism to which they are unsympathetic.


Because of the divide, many Christian leaders "are failing to engage with the very communities who are actually doing good work for environmental protection," Harris said.


Source: Associated Press


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