Maryland environmental advocates take anti-fracking, climate-change positions to church

Environmental advocates in Maryland are bringing their message to church.

The Rev. Barry Hargrove knows the people in the pews at his East Baltimore Baptist church — like many across the country — are focused more on crime, jobs, education, policing and other concerns than they are on the environment.

"For many people," he said Sunday, "decreasing the carbon footprint is the last thing in our minds."

As environmental advocates in Maryland push for a statewide ban on the controversial gas-drilling technique known as fracking, they are seeking to recast environmentalism from a political objective to a moral imperative by making their case in church.

More than 40 faith leaders across the state answered that call during the weekend with sermons that emphasized stewardship of the planet as part of the "Climate in the Pulpits/on the Bimah" campaign.

The Prince of Peace Baptist Church in McElderry Park, where Hargrove is pastor, has installed a rain garden on its property, he said, and is taking steps to ensure that upcoming renovations are done in the most environmentally friendly way.

Hargrove, president of the Progressive Baptist Convention of Maryland, gave the keynote sermon at the Green the Church Summit, a conversation about environmental action among more than 100 African-American church leaders last month.

He said he is encouraging his congregation to consider taking small steps, such as recycling, using LED lights and planting trees in the neighborhood, to better care for the Earth.

"We don't have to necessarily put conservation as a top-five priority issue within our ministry," Hargrove said. "But we can begin to do things in our everyday lives to indicate that we are mindful of the issue."

Interfaith Power & Light and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network presented the effort to faith leaders as part of a push to prohibit fracking statewide.

Energy companies have eyed the Marcellus shale rock formation in Western Maryland for drilling. The Hogan administration has proposed limitations on the practice for next year, when the current ban expires.

While there are no gas basins in Baltimore, the City Council on Monday will hear resolutions to ban fracking in the city — a symbolic measure — and to support a statewide ban.

Joelle Novey, director of Interfaith Power & Light, said she appealed to faith leaders to incorporate discussion of climate change into their ministries in whatever way made sense.

"I'm a huge believer in the critical importance of talking about climate change in faith communities," Novey said. "To me, climate change is one of the most important ways we need to reckon, in this generation, with the impact we have on our neighbors."

The Rev. Amy Sens, of Six:Eight United Church of Christ in Hampden, said she expected to spend her first Sunday evening service since last week's election engaging her congregation in a dialogue about their concerns for the future, including those regarding the environment.

"With this election, we do have cause for concern about what happens with climate change," Sens said.

Republican President-elect Donald J. Trump has rejected global warming as a hoax and promised to roll back federal efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Sens said she sees environmental mandates in the Bible, in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve being given the Garden of Eden as caretakers, and in Jesus' second great commandment: to love thy neighbor as thyself.

"For us as people of faith, one of the key things about climate change is that the impacts of it are going to be disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable people, who live in poverty, who don't have a political voice," Sens said.

She acknowledged that faith leaders face "a hard sell" in urging their congregations to care about the environment in the same way they care about making ends meet or public safety.

"At the same time, that's why we need leaders to speak up," the pastor said. "If leaders only talk about the stuff people already recognize is a problem, then the long-term stuff is just going to hit us out of the blue and we can't solve these longer-term problems together."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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