Using Religion to Go Green

Adorned in a full-length clerical robe with a Bible in hand, Reverend Robert J. Mark, a McDonald Fellow at Memorial Church, stood in front of the Massachusetts State Legislature two Sundays ago, and spoke to a motley crowd of similarly-attired reverends, climate activists, several Boston Mounted Police that gathered on the lawns of the Boston Common.

The event was the start off a month-long campaign for climate change, in which affiliates of the Leadership Campaign—a group of student activists—aim to pressure Massachusetts politicians to adopt aggressive renewable energy legislation by camping-out in scattered tents on the Boston Common until the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

“We are taught all creation is sacred and holy,” Mark said, while speaking to the crowd and reading the Creation Psalm from the Book of Genesis. “We have to protect creation and be ‘stewards of God’s creation.’”

Mark had come to keynote the climate campaign, as part of a recent surge of interest among Harvard’s interfaith community in climate change and environmental issues.

Climate change has landed at the top of many Harvard Christian chapters’ agendas, though the sects and individuals differ in how they frame the issue within Christian theology.

Other participants drawn to the rally for religious reasons included several Harvard-affiliated reverends, Harvard Divinity School students both current and former.

“The number of lives which will be lost and the disproportionate amount of life quality loss will be suffered by people in the more impoverished parts of the world,” said Nicholas C. Hayes ’08, who runs a religious environmental activist group at MIT. “This is a justice issue that we as a Church and we as a country and we as a species face.”


Two weeks ago, a large crowd gathered in the Divinity School for similar reasons. Sallie McFague, a renowned feminist and Christian theologian, spoke about the application of Christian doctrine to ecological issues.

“Religion is into the business of forming the imagination and influencing the action of people,” she said. “It can make a significant contribution to the environmental problem.”

To Emma R. Crossen, a third-year in the Master of Divinity program at the HDS, this speech was particularly relevant. Crossen, who had breakfast with McFague earlier that day, is the coordinator of an Eco-Div group at HDS.

Although founded just over a year ago by a group of students focused on making the campus more sustainable Eco-Div is already very active.

She said that the club hosts speakers, coordinates student rallies, and has started a community garden at the Divinity School.

But for Crossen, eco-theology isn’t something new.

“In a way, our need for environmental theology is a statement of how disconnected we’ve become. It’s not a new discovery in theology,” she said. “This is integral to who we are. It’s just this culture has allowed us to forget about it.”