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Conference members consider their call to care for creation

Conference members consider their call to care for creation

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference members consider their call to care for creation

By J.A. Buchholz | June 13, 2009 {1033}

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Green living. Global warming. Climate change.

A dancer from the Orchesis Dance Ensemble helps interpret the poem “The Creation.” Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1206.

Those issues are heard in the news nearly every day. They were also the topic of discussion during the opening session of the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event.

The more than 1,500 lay and clergy members gathering at Bethune-Cookman University June 11 for the first of nearly three days of worship, plenary sessions and business also considered factors that don’t often surface in the secular debate: the Christian contribution and response to the issues.

Making the connection

An interpretation of the poem “The Creation,” written by James Weldon Johnson, helped center the discussion.

Narrated by Harry Burney, the reading featured dancers from the Orchesis Dance Ensemble, who leapt and twirled their way across the stage as Burney’s booming voice gave life to the prose.

The poem spoke from the perspective of God as he creates the world, sun, moon, all living things and eventually man. It was particularly poignant, given the theme of the conference event — “Transforming the World by Cherishing the Creation.”

Dr. Laurel Kearns, a Florida native, was the session’s keynote speaker. Kearns is associate professor of Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies at Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J. 

Kearns said she was happy to share what she has known since growing up in Sanibel Island, Fla. — that the Christian faith and caring for creation are intimately intertwined.

For Kearns, that connection was fostered while watching the landing of the astronauts on the moon with her grandparents and seeing the pictures of earth from space. By the time she was a teenager her attention had turned to what lies in the ocean, and she was certified to scuba dive.

Dr. Laurel Kearns tells members the world is not like a globe, with countries defined by lines and colors. As a result, any harm done environmentally in one area affects the areas around it and even well beyond. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1207.

As Kearns’ ideology and faith continued to form and take shape, she began to realize the spirituality of doing simple things, like walking on the beach. As a student at Florida State University, she was committed to studying biology, a decision she says received considerable criticism from the evangelical Christian community to which she belonged.

The criticism stemmed from the idea that delving into science meant “backsliding” as a Christian, Kearns said.

After leaving the evangelical church and seeing with her “new” eyes, Kearns said she devoured the Bible and discovered Christians are commanded to care for creation. The number of passages dedicated to caring for other humans, she said, is just a fraction of those dedicated to caring for the environment.

“We are clearly called by God to care for creation,” she said.

Recognizing the damage

Kearns said the religious community has slowly begun to see the connection between environmental responsibility and Christian beliefs, and not a moment too soon.

The planet is in environmental peril, she said, with pollution in the air, on the ground and floating through water sources. And that pollution is taking its toll on the nation’s children. More children in New Jersey die of asthma and respiratory ailments than by guns, Kearns said, because the state is not in compliance with clean air regulations and has more cars per square inch than any other U.S. city. She says people need to understand the kind of environment future generations are inheriting.

Kearns encourages people in the United States to travel to less affluent countries to see firsthand how people are able to live with much less than Americans, who consume 2 million bottles of water every five minutes and discard 426,000 cell phones each year.

Individuals can create a better environment for tomorrow, Kearns said, by making even small changes today — turning off computers, lights and televisions and unplugging appliances and chargers when not in use; walking and biking when possible; getting better gas mileage from cars; buying from local sources.

Members talk with one another about the changes churches and individuals can make in the way they live and where they worship to positively impact the environment. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1208.

Referncing Genesis 9:12-13, Kearns said Christians “must hold up their end of the rainbow.”

Reduce, recycle, reuse

Before the end of the session, Kearns showed a film called “Going Green,” one of the documentaries featured in the green film festival that took place a day before the conference session began.

The film offers suggestions on ways congregations can be more environmentally responsible, sharing the experience of The Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J.

The church recently installed solar panels on the church facility and made the transition from paper to ceramic cups for coffee. Its 300 or so members also reduced the amount of trash they send to the landfill by recycling more and adding a compost bin for organic material. The church even reduced water consumption used in toilets.

During questions from the floor, one member asked how the church in the video is really helping the environment after switching from Styrofoam since they will be using energy to wash mugs. Another member wanted to know if compact fluorescent light bulbs are really all that environmentally friendly since they contain mercury, which must be disposed of properly.

A member asks Kearns to clarify information about seemingly conflicting facts related to responsible environmental practices. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1209.

Kearns responded by saying there must be a tradeoff between informed decisions and not doing anything, and while fluorescent bulbs do contain mercury, she said the amount is less than what is found in home thermometers.

The Rev. Alan Beaver, retired, said Kearns’ message was “right on.”

“You know, President Abraham Lincoln believed in these same principles,” he said. “He encouraged people to buy local because transporting good long ways employed what he called useless labor.”

Beaver said he experienced that useless labor during a hospital stay. He was served orange juice from Brazil, yet he could see rows and rows of orange trees outside his room window.

“I have preached about being environmentally conscious,” Beaver said. “Stewardship of creation is paramount. Everyone needs to understand the beauty of nature and how we protect it is paramount to our values.”

More information about the conference session, including a schedule of activities and reports presented, is available at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.