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Morning in the Riesengebirge OPEN SPACE

The Red, the Blue, and the Green

by Joel Gillespie

A few days before Christmas, I was in a Christian bookstore here in Greensboro, North Carolina, looking for a calendar for my youngest daughter. It struck me that almost every calendar that contained Bible verses, or sought to inspire meditation upon the Creator, or aimed at lifting the spirit, used scenes of beautiful natural places to do so. In fact, I've never seen a calendar containing scenes of shopping malls, parking lots, highway interchanges, oil rigs, or new subdivisions.

Wait, you say: Christian bookstore? Well, yes. I am a conservative evangelical Christian, and incongruous as it may seem, I have also been a passionate environmentalist for the past 30 years. Indeed, I'm an environmentalist because of, not in spite of, my Christian values. I believe that love of God requires me to work to protect the masterpiece of his creation, and to say out loud that to assault it is to assault him. When Genesis tells us that God gave mankind "dominion" over the earth, it was for the purpose of taking care of it, tending it, and being good stewards of it, all for God's glory, not ours. And as I often tell my conservative friends, you cannot love your neighbor and then dirty up his air and water.

Whenever I feel disconnected from God or from myself, in need of refreshment, rest, and perspective, I go to places where I can hear the birds, smell the clean air, and gaze on trees and rocks and water. My favorite haunt around here is Moore's Knob, in Hanging Rock State Park. The park's peaks are part of the 2,500-foot Sauratown Mountains, which are protected against erosion by the massive quartzite outcroppings that now form their tops. On a clear day, the view from the summit may be the most spectacular panorama in the entire Piedmont region, sweeping from the dark wall of the Blue Ridge escarpment in the distant northwest to the whispery outlines of a truly ancient mountain range, the Uwharries, in the far south.

The longer of the two trails up to Moore's Knob follows a gentle, rhododendron-lined creek bed, then breaks against the topographical grain to head straight up to the ridgeline that leads to the top. Craggy old chestnut oaks and bear oaks and mountain pines cover the trail, which is brushed by grasses and small bushes like huckleberry, blueberry, and wild azalea. The wind refreshes, and chills. Turkey vultures and hawks soar. But the biggest treat for me is the occasional raven -- a rare sighting in these parts -- coal black, with its loud, guttural call.

I rejoiced, therefore, when a truly broad-based group of local people, working through the Piedmont Land Conservancy, recently bought and added several hundred acres to Hanging Rock State Park -- not only for human pleasure, but to protect hawk and vulture nesting areas.

Such coalitions are hard to come by in today's divisive political climate. I'll admit that when I pushed the button for President Bush (yes, you heard me right), I did so with some sadness, given his dismal environmental record. But many of us who love the natural world -- who desire deeply to preserve its species, protect its habitats, clean up its air and water, seek alternative energy sources, and reduce energy demand -- feel we face an almost impossible either-or predicament. Voting for pro-environment candidates usually means voting for a package of other policies that we will never swallow. We're forced to choose either unborn babies or endangered species; traditional marriage or habitat protection; cleaning up the smut that comes across the airwaves or the smut that fouls our air. And the fact that we are forced to make such choices has harmed the natural environment and the special places we love and cherish.

Perhaps my liberal environmentalist friends could imagine more ways of including people like us in the green tent. The result might just be more environmental victories. To that end, I offer three suggestions. First, focus more on the specific issues and less on the candidates and parties. Second, put more resources into local grassroots movements, where it is easier to attain common cause between liberals and conservatives. And third, broaden your appeal by employing more people like us in your organizations, and as lobbyists for your causes.

The basic moral values that make many people "pro-life" also mean that they are open to persuasion by a sound, consistent environmental ethic. We can argue about other issues if we have to, but surely we can find a way of joining hands to protect this good earth, which all of us and our children must inhabit together, whatever our religious and political convictions. For in the end it is the only earth we have.

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Joel Gillespie was educated at the University of South Carolina and is pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. An avid hiker and blogger, he has five daughters. His favorite albums include Paranoid, by Black Sabbath.

Illustration: Morning in the Riesengebirge (detail), Caspar David Friedrich, 1810

OnEarth. Spring 2005
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council