Rocking the boat


"A faith-based call for environmental stewardship

Church of the Saviour

6205 Rucker Road


Services at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays

To learn more about the local faith community and their efforts to care for the environment, see:

The Rev. Keith Adkins isn’t afraid to stand up to his congregation and, as he puts it, “rock the boat.”

The reverend may call himself a “good news” pastor, but his church is tackling some very bad news: global warming. The members of the Church of the Saviour are making waves in their community as they work towards becoming a green congregation.

God’s book club expands its selection

It all started with a book and a church discussion group. Were these churchgoers discussing the good book? No, instead of the Bible, church members were talking about a popular non-fiction work on the environment.

Last October, Adkins and a few members of the church happened to be chatting about The Weather Makers, a 2006 survey of the science concerning human-caused climate change written by Australian mammologist and climate change activist Tim Flannery.

“He pointed out the coming catastrophic changes if we don’t change,” Adkins said. “We were really sold on this book of the approaching problems of climate change and we got interested.”

Every year, around October, the Church of the Saviour’s administrative council selects a new “vision objective” for the church, a goal the congregation will focus on meeting throughout the following year.

After reading The Weather Makers, Adkins and his book discussion group knew that their “vision objective” had to be global warming.

“We were shocked to hear how many people just, in general, just didn’t believe in global warming. We decided to make this as a motion to our church to fight global warming as our major objective for 2007,” Adkins said.

A year in review

After a year of work on the objective, some church members have made permanent changes, including Adkins himself. In January 2007, the inaugural month for the vision, he sold his 16-miles-to-the-gallon SUV and bought a hybrid to reduce his carbon emissions. He pushed his congregation to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use less energy, and organized a toxic drop box on the third Sunday of the month. The community surrounding the church is encouraged to bring batteries, CFLs, other toxic items and anything recyclable to the drop box and the Church of the Saviour will recycle them for free.

Dr. Bob Hessong coordinates the monthly “tox drop” and is proud of the church for taking on this initiative.

“I think it is an outstanding move for them to take a stand and make people aware of this important issue. I hope that more and more people are getting aware of that and will do something about it,” Hessong said.

The “tox drop” has been a huge success for the church, drawing in not only church members but also many people from the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’ve communicated to the 35,000 residents of this neighborhood that we are here and we are doing it for free. They are delighted to save a trip to [recycle] it themselves, and that saves gas. It’s a win-win,” Adkins said.

An unlikely partnership

Science and religion have been at odds for years on such issues as evolution vs. creationism. Adkins knew he would meet with some opposition from those who believed fighting global warming was a waste of time, but he had faith that the majority of his congregation would agree it was time to get involved.

“Science and religion are the two most powerful forces in the world, social forces. When science is doing something alone, it is crippled. When science and religion work together, it is dynamic,” Adkins said.

Dr. Barry Lively, a member of the Church of the Saviour, worked with Adkins to make global warming their 2007 vision.

“There is no reason for religion to fear science. I think we are clearly headed in the right direction; we are doing the right things,” Lively said. “I think that when we come to the end of the year there will be some permanent changes in behavior.”

Interpreting the Book of Genesis

For years, faith-based communities, lacking clear guidance from the Bible, have questioned their relationship to the environment.

Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 seem to offer conflicting interpretations of man’s place in the world: The language in Genesis 1 calls for humans to dominate the land, whereas Genesis 2 suggests that we act as caretakers of the environment.

“Genesis 1:26: We are called to have dominion. That word in the Hebrew does mean dominate. That has been seen historically by Christians as an excuse to pillage the land,” Adkins said. “We don’t have to worry about the water, the air, the Earth.”

Genesis 1 has been emphasized for years in the religious world, but as the theory of human-caused climate change becomes increasingly irrefutable, people of faith are more often looking towards Genesis 2 for inspiration.

Cliff Cain, a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College in Franklin, Ind., is currently teaching students about disagreements among people of faith over how to respond to global climate change. He believes it is time for religious organizations to take a closer look at Genesis 2.

“Because of the overemphasis on Genesis 1, we’ve gotten ourselves in a fine mess. I think Genesis 2 is important given our moment in time,” Cain said.

Adkins disagrees. He believes religious people, by combining the ideas of both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, can distill a doctrine that advocates for control of the Earth in a benevolent way.

However, both Cain and Adkins agree that it is going to take a partnership between science and religion.

Adkins has participated in several lectures around Indianapolis to talk about how global warming can be interpreted as a stewardship and social justice issue.

“The No. 1 thing you can do is begin to think about your carbon output,” he said. “I think there is a small window ahead that if we reduce carbon by 80 percent by 2050, we might slip through that narrow window, avoiding catastrophe.”

Adkins is optimistic: “Put science and religion together and maybe we can save the world.”

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