African-American Churches Are Becoming More Involved In Environmental Issues from Conservation to Advocacy

The Rev. Otis Moss III is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Dawn Stephens

The Rev. Otis Moss III is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Dawn Stephens

At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, members and neighbors buy fruits and vegetables from a black farmers market and work in an organic garden named after botanist George Washington Carver.

They recycle their church bulletins, plan to renovate their building with a “green” roof and have purchased 27 acres for a community project that will include an urban farm.

“By any greens necessary,” the Rev. Otis Moss III, the church’s pastor, likes to say.

When it comes to African-American churches and a focus on the environment, Moss and his congregation are the exception rather than the rule.

Moss said many of his black clergy colleagues are less interested in conservation and tell him: “That’s your thing.”

Black congregations have tended to focus on their members’ basic needs — getting jobs, rearing children, pursuing higher education.

Environmental matters have been a lower priority, said the Rev. Dianne Glave, author of “Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage.”

Rev. Dianne Glave, author of “Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage.” Photo courtesy of Rev. Dianne Glave
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The Rev. Dianne Glave, author of “Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage.” Photo courtesy of the Rev. Dianne Glave
This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

But although often reluctant to get on board, African-American churches are being encouraged to be advocates for conservation and environmental policy. And some have already answered the call. At a White House event this week (Feb. 25), three black clergy spoke at panel discussions on environmental justice and climate action.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, which works to engage young minorities on policy issues, takes part in marches on the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that challenge the fossil fuel industry. As churches were once urged to stop divesting in businesses supporting apartheid in South Africa, he encourages congregations to divest from oil, gas and coal industries and invest in clean energy instead. In early March, he’s the speaker at a Washington church event linking climate change and civil rights.

“There’s always many African-American leaders who are vocal,” he said. “I think the question is how we get the base of the congregations as vocal.”

He and other experts — many who are in the younger generation that has followed civil rights veterans — say they are working to bridge a gap between environmentalists and African-American churchgoers. They counter notions about lack of money and time to deal with seemingly esoteric issues by emphasizing how attention to the environment can reduce energy costs and lead to healthier eating habits in neighborhoods with no grocery stores.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Adelle M. Banks


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