Environmentally conscious students from more than a dozen campuses across the country recently met for the first national conference organized by a student-led, Christ-centered environmental network.
Student from 16 schools – including Moody Bible Institute in Chicago; Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego; Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.; and Duke University in Durham, NC – gathered on the campus of Eastern University in Pennsylvania from Oct. 16 to 19 with the hope of being inspired and equipped to lead their communities in becoming good stewards of God’s creation.
“[This conference] shows that there is a strong Christian community who cares about a variety of issues that certainly includes climate change,” said Anna Jane Joyner, coordinator of the organizing group Renewal, to The Christian Post on Wednesday.
“I’ve seen it have a huge impact on the students who were there,” she said. “They went home feeling empowered that there is this strong group of students who feel strongly about it, and not only strongly about it but who are influenced by their faith to feel strongly about it.”
Among the issues discussed, Joyner said, the topic of mountain top removal was the most emotional for the students, moving some to tears.
Mountain top removal is a form of surface mining, most closely associated with coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains, which involves using explosives to get to the coal seams.
Debris often pollutes the water in the river valley below, leading to contamination of the water used by residents living near the mountain. The controversial practice also results in serious destruction of the ecosystem on the mountain and can lead to floods and landslides.
“There are just a wide variety of ways that it harms the families in Appalachia and I think that touched a lot of people hearing those stories,” Joyner observed.
The recent graduate from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill also gave some tips students learned at the conference on how to move their school in a more creation care-friendly direction.
Joyner said the first thing to do is to create a recycling system for waste. Then, she suggests figuring out how to reduce students’ energy consumption, such as using energy saving light bulbs and low-flow shower heads in dorm bathrooms.
Host campus Eastern University, she noted, recently went to 100 percent wind energy. The energy power conversion was a student-led initiative where students stood up and said they are willing to pay an extra $25 a year for the more environmentally-friendly wind energy.
Another suggestion for a greener campus is to incorporate locally grown food into the campus cafeteria menu to avoid the pollution that would be emitted in transporting food grown elsewhere.
With the presidential election less than two weeks away, Joyner said creation care will definitely be a factor in whom she’ll casts her ballot for.
In comparison to other important issues to young Christians – such as abortion, gay marriage, poverty, the economy, and health care – Joyner thinks that environmental protection should be among the top priorities because it is “intimately tied” to these other issues.
“If you live in an area with poor environmental health, that impacts your health and that has a lot to do with our health care system,” Joyner argues. “Environmental degradation and poverty are very, very closely linked. You see often times it is the most impoverished communities that have the greatest environmental degradation.”
Joyner said she doesn’t think there is any way to rank the issues, and leaves it up to each person and their relationship with God.
“But I, certainly as a young Christian, say it is up there on what will determine how I will vote,” she said.
Other issues discussed during the conference included the theological and scientific basis for Christ-centered creation care; campus and urban community gardening; how to conduct your own energy audit; how to create sustainable environments in your own hometown; and how to discuss a more Christ-centered creation care philosophy in a secular age and to a skeptical church.
Some of the conference speakers included the Rev. Dr. Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Orlando, Fla.; Chris Haw, theologian and author of the book Jesus for President; and Peter Illyn, executive director of Restoring Eden ministry.
Renewal is sponsoring a Day of Prayer next Wednesday, Oct. 29, for Christians that are involved in the creation care movement.
Joyner says the Day of Prayer will focus on three prayer points:
• Repentance – Christians should have led this movement decades ago, but instead neglected God’s creation • Wisdom – Christian leaders need God’s wisdom to learn how to best steward the Earth • Leadership – Creation care leaders that are guided by God, united and Christ-centered.
Renewal is a grassroots network that started about 2 months ago with 12 Christian and recent graduates from across the country. The student-led network does not have college chapters but rather is a participatory organization.
Charter members of the network include groups from Dordt College in Iowa, Eastern University in Pennsylvania, Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Redeemer University College in Canada, Trinity Western University in Canada, Westmont College in Canada, and Wheaton College in Illinois.