Some Christians Denounce Carbon Fast for Lent

Churches around the world have chosen to give up carbon this Lent season instead of engaging in the more traditional food or activity fast.

In the 40-day period before Easter, some Christians are reducing the amount of greenhouse gases they produce in an effort to tackle climate change and in living out their call as "stewards" of the earth.

"What we're doing is taking traditional Lenten practices and applying them to being caretakers of God's creation," said the Rev. Roy Howard, pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville, Md., according to The Washington Post.

While tackling climate change has become a major priority for many Christians in recent years, not all believers are supportive of a carbon fast for Lent.

Frank Furedi, professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, says the carbon fast "represents a semi-conscious attempt to transform environmentalism into a caricature of a religion."

Furedi released his critical statement after UK-based Tearfund, a relief and development agency, launched a Carbon Fast initiative on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday.

Several British clergy have encouraged followers to take part in the carbon fast as a way of taking care of the poor, who have contributed the least to climate change and yet are affected by it the most. The agency encourages such activities as buying locally grown and produced food, using microwaves rather than conventional ovens, insulating homes, traveling less and using low-flow shower heads.

"Climate change can mean our neighbors go hungry because of drought, or lose their homes because of floods," says a statement by Tearfund. "Faced with that reality, there are many things we can do, acting as part of the global church's response, to change the way our lives impact poor communities."

From this standpoint, according to Furedi, "the idea of original sin has been reinvented as an act of carbon emission."

"[T]he main purpose of the invention of the carbon fast is to make people feel guilty that they have a life," he added.

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and a prominent evangelical, also denounced the carbon fast, saying it "shouldn't be passed off as a 'sacrifice' for their sake."

Colson argues the poor would not benefit from such an initiative, and that the only beneficiaries of a carbon fast "will be westerners who will feel better about their own lives, even as the lives of the supposed beneficiaries remain untouched."

"God may be calling us to live more simply – but it ought to be as an expression of our trust in Him, not fear of an environmental doomsday," Colson wrote in his recent commentary. "This, in turn, will enable our concern for the least of our brethren to go beyond choosing paper over plastic."