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Religious affiliates should play key role in environmental changes, lecturer says

PROVO, Utah — Religious affiliates should utilize specific attributes to play a role in the environmental crisis, John Grim said during his address "Emerging Alliance of Religion and Ecology" at BYU's David M. Kennedy lecture series Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The Yale Divinity School senior lecturer and scholar said the majority of religions promote five attributes: reverence, restraint, respect, responsibility and redistribution.

Inside religious communities, Grim said, it is common to acknowledge Earth as God's divine creation, and people are more likely to appreciate and respect human life and Earth's natural resources. Maintaining a long-term perspective, religious communities also show concern toward the future of the planet.

"Religions contribute to an understanding of values which humans use to position themselves," Grim said.

Grim's study began in 1995 while on a sabbatical year from Harvard. He and his wife, Mary Evelyn Tucker, developed the project from a culmination of ideas from the earlier decade.

Previous to the sabbatical, Grim completed a thesis researching the Crow people, a group of Native Americans who resided west of the Missouri River. He was fascinated by their cosmological ideals and spiritual intimacy with the land. For years, he and his wife discussed the possible role of religion in ecology.

From 1996-1998, Grim completed a series of 10 conferences on world religions and ecology at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. Next, he and his wife edited the 10-volume series from the distributed conferences.

"No previous human community has faced such a crisis threatening ecosystems and species on a global scale," Grim said. "The key macro-phase issues are climate change and biodiversity loss. Both of these are beginning to be perceived as moral issues. The challenge is to develop a broader ethics. We have ethics for homicide, suicide, and genocide, but not biocide or geocide."

Grim believes that religion is the answer. Although he regards religion necessary for environmental awareness, he does not think religion alone is sufficient.

The series' purpose is to explore the past, present and future of religious traditions and their impact on the planet. Grim discusses past religious interactions with the natural world and local bioregions. He evaluates the merits of these past histories in light of contemporary environmental issues. Finally, when considering the future, he contemplates how these traditions will respond to contemporary environmental issues. Each religion is analyzed on these merits of retrieval, re-evaluation and reconstruction.

As a result of these conferences, Yale has developed a joint master's degree program in religion and ecology.

Following Grim's lecture, a BYU graduate, John Brown, emphasized the need for Latter-day Saints to profoundly evaluate and change how we live.

Referencing Doctrine and Covenants 59, Brown said, "We have a stewardship tradition. As children of God, we are blessed with the land and its resources. Along with these blessings come responsibilities."