Finding Interfaith Potential in Environmentalism

Many saw President Obama's speech in Indonesia last month as a second attempt to improve America's relationship with Muslim communities around the world, after his first attempt in Cairo in June 2009. He addressed issues such as development, democracy, and religion -- complimenting Indonesia's ability to move development, establish one of the world's largest democracies and function as a religiously pluralistic society.

However, his words elucidate our domestic need to reframe our understanding of interfaith work. Diversity is a fact, not an achievement. As a plural nation, we must not see tolerance as a destination, but as the first step of engaging faith communities in tacking our must fundamental issues. Rather than rehashing our differences in creed and theology, we must focus on the problems that we all face in America: need for more jobs, economic and financial reform and a clean environment.

Our environmental problem is one place where the religion, democracy and development trifecta has a clear potential for success. Communities of faith around the country are joining the "green" conversation and the environmental movement. Groups like Green Faith and Interfaith Leaders for Environmental Justice are bringing people together around protecting planet, not destroying it. An Amazon Environmentalism bestselling book is Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet, a book that encourages people of faith -- specifically Muslims -- to see themselves as stewards of the Earth with a divine responsibility to leave the planet better than we found it. Faith communities can set aside their differences and work towards solutions to common problems.

Once we've decided together that the environmental crisis is dangerous to everyone, it won't matter to who one prays in order to push the leaders we've selected to change policies and programs that have supported a pollution-based economy thus far.

I heard the author of Green Deen, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, speak at a recent World Faith service event in Brooklyn, where we volunteered in a community garden. In his book, he discusses the choice between Energy from Heavens vs. Energy from Hell. Energy from Heaven is renewable and comes from above, like wind and solar. Energy from Hell is non-renewable and is extracted from the ground and burned, like oil and coal. People of faith can make a conscious choice to use one over the other and to push policy makers to make it easier to choose Energy from Heaven.

If we can get our elected officials to really invest in clean energy innovation as a way to protect the environment, we will get development that not only emphasizes profits but emphasizes people and our survival on this planet. We will have to cooperate with other nations, investing in and sharing the best ideas. We will create new industries, new educational tracks, new jobs. None of this will be possible without both engaging the networks of our religious communities and expressing our shared values of wise stewardship.