Healing the Planet: Major Phila Inquirer feature article

Philadelphia inquirer, Oct. 7, 2006, p. B-4
By Kristin E. Holmes
Inquirer Staff Writer
[With dramatic photos of the wounded earth and with photos of Rev. Edgar & Dr.  Syeed, this article took more than half the page.]
Religious leaders will gather in Philadelphia tomorrow to discuss global warming, and to recognize special days in several religious traditions.
"Sacred Seasons, Sacred Earth: An Interfaith Call to Reflect and Act" will consider what believers can do to temper the effects of climate change that organizers call a "crisis of global scorching."
"We felt that 'warming' was a term that is too pleasant," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who will moderate a panel discussion at tomorrow's event. "It's not honest. The heating is not some kind of benign warmth. It's dangerous."
The event, at Arch Street Friends Meeting House in Old City, will feature a panel discussion about the ways that various religious traditions approach environmental preservation. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Sikhs will be among those participating in the conference, which is a combination educational seminar, call to action and holiday observance.
Between Sept. 22 and Oct. 24, the faith calendar includes the high holidays and Sukkot in Judaism; the month of Ramadan in Islam; the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and World Communion Day in Christianity; and the birthday of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi, who was Hindu.
Events to mark the convergence of days are being held in Maryland, Washington, California, Florida and elsewhere. They are being organized by The Tent of Abraham, Hagar & Sarah, a national network of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The local event is sponsored by the Shalom Center, the Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation and the Arch Street Friends Meeting.
Area organizers have chosen to focus on environmental preservation as the theme of their "Sacred Seasons" celebration. The convergence of days occurs for three consecutive years, starting last year. After 2007, it will not occur again for another three decades, said Waskow, of the Shalom Center. Tomorrow's event is free and open to the public.
"Global warming isn't just environmental," said Joy Bergey of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Climate Change Campaign. "It is a real issue of justice because global warming as it unfolds will hurt first and foremost the people who can't get out of the way."
The temperature increase in the Earth's atmosphere and oceans can spike the intensity of floods, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes and tornadoes. Some experts believe that if action is taken in the next five to 10 years, the process of global warming could be slowed, said Vic Compher, an organizer of the local event.
"If you look at the Old and New Testament, the Torah, and the Koran, God spends lot of time reminding us that the Earth was created and that we should be stewards of the Earth, and should care for each other, and for the least of these who have no food or clothing," said the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a former Delaware County congressman.
There is Jesus Christ saying consider the lilies of the field. There is the Prophet Muhammad saying those who waste water are the equivalent to Satan himself. The Torah says that even in war, trees should not be destroyed, not even those of the enemy.
"Many of the resources are vanishing and that is not what God intended for us," said Dr. Mohammed Almashhadani, of Al-Aqsa Mosque and former imam of the Albanian American Muslim Society mosque, both in North Philadelphia.
But admonitions in sacred text do not mean that the faith community is of one voice when it comes to the issue of global warming.
The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance is a coalition of evangelical leaders, clergy and scientists who dispute that global warming is a phenomenon caused by humans that can be reversed. They argue that most evangelicals do not favor regulations that would affect the greenhouse emissions caused by such things as burning fossil fuels. Supporters include James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.
If humans are responsible for global warming, the costs of preventing it outweigh the harm it causes, said alliance spokesman Calvin Beisner.
The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), was on that side of the debate. But then he attended the Climate Forum 2002 in Oxford, England.
"I admit I had a conversion," Cizik said. He led an effort to "raise the consciousness" among evangelicals, he said. The NAE has no official position on climate change, but about one quarter of the organization's board members are supporters of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, an effort launched in February to combat global warming. Cizik also appears in a documentary on climate change called The Great Warming.
At tomorrow's event, Edgar, Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North American and Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, director of the Pennsylvania Union for Reform Judaism, will give keynote addresses starting at 3 p.m.
There also will be celebrations of the "Sacred Seasons," At 2 p.m., participants can join in the Jewish tradition of building a Sukkah, a hut that brings the community into close communion with the earth. Later, meditations will be offered by Buddhists. The group will dine together in the Muslim tradition of Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daytime fast during Ramadan.

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 215-854-2791 or kholmes@phillynews.com. This article contains information from the Associated Press.


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