The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Greener than Green
An old TV ad promised that a laundry detergent would get your clothes "whiter than white". The "whiter than white" comparison is now being used to sell tooth whiteners. Hopefully, it is only the slogan, and not the product, that is the same!
The language of marketing does point out a valid detail about the way we perceive the world. The contrasts between similar items are far more nuanced than comparisons between things that are quite different.
The newsprint of your daily newspaper is obviously "white" in comparison with the black ink on the page. But put an ordinary piece of office paper next to the newspaper, and the newsprint looks pretty dingy. The page from the photocopier is "whiter than white".
It is not hard to describe dramatic differences between black and white, or the green, yellow and red of a traffic light. We don't need to worry about describing the green as "emerald" or "lime". But we do need a detailed language to deal with more subtle differences. If you go a paint store for a can of green paint, you'll find hundreds of shades and tones of "green" -- pine, moss, celery, jade, and a raft of other poetically-named tints.
What is true of physical colors is also true with our use of color metaphors. A few years ago, it was helpful to refer to churches that were "green", or that were making progress toward "greening" their buildings and programming. Since it was unusual to have a congregation with any sort of environmental awareness, the green label indicated a striking contrast with all those other "not green" churches. Within the last few years, though, concerns about energy, ecology and sustainability have become pervasive enough (praise God!) that we need more subtlety in our adjectives, and a richer spectrum for the many shades of green identities.
As you think about your own church -- or some other church that you know fairly well -- what sort of green does it seem to be? Is it deep green, bright green, pale green, or perhaps just vaguely greenish? How does it compare to other "green" churches?
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A decade ago, churches were fairly remarkable if they had a recycling program, or if they took intentional steps to conserve energy or water. Few congregations included environmental topics in their worship, education, or political advocacy efforts. It didn't take much to stand out from the crowd. The churches that were doing something -- anything -- could take pride in their unusual accomplishments of "being green."
But times change, and the success stories of a few years ago don't seem so surprising. As environmentally responsible programs become more common in church and society, some settings are revealed as "greener than green", while others appear very pale.
As environmental responsibility becomes more common, it is no longer appropriate to boast about everyday practices. Remember the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:46-47)
If you recycle paper and cans at your church, what reward do you have? Does not even the local grade school do the same? And if you install compact florescent light bulbs, what more are you doing than others? Does not even the US Department of Defense do the same?
I know that in many churches, making the shift from doing nothing to doing something is difficult. Getting started takes a lot of work, and those successes do need to be celebrated. But we're no longer at a point where weather stripping the windows or observing Earth Day is exceptional, or matter of green pride. Following commonly accepted business practices (like reducing energy consumption) and meeting community standards (like conserving water in a time of drought) should only be seen as an essential starting point.
As I work with congregations, I'm starting to refer to three categories of "green churches". The dividing lines between these groupings are not precise, and there will be churches which are strong in one area of their programming but weak in others. Still, it is helpful to recognize some significant degrees of distinction in the depth of green.
But we can not be comfortable or proud simply because there's a vague tinge of green in our programming and practices. Let us work to make our churches "greener than green." Let us move beyond the basics into the realms of leadership and transformation.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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