New Alliances Prove It's Easy to Go Green

Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson prove its easy to go green.


June 19, 2008 — -- "I'm on the left," says the Rev. Al Sharpton, the radical face of American liberalism.

"I'm on the right," says the Rev. Pat Robertson, the evangelical voice of Christian conservatism.

Sitting cozy on a sofa on the beach against a backdrop of pounding surf, two political opponents find unlikely agreement on one common cause: the environment.

"Let's face it, we're polar opposites, except on one issue," says the brash Sharpton.

"That would be the planet," chimes in silver-tongued Robertson. "Taking care of it is extremely important ... so get involved. It's the right thing to do."

"There you go again," chides Sharpton.

This surprising pairing was orchestrated by environmental champion Al Gore in a new television ad that is funded by the Nobel laureate's Alliance for Climate Change.

It was a surprising love fest.

"It's the first time they ever met, and it was kind of cool," Brian Hardwick, the group's communications director, tells "It was sincere, and they had a real connection that was actually inspiring to watch."

The ad -- one of the group's first of a series called "Unlikely Alliances" -- was filmed at Virginia Beach and created by the Martin Agency, which has produced the also surprising and popular Geico commercials.

"We wanted to make the point that people from all walks of life can disagree on other matters but need to come together to urgently solve the climate crisis," Hardwick says.

Its tone and message reflect an emerging movement of religion and the environment that crosses all denominations and political affiliations. The ad dovetails with a new report by the Sierra Club, "Faith in Action."

In the report, Sierra, the oldest and largest grass-roots environmental organization in the United States, highlights groups of all religious affiliations -- including evangelicals, Quakers, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, Unitarians and Episcopals -- working to protect "God's creation" in each of the 50 states.

Sierra dedicated three years to finding programs around the country that use wide-ranging approaches, "preaching sermons and worship styles to installing light bulbs and solar panels," according to Sierra spokesman Orli Cotel.

Like the Sharpton-Robertson love fest, such an alliance would at first glance seem a paradox: granola-crunching environmentalists and strait-laced church people. But that, says project manager Lyndsay Moseley, is a stereotype.

"A lot of folks are surprised to know that nearly half the members of the Sierra Club attend worship regularly," Moseley, who helped direct the faith partnership program, tells

"We are recognizing their amazing work and we're also breaking down stereotypes," she says. "People of all walks of life are environmentalists. We have this literal Earth in common to protect."

The Ursuline Sisters of Owensboro, Ky., are raising money to build their education center, a near zero-energy demonstration building that will include solar technology, wind technology and renewable, recycled or reused building materials.

The 780-acre mother house for training nuns has been a self-sustaining farm since 1874 with their own grass-fed cattle for beef, a slaughterhouse and their own gardens for corn and hay. About 500 schoolchildren a year come to the farm.

"You'd be surprised how many children have never seen a live cow or pig and don't know where food comes from," says Sister Amelia Stenger, director of the Mount St. Joseph Conference and Retreat Center. "It's a way to help educate in a simple way about Earth."

In Birmingham, Ala., locals are calling Bishop Heron Johnson a "modern-day Noah" because he has mobilized the Faith Apostolic Church to protect endangered fish in their area.

Global warming is a top priority for many of these communities. A diverse group of churches in New Mexico has handed out more than 3,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs to low income and older residents. Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., is pledging to reduce its institutional and individual carbon footprint. The First Presbyterian Church of Elko, Nev., is adding solar panels to its facility.

Lighting the Way in New Brunswick, N.J., has made it possible for religious groups to receive a solar array at no cost. More than two dozen Jewish, Christian and Muslim institutions have taken part.

The Christian Life Commission in Dallas is mobilizing Baptists to support a moratorium on building new coal-fired power plants in the state.

This marriage between environmentalists and people of faith is not new, according to Ellen Davis, professor of Bible and practical theology at Duke Divinity School.

"From a faith perspective, it is a crisis in the relationship we have with the God who created Heaven and Earth," says Davis, author of the soon-to-be published book, "Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible." "It is arguably the greatest crisis humanity as a whole has ever faced."

Though science and religion have recently been at odds over issues like evolution and creationism, Davis says they have more often "worked together."

"But sometimes science overstates its claims and underestimates its domain and dismisses religion," she says. "And religious people sometimes respond to science out of fear."

Jim Wallis, president of the progressive social justice group Sojourners and author of "Great Awakenings," says evangelical youth -- primarily those under age 30 and half under 25 -- have fueled the environmental movement.

He says a reinterpretation of the story of Genesis that reflects "stewardship" rather than man's "dominion" over Earth has traditionally created an "impasse" between conservative Christian groups and the science community.

"I began to notice about 10 years ago that some of most creative and refreshing initiatives on the environment were coming from a surprising source -- younger evangelicals," Wallis tells "They were not coordinated, but it was the first national sign in campaigns like 'What Would Jesus Drive?'"

Wallis is watching Anglican churches in England that are spearheading projects like "carbon fasts" that encourage parishioners to give up their fuel-driven lifestyles during Lent.

At a recent national convention of youth activists, 300 "mostly under-30" activists say their two most pressing concerns are poverty and "creation care" -- the environment. Their agenda is "broader and deeper" than just abortion and gay marriage, according to Wallis, though young Christians believe in the "pro-sanctity of life."

"There is a huge sea change," Wallis says. "There is a new generation of young believers coming of age, and they see creation care at the center of the notion of what it means to be a person of faith."

The "tipping point" in mainstream consciousness of green efforts will come when Wall Street and Christian evangelicals embrace the movement, says Wallis.

Meanwhile, Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson have made their own commitment, breaking political boundaries with a newfound message.

"They definitely had a mutual respect for each other," Rachel Noerdlinger, vice president of communications for the Rev. Al Sharpton Media, tells

"Despite their differences, both felt so strongly about the issue it became a natural alliance."