I spent last weekend visiting evangelical Christians at several gatherings in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was surprised by the warm, and indeed, enthusiastic welcome I received. It’s not every day that a secular environmentalist gets a standing ovation from evangelicals in a church. But the message that we are all in this together resonates with people hungry to feel part of something larger, better, more important, and more transcendent than continued sniping.
It can be science and religion; it doesn’t have to be science versus religion. We don’t have to believe all the same stuff, and we can work together with regard to those things we all value. And we have a lot in common. We share a profound moral sense that we must be good stewards of the world and its creatures.
One of the events was a workshop of The Friendship Collaborative. I have co-founded this effort with Ann Arbor Vineyard Church Pastor Ken Wilson to bring scientists and faith groups into dialogue about our shared moral commitment to conserve and restore the natural world. One objective is to help extinguish the “culture wars,” show our shared humanity, communicate science to culturally influential faith-based audiences, and express our need to work to alleviate environmental problems for nature and people worldwide.
Some of the peacemaking tone of this project is reflected in this condensed excerpt from Rev. Ken Wilson’s website:
“Someone asked me: ‘Why are you having someone who doesn’t believe in God speak at church?’ I invited Carl to speak because I think we can learn something from him. More than that, I think we can feel something from him. We can feel love for God’s good earth and we can feel humility. I think Jesus wants to give us more of both and he’s planning to use Carl to do that. Can God use someone who doesn’t believe that he exists? Read your Bibles and tell me. I’ve read mine and believe that he can and he does.”
I can only say, I had a terrific time, I realized more than ever that we share more than we disagree on, I got many very kind comments, and the church band let me sit in on drums.
I think this was a much more pro-science use of my time than talking to scientists or bashing religion. One might say that in the spirit of evangelism and my mission, I was spreading scientific understanding to people who don’t normally get to see and hear a scientist and ask him questions.
Religious and scientific groups have often regarded each other as enemies. That’s been damaging. We can do better.
As we were recently reminded by Mac Maharaj, who has been described by the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen as the last African National Congress fighter to give up, “It sounds so simple, it sounds silly, but it really is: You don’t make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies, and the only way you end a conflict is to accept that premise.”
When I was a kid, it was widely recognized that America was based on religious freedom. Religion was not politicized. People were free to believe what they wanted, everyone assumed most people had some kind of religious faith, and we seemed to focus more on what we shared as Americans, in the same society. I hope that with these dialogues we can help recover that spirit of freedom and cooperation, and elevate both science and humanity in the service of community, our environment, and the creatures with whom we share the planet.