Hopeful, dynamic and inspiring, the Reverend Canon Sally Bingham talks about why it is important that religious leaders speak up to their congregations about environmental stewardship. The Reverend explains her Regeneration project and the Interfaith Power and Light campaign working with religious leaders in 40 states. She views her mission to share with congregations how we have an individual moral responsibility to preserve the earth for future generations.
Sally Bingham has always revered nature in a spiritual way. She grew up in an Episcopal family in the town of Woodside in Northern California not far from Stanford University. Her traditional upbringing in the 1940s and ‘50s prepared her for her life as a mother and a wife, which she embraced. As time passed and the children grew, Sally felt a tug that inspired her to lead a more spiritual life, one that required she somehow address issues related to the environment. That a woman in her 50’s would decide to go to seminary to satisfy her spiritual yearning was uncommon, but that did not deter Sally. This was only exploration at the time, but she followed her heart and her path led to her ordination.
What led Sally to her choice of being an Episcopal minister was her love of nature and the fact that environmental issues were being overlooked by most of the religious denominations. Reverend Sally’s messages shine the light on how we can all live more sustainably and learn to be better stewards of our earth. This path has been profoundly meaningful to both Sally and her parishioners. The question she asks is: “Why are we not caring for God’s beautiful creation?”
Reverend Sally developed the idea of the Regeneration Project. The Regeneration Project’s Interfaith Power and Light campaign is mobilizing a religious response to global warming in 39 states, representing over 14,000 congregations. The project focuses on tangible results in congregations, putting faith into action through the promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation.
Sally Bingham: My interest in, serious interest in the environment came when I was asked to be a trustee for Environmental Defense Fund in the early 80s and that’s when I started learning about the destruction that humans were causing on the environment and on the planet. And because I have been an Episcopalian all my life and was attending a congregation, I never heard any clergy talk about saving the environment from the pulpit. And we are the people that sit in the pews and profess a love for God and a love for creation and it just was stirring in me that it’s the religious community that ought to be trying to save creation. If we say we love God and love our neighbors, why weren’t we leading the environmental movement? And that’s really how this all started.
There’s a very powerful word in the Judeo-Christian religion, which is dominion, and God gave humans dominion over all that he had, he or she had created. People have misinterpreted that word to allow it to mean dominate, that our resources are here for us to use as we need or want to without any consciousness about sustainability or leaving something for someone else. And then there’s the view, which I think is the right one, in which most people are coming to understand is that the word dominion actually means stewardship. All I talk about is environmental stewardship and moral responsibility and what’s happened over the last — between now and then — is huge in terms of religious people waking up and responding to our responsibility to take care of creation.
Under the Regeneration Project, which is the organization that I run, that’s the 501(c)3, we have a campaign going on called Interfaith Power and Light. Interfaith Power and Light has a tagline: “a religious response to global warming”. And the reason its interfaith is because all different denominations now have statements on climate change. In fact most of them do saying that they will not only cut their own greenhouse gas emissions but they’re going to ask their constituencies to do the same thing. Well the Regeneration Project now has programs in 40 states. We have over 15,000 congregations that have joined the program.
Huey Johnson : Wow!
Sally Bingham: Every one of those congregations are doing something to combat global warming. You know the religious voice brings a sort of moral authority with it and if you think about the cultural changes that have gone on in America, abolition of slavery, civil rights, women’s rights — all were led with that kind of moral authority of religion. Martin Luther King, his speeches are all based on scripture and I don’t think there’s been a cultural change in this country that didn’t have the voice of religion involved and I think we will be the voice that can help us get off fossil fuels.
Huey Johnson: Huzzah!
Sally Bingham: So there.
Huey Johnson: Yeah, well I’m for you that’s for sure. Give me insight as to moral responsibility.
Sally Bingham: I suppose if you were to say “Sally, define moral,” I might even have a difficult time doing that. But to me, the word is – it’s about responsibility and what we care about. And it’s about helping others to understand that we’ve been given amazing blessed gifts through our natural resources and that it would be immoral to destroy those and not leave them for the future and future generations. Do I think that people who are not religious are not moral? Well certainly not, I mean people have moral responsibility that comes from deep inside us that doesn’t necessarily come from religion. But if you don’t have that as a deep personal value, religion does teach it. Religion teaches responsibility for the next generation.
One of the most important and influential things that I’ve been able to say to people is follow the first and great commandment. The first is to love God. The second is like unto it, which is to love your neighbor as yourself. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you don’t pollute your neighbor’s air. You don’t pollute their water. And you don’t put engine oil in the storm drain behind your house. Where does it go? It goes to your neighbor. That’s when I talk about every single one of our behaviors affecting our neighbors, whether they’re here or on the other side of the world and it’s a consciousness-raising factor that I think will make a huge difference.
Huey Johnson: What is your prediction in 10 years for your movement?
Sally Bingham: Well I think we are going to solve the climate problem if we can begin right now cutting back on the greenhouse gasses, getting off of coal fired power plants, which are the most destructive and all of us working together to practice energy efficiency, and if we can somehow convince our legislators that we can actually turn this trend around.
One of the wonderful things about religion is there’s a lot of hope in religion and I think we are providing some hope. I mean I can see you smiling at the idea that maybe the religious community is going to make a difference.
Huey Johnson: That’s right.
Sally Bingham: I really believe that we will!