Ecumenical Statement on Environment Puts Humans First

WASHINGTON — A new statement issued April 17 by Catholic, Jewish and Protestant leaders urges that “sound theology and sound science” guide decisions on the environment.

The Cornwall Declaration, as it is called, was spearheaded by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich., headed by Father Robert Sirico.

The Washington-based Interfaith Council for Environmental Steward-ship, for which Father Sirico is an advisory committee member, said on its Web site the perspectives arising from the Cornwall Declaration “will provide a credible alternative to liberal environmental advocacy.”

The Cornwall Declaration, named after the Connecticut town where the statement was first developed last fall, says that “certain misconceptions about nature and science, coupled with erroneous theological and anthropological positions, impede the advancement of a sound environmental ethic.”

It listed three “areas of common misunderstanding”:

• “Many people mistakenly view humans as principally consumers and polluters rather than producers and stewards. … The tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is often sadly self-defeating.”

• “Many people believe that ‘nature knows best,’ or that the earth — untouched by human hands — is the ideal. … Denying the possibility of beneficial human management of the earth,” it said, “removes all rationale for environmental stewardship.”

• “Greatly exaggerated” or unfounded environmental concerns, among them global warming, overpopulation and “rampant species loss.”

The declaration said, “Since the fall into sin, people have often ignored their Creator, harmed their neighbors and defiled the good creation.”

In a series of what it calls “aspirations,” the declaration said it hoped for a world in which “right reason — including sound theology and the careful use of scientific methods — guides the stewardship of human and ecological relationships.”

It also hoped for “a world in which liberty as a condition of moral action is preferred over government-initiated management of the environment.”

The declaration also hopes that “the relationships between stewardship and private property are fully appreciated, allowing people's natural incentive to care for their own property to reduce the need for collective ownership and control of resources and enterprises, and in which collective action, when deemed necessary, takes place at the most local level possible.”

Signers to the declaration said they were “speaking for ourselves and not officially on behalf of our respective communities.”

“I've read it, and I think we welcome any focus on the religious dimension of the environment. And this effort is part of that. We share of a lot of the concerns they raise,” said John Carr, of the U.S. Catholic Conference Department of Social Development and World Peace.

“I think our teaching on the limits and responsibilities of both government and the market is a little more sophisticated,” Carr added.

Giving an example, he said, “The one thing that struck me was they warned against identifying the creation with the Creator; they say people are tempted to worship creation when they should worship the Creator.

“There's another temptation, which is to confuse the workings of the market with the kingdom of God. And so getting the balance right is the ethical task.”

Still, Carr said, “it's a good thing when religious leaders focus on the moral dimensions of the environment.”

Catholic signers of the Cornwall Declaration included Father Richard John Neuhaus, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life; Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life; Robert Royal, president of the Faith & Reason Institute; and Father Sirico.

Among Protestants signers were Charles Colson, president of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family; William Bright, president of the Campus Crusade for Christ; Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; Marvin Olasky, University of Texas journalism and history professor; Methodist Rev. Donald Wildmon, president of the American Family Association; and Presbyterian Rev. D. James Kennedy, president of Coral Ridge Ministries.

Jewish signatories included Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition; Rabbi David Novak, director of the University of Toronto's Jewish studies program; Herbert London, a New York University social studies professor and the Conservative Party's 1990 New York gubernatorial candidate; and radio talk show host Dennis Prager.

(From combined wire services)

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