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Cooler/Smarter Workshops Offer Practical Advice, Raise Concerns

Cooler/Smarter Workshops Offer Practical Advice, Raise Concerns
Workshop participants discuss ways they can change how and what they eat to reduce their carbon footprint.
Greg Chandler

Ginny Kuilema has always had an interest in the environment, dating back to her years growing up on a chicken farm in New Jersey.

Kuilema has been attending an ongoing workshop series at churches around the Grand Rapids, Mich., area providing suggestions on how to reduce carbon emissions. She says she’s already taking steps toward some lifestyle changes based on what she’s learned at these workshops.

“I find myself questioning my purchases. I'm especially aware of how much plastic I use,” said Kuilema, who attends Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids. “I now use laundry soap in water soluble pods that come in a cardboard box. I'm reusing Ziplock bags and plan to purchase alternative bags. I had bought some beeswax food covering at a fair trade sale last fall.”

The workshop series, which will continue into May, is based on the book “Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living,” published in 2012 by the Union of Concerned Scientists. About 70 people turned out at Alger Park CRC for the most recent workshop in early March, which focused specifically on diet, food production, and its impact on the changing climate.

“We recognize [that climate change] is a moral and spiritual issue,” said David Koetje, a professor of biology at Calvin College, who was one of the workshop leaders. “This is a right-to-life issue when you’re talking about climate change posing great risks to food production, to human health, to habitation.”

The series has been promoted through the Climate Witness Project, a campaign of the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and World Renew. Five CRC congregations—Alger Park, Madison Square, Creston, Oakdale Park, and Monroe Community Church—are hosting the sessions. Other issues addressed in the series include transportation, heating and cooling your home, and the impact of purchases, as Kuilema noted.

While supporters say the workshop series addresses one of the great challenges of our time, there are others within the CRC who believe the OSJ is overstepping its boundaries in promoting the Climate Witness Project. Some see it as an attack on particular industries, such as beef farming.

Bill Vis, a retired CRC pastor who now serves as interim pastor of Terra Ceia CRC in Pantego, N.C., is part of an online community where some CRC members have objected to what they say is OSJ consistently taking politically partisan positions that are out of step with a majority of church members in the U.S. He spoke with a beef farmer who objected to a publicity piece he had seen about the series that targeted a reduction in beef consumption.

“He, rightly I think, perceived this as a direct attack on his ability to earn a living and feed his family, as well as to tithe to his church and thereby support the denomination, including OSJ and World Renew,” Vis said. That publicity piece was later removed.

Vis acknowledges that OSJ does a lot of good work on issues such as immigration and justice, and believes they have a role within the denomination for advocacy and teaching.

“Few people want the denomination to stop advocating on justice issues, including creation care,” said Vis, who has been a pastor in the CRC for 39 years. “It is the politicizing of these issues, consistently in one partisan direction, that is the concern.”

Steve Mulder, a consultant for the Climate Witness Project, said the series isn’t an example of “top-down” direction being promoted by the CRC. It arose out of serious concerns that some in the churches have for the future of our planet.

“We believe we’re doing honor to God by honoring creation. We have a moral and religious duty to do this, for the sake of our kids, our grandkids, and the most vulnerable people in the world who are already impacted (by climate change),” Mulder said.

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