Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2008

Craig Sorley

Craig Sorley's conversion to environmentalism came after doctors removed a tumor from his brain. It was 1989 and Sorley was a student at a Christian college in St. Paul, Minn. As he recuperated, Sorley says he "sensed a very clear call" to find out what Christians were doing to solve the world's environmental problems. "It was one of the most defining moments in my life in terms of my walk with Christ."

Sorley's revelation was an unusual one. Environmentalists and Evangelicals come from very different traditions: many greens are dismissive of conservative Christians' creationist beliefs, which are starkly at odds with scientific views on evolution. Sorley believes he can bridge this divide, bringing the two groups together by emphasizing the common goal of saving the planet.

Soft-spoken and reflective, Sorley is an environmentalist who cites chapter and verse to push his point. From his office outside Nairobi, Kenya, he's working to convince conservative Christians that it's their God-given duty to care for the earth. "God was the first gardener and the first farmer," Sorley says, and it's man's responsibility to tend God's garden.

Sorley's group, Care of Creation Kenya, organizes conferences and seminars in East Africa and the U.S. Participants have included Kenyan Nobel prizewinner Wangari Maathai and Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi. But Sorley's primary occupation is to use the Bible to make an environmental case: God delighted in his creation (Genesis 1:31) and put man in his garden "to work it and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15); Jesus found more glory in the wonders of nature than in the constructions of man (Matthew 6:28-29); all things were created by Christ and for Christ (Colossians 1:16). Conservative Evangelicals are far more receptive to an environmental message, explains Sorley, when it's presented to them in "the language they appreciate most ... the language of the Bible."

After his bout with cancer, Sorley dropped out of his Christian college (it didn't offer classes in environmental science) and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. "In the '90s, nobody in my church would ever want to talk about this issue," he says. But the tide may be turning. Last year, the National Association of Evangelicals, a grouping of 45,000 American churches, declared "creation care" one of its top priorities, and Christian colleges now offer degrees in environmental science. Still, a lot of work remains to be done before conservative Christians embrace conservation as a matter of faith. Says Sorley: "Our worldview on this topic is still more often defined by politics, by secular economic thought, by our materialistic culture, and by a knee-jerk reaction to the extreme ends of the environ-mental movement, than it is by Scripture." He's preaching to change that.

Stephan Faris is the author of the upcoming book Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley