Religious Leaders Examine
Ties to Northwest Rivers

At a "Day of Moral Deliberation," a diverse group sought to link spirituality and environmentalism.

BY: Michelle Cole

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS)-- After years of heated political and scientific debate about the decline of Columbia salmon and the river's many uses, religious leaders of Oregon and Washington are joining in the discussion -- but differently.

On Feb. 4, the Rev. John Rosenberg of the Southwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America urged 60 people gathered for a "Day of Moral Deliberation" to sing a hymn.

"Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod," sang the group of ministers, parishioners, farmers, business people, environmental activists and Native Americans--people whose views about the Columbia River do not harmonize nearly as well as their voices.

The all-day event, held at Northeast Portland's Bethlehem Lutheran Church, illustrated the link that religious leaders are working to forge between faith and environmentalism.

"We know these are issues that evoke passion, confusion and cacophony," said David Leslie, executive director for the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, in offering the opening prayer.

In churches and synagogues across the country, congregations are now regularly reminded the Bible and the Torah instruct mankind to care for the Earth and its creatures. In the Northwest, religious leaders are focusing on one of the region's most divisive environmental concerns: the Columbia River.

Roman Catholic bishops in the Northwest and British Columbia are finishing a pastoral letter that, as early as this spring, will reach out to Catholics as well as "all people of good will" and likely declare the Earth a "sacred shared space." A draft version says problems suffered by wildlife and native people in the region are the result of "greed, ignorance, irresponsibility and abuse of economic and political power."

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