In Review

If someone you worshipped gave you an amazing gift, you’d take incredibly good care of it, right? That’s the question many religious leaders are asking of their congregations as a way of contemplating the environmental destruction all around us. The answer can be found in the full-length documentary Renewal.

Renewal focuses on religious groups across the US that are responding to environmental crises by challenging themselves to take better care of their Creator’s gift to all mankind: Earth, our one and only home. The battle is indeed a religious one, as many of the problems the Earth is facing are caused by sins: the greed that prompts coal-mining companies to desecrate mountaintops in Appalachia, the gluttony that leads many of us to over-consume food and other resources, the slothfulness that allows chemical plants in Mississippi not to care about their contamination of water and air and how that affects the poorest communities along the Gulf Coast.

Without bias, Renewal profiles a wide range of religious beliefs, from Muslim and Episcopalian to Judaism and Evangelical. Eight segments focus on a different religious group’s response to an environmental problem. Each of the segments is strong enough to stand alone, but when woven together, give the 90-minute documentary great depth. After each segment, the viewer is given some breathing room with the inclusion of footage from some astonishingly beautiful scenery, a gentle reminder of what it is we should all be fighting for. Aside from some rather dated-looking dissolves between scenes in the second of the eight segments, the film is visually engaging. Highlights include a group of Evangelicals praying atop a mountain in Kentucky as dynamite blasts away the rock of ages past, and a congregation in Moss Point, smote by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, that is revved up by their reverend to take on industrial pollution and the illness that it has brought to the community.

Part of the beauty of Renewal is that you don’t have to be the least bit religious to appreciate what these people are doing. Even an atheist will find these spiritual responses to environmental destruction inspirational. Some of the actions are small, such as a Jewish summer camp where children are taught not to waste food. Other groups are tackling issues that are somewhat more difficult to achieve, such as the efforts of the Buddhist group Green Sangha in San Francisco that is encouraging magazines to switch to recycled paper. If religion leads more people to identify themselves as stewards of the planet, well, amen to that!

According to the American Religious Identification Survey conducted in 2001, 81 percent of respondents identified themselves as adherents of some organized religion. The estimated population of the US now stands at 304 million people, and if each of those self-identified religious individuals chose to demonstrate their spiritual beliefs by taking care of what was created for them, there would be more than 245 million crusaders for the environment in the US. Surely by taking steps toward living a sustainable lifestyle in the here and now, they’d all secure their place in heaven … or wherever they’d like to go from here.

– Audrey Webb

Want to get your congregation involved? Visit to order one or more copies of the DVD for your next gathering.

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