Written by Emily Mullins
Larry Rasmussen was first enlightened to the connection between Christianity and environmentalism in the 1970s by his then doctoral advisor at Union Theological Seminary, Roger Shinn. Shinn, an early proponent of fostering sustainable societies, taught his students that, "You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet." Those words stuck with Rasmussen, a member of the United Church of Santa Fe UCC in Santa Fe, N.M., and inspired him to write an award-winning book, "Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key," which was recently recognized as the Nautilus Book Awards 2014 Gold Winner in the category of Ecology/Environment, as well as the Grand Winner for the best book across each of the competition's 27 categories.
"While my book comes decades later, the original impulse came from Roger Shinn's prescience about what lay ahead," Rasmussen said. "From then on, we students never left the agenda of justice, peace, and creation as a single reality. If social justice is not also creation justice, it will fail."
"Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key," addresses the issue that, given the planetary crisis humans face, the world has no option but to change or perish. Rasmussen answers the question of how to change by rejecting the modern assumption that morality applies to human society alone and insisting that humans must derive a spiritual and ecological ethic that accounts for the well-being of all creation. The book is dedicated in part to his church, the United Church of Santa Fe.
"The United Church of Santa Fe is a dedicatee of the book because it has demonstrated exemplary leadership in creation awareness and care in being at home to the particular genius of the desert as its community and context of faith," Rasmussen said. "The congregation not only worships in the desert but, more importantly, with it."
Environmental ministry has been a central focus of the United Church of Santa Fe since its beginning in 1980. But despite the church's efforts, the Rev. Talitha Arnold, pastor of United Church of Santa Fe, has found it challenging to bridge the divide between the environmental movement and the Christian church. She adds that environmentalists often view Christians as being "anti-science" or "creationists," a theory that can cause even progressive Christians to overlook creation care as part of their call to social justice.
"Dr. Rasmussen's book bridges that chasm," Arnold said. "It challenges people of faith to find their voice – biblically, theologically, scientifically, even musically – in this important work. It also challenges environmentalists to take the church's role seriously."
The Nautilus Book Awards consider academic and general-interest books, as well as works in poetry and photography. Submissions are judged using a three-tier review process, with Silver, Gold and Grand Winners selected from books that make it to the third round. Because a rating system is used, there may be multiple winners for Silver and Gold in each subject category, but only one Grand Winner is chosen. The Nautilus Book Awards have been recognizing exemplary works for the past 15 years.
"I am elated that a book in religious ethics addressing the huge challenges of a changing planet gets this level of recognition," said Rasmussen. "Normally religious studies aren't consulted for such cross-over, interdisciplinary consideration. However, times are no longer normal and I take this award as one more sign of a new partnership for religion and science as both seek to cope with growing threats to life on a diminished planet."