With his biblically inspired message of conservation, alumnus J. Matthew Sleeth does not seem like the typical environmentalist.
But the 1984 graduate of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and author of the introduction to the first-ever “Green Bible” encourages people to change their lifestyles and fulfill the biblical ideal of protecting the earth.
“Have you ever heard a sermon about trees?” asked Sleeth, who also wrote “Serve God, Save the Planet.” “Most haven’t.”
The Green Bible, released last Friday, highlights the more than 1,000 scriptural references to the environment. Printed with soy-based inks on recycled paper, the book also includes essays from such religious figures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II and Jewish environmentalist Ellen Bernstein.
A few years ago, Sleeth said he gave up a successful medical career, a large house, luxury cars and a suburban lifestyle.
His home in Kentucky is free of paper products, and he uses about 10 percent of the electricity that his neighbors use, Sleet said. He also has a garden and buys only locally raised meat, eggs and dairy products.
Sleeth said he started his green lifestyle after realizing that nature cannot be taken for granted.
He pointed to Montgomery County, Md., which at one time had more dairy farms than any other county. Now, there is only one dairy farm left.
“Who’s going to put the breaks on?” he asked.
Sleeth turned to his faith and the Bible for answers. He found an environmental message in almost every biblical story.
“Trees are the most talked about living thing in the Bible besides people,” he said.
Sleeth said he wrote “Serve God, Save the Planet” to discuss his ideas and to inspire other Christians to act as well. Part of his philosophy centers on the idea that much of our society is not happy and that our idea of wealth is skewed. He said people need to regain a connection to nature that has been lost over the years.
Sleeth said that he once asked the audience during a lecture how many had seen the Milky Way.
“No one raised their hand,” said Sleeth, who has spoken at more than 950 times at churches, colleges and other organizations about being green.
Initially, Sleeth said he received a lot of criticism for his work. Many evangelicals were wary of joining the environmental movement because of its connections to liberalism and Democratic politics.
Pat Robertson, the longtime leader of Republican evangelicals, accused a group of Christian environmentalists of working with “far-left” environmentalists. The evangelist group Christian Restoration Association referred to Sleeth when they wrote that “at some point people must be held responsible for culpability that borders on stupidity.”
More recently, Sleeth’s critics have become much more receptive to his ideas and the environmental movement itself. Even Robertson said the evangelical environmentalists had made “a convert out of me” and joined the “We Can Solve Coalition” to fight global warming.
Sleeth said that because his ideas are based on the Bible’s teachings, it appeals in large part to evangelicals, giving them another reason to join the green movement.
“Give them a few years and eventually they will face this reality as well,” Sleeth said of his current critics.
Sleeth acknowledged that you don’t have to believe in God to be an environmentalist, but he said that his faith motivates him and now others to respect the earth.