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Going green with God

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Most Americans would say Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth had the good life. He was a physician, drove a fancy car, owned a nice home and shared it all with a family. But something was missing, he says.

In his new book "Serve God, Save the Planet," Dr. Sleeth tells the story of his transition from the "good life" to a life built on serving God by being a proper steward of the environment.

A graduate of George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr. Sleeth now spends his time writing and teaching about faith and environment. He also founded and maintains a Web site, www.servegodsavetheplanet.org. The following are excerpts from an interview with Dr. Sleeth:

Question: Why should Christians be concerned about global warming?

Answer: The Bible says that the Earth belongs to the Lord, and it says that repeatedly. Humans have been given dominion. However, when I was a kid, I was given dominion over a bicycle, but my parents didn't have the resources to give me another bicycle. If I left it out in the rain, that was the end of that. The Bible says the Earth is the Lord's footstool and is therefore sacred. So, are we here on Earth to be humble and thankful or to be "gimme, gimme"?

Q: The title of the book is "Serve God, Save the Planet." Is there a reason "Serve God" comes first?

A: Yes. When Christ is asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He says you first have to love God with all your heart, mind and strength, and secondly love your neighbor. Our first direction has to be to God, but we do that by serving our neighbor and being stewards of Earth.

Q: Have you read "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore, and do you agree with it?

A: I have not read the book, but I did see the movie and found it to be interesting. At the end, Al Gore says that caring for the environment is a moral imperative. I agree, but I think that is only half the truth. You can't have morality without God.

Q: By fighting global warming, are Christians being forced to stand side by side with non-Christian environmentalists?

A: I believe everything good comes from God. God writes that goodness into every piece of the universe. Even those people who don't attribute that goodness to God recognize the need to care for Earth. For the most part, if it is good for the Earth or our neighbor, then it is what God wants.

Q: In your book, there is very little science. You seem to begin with the scientific assumptions, and then lay out an outline for how Christians should respond. However, what is your opinion on the debate within science about global warming?

A: That is one thing where I'd have to say I agree with Al Gore. There isn't debate within the scientific community that says it isn't a problem. There are four or five scientists going around saying it isn't, similar to the four or five scientists who went around saying that cigarettes weren't bad for you. I left a lot of science out of the book in order to focus on a more personal level because humans tend to tune the science out. We aren't scientific beings; we are spiritual beings.

Q: How do you respond to those who say your position is anti-technology?

A: There has been fairly intensive work on alternative energy sources for a long time. However, America currently gets 1 percent of our energy from alternative energy, compared with the 4 percent we got when I was a child. If you get a refrigerator that is twice as efficient, but buy three of them, you haven't solved anything. Conservation is our only hope.

Q: What is your opinion on the Kyoto Protocol?

A: As far as I know, I believe we should not only meet that standard but beat it.

Q: How would you respond to someone who says that measures such as Kyoto, which call for a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions, hurt the poor, rather than help, because they raise the cost of energy?

A: The poor are the most adversely affected by pollution. I go at things on a personal level. I don't think we are giving enough time or money to the poor. We have regulated that to bureaucracy. If Christians owned that issue personally, we'd see that even tithing isn't enough on an issue like this. We aren't as generous a people as we think. We need to own that at the church level. It is our responsibility.

Q: How has your new lifestyle affected your life?

A: I would say that my family is much healthier. We have a shared goal and a shared interest, and that has brought us closer to God. Everything the Bible tells us to do -- such as clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and visiting the prisoner -- comes with a blessing. We are told to do those things, not just because God says so, but because it makes us healthier. When we do them, we start to live a conscious life, which is what Christ calls us to do.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is in the same situation that you were?

A: To seek first the kingdom of heaven. To change your viewpoint and to go to the Bible. Society is weary. We are tired of carrying this burden of materialism.

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