Volunteers plant a rain garden at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church School in Annapolis, MD. (2019/Alicia Pimental/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Whenever we read a news article involving the interaction between different religious groups, it is difficult not to assume the worst. Tales of religiously motivated hate, violence and discrimination dominate headlines, presenting a bleak verdict on the possibility of religious pluralism.

Yet these stories do not paint the whole picture. For every reported instance of religious intolerance, there are countless untold instances of different religious groups working together, solving issues in their communities and uniting around just causes.

Religious communities have a tremendous potential to do good when they come together. Groups who focus on their similarities rather than differences, have so much to offer in terms of making the world a better place.

Stewardship of our environment is a perfect starting point from which to foster this type of interreligious dialogue. Nearly all of the world’s religious traditions recognize the intimate connection between all forms of life, as well as the role of humans as caretakers of the Earth.

Acknowledging this shared reverence for nature among different religions is a great path for seeing the beauty in other traditions. I was raised a Christian yet cannot help but feel inspired when I read passages in the Quran talking about the divine sending down rain to “give life thereby to the Earth after its lifelessness” — or Guru Granth Sahib telling his followers that “Air is the Guru, water is the Father, and Earth is the Great Mother of all.”

Indeed, while I was working for Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, I often saw people request copies of prayers they heard during meetings, even when those prayers were from a faith tradition not their own.

There is no reason why religious voices should not be among the loudest in the room when it comes to environmental advocacy. In addition to funds and material resources, religious groups bring with them incredible spiritual, moral and social assets. When multiple religious groups leverage their combined resources, the possibility for positive change is enormous.

We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that is blessed with religious diversity. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, two of the top 10 most religiously diverse counties in the U.S. are in Maryland — Montgomery and Howard counties. Imagine the impact if all religious groups in the area spoke with one voice on environmental conservation.

During my time with Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, I witnessed firsthand the inspirational power of religions working together.

A large part of my role as head of the organization’s “green team” mentorship program was to provide opportunities for people to learn from each other.  Our mentors often work with environmentally focused teams from other religious traditions, and seeing these relationships grow was one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

When I left Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake in the summer [of 2022], I did so with a renewed optimism in the power of interfaith work and a surging hope that religious communities in the area will continue to do all they can to faithfully preserve the waters of the Bay.

The divine does not belong to one group of people. Nor does the Earth. And much like the divine, the Earth will be here long after we are all gone.

It is up to us to honor creation by ensuring that what we leave behind is safe and sustainable. Let us join together, as people of all faiths, to make this so.

Maryland native Peter Hoogstraten is an AmeriCorps member who served as a coordinator of volunteer programs for the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. This commentary was first published in July 2022 on interfaithchesapeake.org.

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