“What do a well-to-do emergency room physician and non-profit founder devoted to caring for the earth have in common? Nothing, except they are the same person.” – Dr. Matthew Sleeth
For years, Sleeth and his family lived a wealthy New England life with all of the perks — until the family patriarch converted to Christianity about 10 years ago. Eventually the rest of his family followed and their life change began.
Gone was the enormous home, multiple cars, overabundance of material possessions and the mentality that everything belonged to them. In was a newfound appreciation for the planet and a dedication to caring for it through faith, an uncommon mingling of environmentalism and religion.
Sleeth spent a solid year of research and study and authored the book “Serve God, Save the Planet.” Eventually he and his wife, Nancy Sleeth (also an author), founded Blessed Earth — an educational nonprofit headquartered on Old Vine Street. The organization’s mission is to “inspire and equip people of faith to become better stewards of the earth.”
“We’ve been really blessed,” Sleeth said. “I now get to speak and teach and preach and write constantly about that.”
Through churches, colleges, universities, seminaries and media outreach, Blessed Earth seeks to “build bridges that promote measurable environmental change and meaningful spiritual growth.”
But Sleeth is not quick to call himself an environmentalist.
“For many, the term ‘environmentalist’ connotes a scientific expertise that I don’t have,” he said. “However, to the extent that the places we live are degraded and need attention and restoration, I am an ardent supporter of doing what is prescribed by both environmental science and biblical mandate — ‘to tend and protect the planet’ (Genesis 2:15).”
Blessed Earth focuses on educational partnerships with those in the faith community and does a lot of work with churches.
But not just any churches. Sleeth recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak at The National Cathedral for a series of eight sermons. He also visited the White House as part of a recognition of churches that have made great strides in stewardship of the earth.
And his work is paying off. Traditionally, he pointed out, evangelical Christians have not always focused on the environment.
“I think to some extent that’s been true and to some extent that’s changing,” Sleeth said. “We in the church have a language around it. We have gone to our Bibles and looked to see what the Bible has to say. For me, it’s not about a political point of view, it’s about finding out what God says, period.”
Now, he said, churches and seminaries are jumping on board. For example, Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore now has geothermal heating and community gardens.
“There’s evidence that you can’t argue with,” he added. “We can argue global warming — is it real or not — but you can’t argue with the fact that you can’t eat fish out of half of the rivers. You can’t argue with pollution, and the fact of missing species and that sort of thing.”
Sleeth said he is often kept up at night with the burden of responsibility to take care of the earth and to share with others what the Bible says about good stewardship of resources.
Along with that is the burden he has for good stewardship of his fellow humans’ time and well-being. His next book, “24/6,” will go into detail about the fourth commandment (keeping the Sabbath holy).
Caring for people goes hand-in-hand with caring for the environment for Sleeth, and understanding the work of the church and what the Bible says is key to caring for the environment. But, he also acknowledges that Christian or not, good work is done by all sorts of people to better the health of the planet.
“Someone doesn’t have to believe in what I believe in order for them to support what I’m doing,” he said.
And the secular community is taking note of what he is doing. Sleeth was just named the Big Thinker of the Year for the Sierra Club and also made an hour-long appearance on NPR talking about Blessed Earth’s activities and mission.
Practically speaking, he is like anyone else trying to preserve the planet.
“I’ve moved to a place where I can walk almost anywhere — two blocks to the grocery store, three blocks to work, five blocks to both of my children’s homes,” Sleeth said. “This may sound like an advertisement for Chevy Chase, but it’s really an ad for living close to where you work or go to school.
“We installed compost systems at home and we have a plot in a community garden,” he continued. “Amongst other things, we dry our clothes without a dryer, light our home with LED bulbs, and don’t buy a lot of stuff we don’t need ... but we are not perfect and are still on a journey. If we can do 10 percent better each year, we know we are on the right path.”
BOOK RELEASE PARTY
The Morris Book Shop will host a release party for Sleeth’s forthcoming book, “24/6,” at 6 p.m. Nov. 30. For more information on other titles or the organization, visit www.blessedearth.org.