While climate change can be a politically polarizing issue in faith communities across the nation, an evangelical denomination hopes to foster healthy discussions.
The S.C. Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's newly launched Creation Care Task Force has representation in more than a dozen churches across the Palmetto State, where houses of worship are planning to launch community gardens and are talking more about ways to protect the earth.
One congregation, All Saints Lutheran Church, plans to break ground in February on a new community space to grow produce, said the Rev. Kris Litman-Koon, pastor of the Mount Pleasant-based church. The church hopes to donate locally grown food to the East Cooper Community Outreach, which offers groceries to families in crisis.
“Our hope is that we’ll also begin some educational opportunities," said Litman-Koon, who also spearheads the statewide task force. "We’re having conversations about how we can better use the land that we have."
The task force hosted its inaugural event late last year at the Coastal Retreat Center, where 25 Lutherans from across the country gathered in Isle of Palms to discuss how humans should care for the environment.
The retreat featured presentations from various organizations and individuals whose work involves environmental sustainability and protections, such as the Isle of Palms sea turtle rescue team, a group of volunteers who discussed ways Charleston-area congregations can address climate issues.
Brandon Bowers, who operates Bowers Farm S.C. in Newberry County, shared knowledge about his company's environmentally conscious farming practices, which also benefit the community.
An active Lutheran, Bowers said he initially got into farming as an effort to be a good steward over God's creation. Joining the Creation Care Task Force has been an extension of that commitment, he said.
After the church's Isle of Palms meeting last November, he's been inspired to feature online more of his farm's sustainable aspects that also benefit local businesses, such as the farm's practices of using locally sourced feeds and a South Carolina processor.
“Sometimes, it's portrayed that all farming is bad for the environment," he said. “It can be done in a more natural way.”
Stances around climate change and the environment differ along racial and denominational lines.
Just above 35 percent of white evangelicals believe there is no solid evidence that the Earth is getting warmer, while 20 percent of black protestants said the same, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey.
Regarding off-shore drilling, the survey noted 70 percent of white evangelical favor more offshore oil and gas drilling, while 66 percent of white mainline adults and and 46 percent of protestants oppose the drilling.
These differences have been heightened in today's political climate, said Litman-Koon, who noted the challenge of having conversations that don't develop into arguments during this politically polarizing period.
The pastor said there's historically been an acceptance within the Lutheran church of God's calling for believers to engage in environmental stewardship. In South Carolina, particularly the Lowcountry, there's a consensus that environmental stewardship is nonpartisan, he said.
“We can model this for the rest of the country," the minister said.
Other Lowcountry churches have long embraced environmental preservation.
Circular Congregational Church has aimed to be climate-conscious through its educational building, which uses geothermal heating and contains a rooftop garden meant to be environmentally sensitive, said the Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, pastor of the downtown church.
The pastor said the church increased its efforts towards sustainability last year after hearing rallying calls to address climate issues from youth across the globe.
Those efforts included the church considering steps it could take toward becoming a net-zero carbon emissions church. Some steps have entailed using a tool that calculates carbon emissions whenever church members take trips. The church aims to offset the cost by sustainable practices, like planting trees.
Additionally, while the church still maintains Sunday morning printed bulletins, the congregation has slimmed down the number of pages it uses for annual reports at yearly meetings, Rutledge said.
"We’re trying to account for the environmental costs," the minister said.