Anti-SUV query: What would Jesus drive?
A Boston-area protest questioning the ethics of gas-guzzlers had unusual sponsors: clergy.
At first glance, the half-dozen cars could pass for a wedding procession.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But look again. A hand-lettered message on the back of a green sport-utility vehicle reads: "Just married to the pump." Four empty gas cans dangle from the rear bumper, and yellow police tape serves as streamers. On one door, the words "SUV + GAS" are encircled with a heart.
Don't bother looking for the bride and groom. This eye-catching vehicle is part of an anti-SUV rally held Saturday near Boston, along a strip lined with auto dealerships.
At a time of high gasoline prices and SUV-safety concerns, the vehicular icons of the 1990s are already taking some heat. But this SUV protest is unusual for the kind of people who participated and helped organize it: local churchgoers and members of the clergy.
Call it Harvard Divinity School takes on Detroit.
The 100 or so protesters on this rain-soaked day, with children and a golden retriever in tow, have launched a moral crusade that they hope will ultimately transform America's car-buying habits. But they are up against a formidable foe: products whose rugged, ready-for-anything image has captured legions of consumers.
"We're asking our neighbors not to buy sport-utility vehicles when they purchase their next cars. We want to let the dealers know that customers need cleaner choices," says Bill McKibben, author of "The End of Nature" and a fellow at Harvard Divinity School's Center for the Study of Values in Public Life.
Mr. McKibben, a Methodist but not a minister, organized the event with others who tap into the theme of environmental stewardship as part of a divine plan. In this case, their religious views led to a simple, urgent message: Gas-gulping SUVs and the environment are not a marriage made in heaven.
"The environmental movement calls communities of faith to move our prayer out of the sanctuaries and into the public square," says Fred Small, pastor of First Unitarian Universalist Church in Littleton, Mass. "Certain issues are so compelling and so morally demanding, that religious leaders must exercise our prophetic role."
But are Americans ready for their car-lot consumerism to reach theological heights?
For car shoppers in Lynn last Saturday, happiness meant being left alone. Aware of the rally, several were unwilling to talk to a reporter.
Still, while the protesters here may not have won overnight converts, they do represent a fresh infusion of energy for the environmental movement.
Even as some see complacency among traditional environmentalists, "stewardship of creation ... has been emerging over the last few years as a more important piece of the agenda for many religious communities," says Robert Massie, an Episcopal priest in Boston and executive director of CERES, a national environmental coalition.
In late May, the National Council of Churches held a four-day conference in Washington completely devoted to environmental issues. More than 350 religious leaders from 40 states participated.