Bellamy urges the church to go green

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PROFESSOR David Bellamy is calling on the Church to establish an eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not pollute the planet.

The respected television botanist is urging Christians to become the leading lights in the green movement, saying they should stop gazing at heaven and start saving the Earth if the planet is to survive the next millennium.

In a speech to 200 delegates at an ecumenical conference in London today, Professor Bellamy will warn that Britons are losing touch with the "spirituality of creation" and replacing it with "the arrogance of self-importance". Christians must "take up the cross of Soulship" and "set this country firmly on the road to a biodiverse, sustainable future", he will say.

The millennium provides the perfect opportunity to repent of our green sins, he believes. And the professor, who founded the Conservation Foundation, feels the time "could not be riper" for all church land to go organic. He will outline his vision of an organic "year-round harvest festival" run by the Christian churches. Parishioners could cultivate organic produce in vicarage gardens and church buildings could be used as centres of distribution. "Dare I even go as far as saying supplying the village school and those on social benefit with good wholesome food?" he will ask. "Yes, I dare, for the power of Soulship is awesome indeed."

Professor Bellamy will also commend the 5,000 parishes that have signed up to plant special yew trees - "cuttings taken from trees that were alive here in Britain when Christ spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness" - to mark the millennium.

The Rev Christopher Brice, director of the Social Policy and Community Development Agency of the diocese of London, organised today's London Churches Conference on the Environment in Southwark Cathedral. "If the Church doesn't do a lot of thinking and work ... there's a danger that activists, who at their most extreme could tend towards a form of green fascism or even paganism, will claim the platform," he said yesterday.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, counts the environment as one of his "abiding interests", so much so that during his time as Bishop of Bath and Wells he was known as "the green bishop". Dr Carey has in the past criticised the Church's generally "patchy" and undistinguished" contribution to public debate on the environment.

The Rev Oliver O'Donovan, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford University and canon of Christ Church, expects that churches will be sympathetic to some of Professor Bellamy's recommendations, but suspicious of others. "There will be suspicion of the rhetoric, the talk about `Soulship' and `spirituality', which is not very likely to clarify our relationships to non-human nature," he said yesterday.

A spokesman for the Church of England said that the environment had been on its agenda for the past three decades. Regarding the Church's responsibilities as a large farmland owner, he said: "Stewardship of the environment is one part of the Church's duty to offer ministry, worship and pastoral care to all in this country, but not everyone in the Church would make it their first priority."

Some parts of the Church tend to take the view that human beings, made as they are "in God's image", should be the first priority and that, since God moves in mysterious ways, he will come up with an answer to the pollution.

"The Church needs to get to the point where it looks on environmental pollution as a sin," Mr Brice said.