Established in 1993, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) is a progressive association of four independent faith groups: the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life, the Evangelical Environmental Network, the National Council of Churches, and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (formerly the United States Catholic Conference). NRPE is also a member of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection.
The NRPE was originally formed out of a series of interfaith initiatives that began in 1990 and reached a decisive point on May 12, 1992 with the “Declaration of the ‘Mission to Washington,’” which was made by the Joint Appeal by Religion and Science for the Environment. Headed by progressive environmentalist Paul Gorman and co-chaired by pop scientist Carl Sagan, this group met in Washington DC and was comprised of leading figures from the above faith organizations, government, prestigious universities, and leading environmental groups like Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Rainforest Alliance, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Wilderness Society, and the World Resources Institute.
The Declaration included a condemnation of America as “the leading polluter on Earth” which “generat[es] more greenhouse gases, especially CO2, than any other country.” The signatories also contended that America, due to its culpability, bore the primary responsibility to affect (and finance) global environmental change.
After the May 12 Declaration, senior representatives of the four faith organizations signed a number of resolutions which included the future formation of the NRPE. The founders of the new organization were Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell (former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches), Al Gore, Paul Gorman, Dean James Morton, and Carl Sagan. Others closely involved in directing NRPE’s development through this period were:
John Carr, an activist with the Catholic Conference that worked in partnership with John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO and Ernesto Cortes of the Saul Alinsky-founded Industrial Areas Foundation, and a longtime board member of the Center for Community Change
In October 1993, the NRPE officially began operations, with Gorman as its Executive Director, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2010. As of mid-2010, five of NRPE’s six trustees were still the signatories of the original Declaration. These included Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell; John Carr; Dr. John Ruskay (the Executive Vice President & CEO of the UJA Federation of New York since 1999); Rabbi David Saperstein, (co-founder of the Faith in Public Life network; board member for the NAACP and the People for the American Way; and director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism); and Ronald Sider. Rounding out the board was Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches U.S.A.
NRPE views its environmental mission as a religious quest. According to Dr. Sider, “Christians must become vigorous environmentalists because God’s Word demands it, because we are destroying the Creator’s garden, and because many secular environmentalists are on a deep spiritual pilgrimage.” “The way to defeat Satan,” he stated, “is for all Christians to become committed environmentalists and to ground their struggles to save the earth on solid biblical foundations.”
NRPE warns that “the ways we produce and use energy are wounding God’s creation.” In order to prevent catastrophe, the organization advocates a fundamental transformation of “our cities and transportation systems in the direction of a sustainable economy.” For Paul Gorman, moreover, green policies alone cannot solve the climate crisis: “We don’t believe we are going to reverse the environmental crisis by simply passing laws. We have to change the human understanding of its place and purpose in creation. Unless you have that fundamental change in values, many of us believe environmental degradation will be irreversible.”