Gary Stuard hopes Interfaith Environmental Alliance will educate congregations, mobilize faith communities around conservation
A gay parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Dallas has launched a nonprofit organization aimed at getting churches involved in environmental issues, from changing their light fixtures to advocating legislation to combat global warming.
Gary Stuard, who joined the heavily LGBT Episcopal parish on Inwood Road last year, said the goal of the Interfaith Environmental Alliance is two-fold.
First, he said, the group can help congregations "green" themselves by educating them about things like energy conservation, community gardens and recycling.
Second, in an overwhelmingly religious state, the alliance can help mobilize faith communities to advocate on behalf of environmentally responsible public policy.
"All religious communities need to address this, because this is the moral crisis of our century, and it may be the ultimate test," Stuard said of climate change.
"If we don’t step up to the plate, then what’s the use of religion?
"Even though I have faith in God, I don’t’ think God is going to magically pop in and save our hides," he added. "It’s up to us."
Stuard said the alliance, currently in the process of obtaining tax-exempt status, is the only organization of its kind in Texas and one of the few faith-based groups dedicated to environmental issues nationally.
So far, he said, about 25 congregations from various denominations have signed on — including about 10 in both Dallas and Fort Worth and a handful in Waco.
Stuard acknowledges that getting the alliance going has been a challenge, partly because conservative congregations in Texas tend to dismiss scientific truths about climate change.
But Stuard said the alliance is gradually gaining momentum and that its supporters have no choice but to succeed.
"We have to do this," he said. "If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere. The key is to reach those who have a better chance of hearing it, and get them hooked in."
Stuard hopes to eventually develop a strong grassroots base that can be mobilized to influence lawmakers in Austin and Washington when key legislation comes up.
"The history is they’ve probably heard very, very little from religious folks," Stuard said. "But if they start hearing from Baptists and Jews and Catholics and Lutherans and Presbyterians raising holy hell, then maybe they’ll start taking it a little bit more seriously."
Stuard, who lives in the Lakewood Heights area of Dallas with his partner of five years, works as a research coordinator at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
A former Buddhist monk, Stuard said the idea for the alliance was born from his belief that nothing exists separately from anything else, and that ecology is fundamental to everything.
"Humanity is not separate from nature," he said. "Humanity is part of nature."
Raised near Houston in a conservative Independent Bible Church, Stuard said he harbored a lot of anger and guilt.
After studying philosophy and social work at the University of Houston, he joined a monastery in France for four years in the mid-1990s, but later received a "calling" to return to the U.S. —and Christianity.
"My life’s journey has been interfaith," he said.
Stuard said he’s known he was gay since he was 13 but didn’t come out until he was 27. He also said his experience as a gay man has helped shape his environmental advocacy.
"I know what injustice feels like," he said. "I know what it means to feel less than human. Compassion is not an abstract concept to me."
For more information about the Interfaith Environmental Alliance, go too www.iea-tx.org, or e-mail Stuard at email@example.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.