Speaker to explore God, environmental links

Posted: Monday, April 08, 2002

Christianity and environmentalism have had a turbulent relationship in American society. But according to Peter Illyn, they are inseparably linked and augment each other.

Illyn, an outspoken advocate of Christian conservationism, is touring Alaska and will speak on the Kenai Peninsula this week. The title of his talk is "The Theology of Wild." He will be in Homer at 7 tonight at the Homer United Methodist Church and Tuesday in Soldotna at 7 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church on the Kenai Spur Highway.

Illyn heads a group called Restoring Eden, based in Washing-ton. Its goal is to make environmental stewardship a core value of the Christian community.

"Our message is simple," the group's Web site said.

"God is a good God. God made a good Earth. God calls us to be good stewards."

Illyn's own background includes fundamentalist Christian credentials but defies stereotypes.

Born into a Russian Orthodox family, he became a Pentecostalist, went into the ministry and became an assistant pastor with the Foursquare Gospel Church in La Center, Wash. At that point, he also attended college, earning degrees in advertising and marketing.

Seeking God's guidance in his life, he set out on a 1,000-mile hike up the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington, accompanied only by his Bible and pack llamas. Reading scripture by the campfire and contemplating what he saw, he fell in love with the wilderness.

In March 2001, Outside magazine did a feature story on Illyn and the movement nicknamed "God's greens."

"I went in as a preacher on sabbatical," Illyn told the magazine. "I came out a Christian environmentalist."

He resigned his post in 1989, went into business offering llama packing trips.

At the same time, he offered his services to a growing network of organizations promoting the spiritual side of environmentalism and the natural side of Christian faith. Such groups focus on respect and care for God's creation, rights of indigenous peoples and the ability of wilderness meditation to bring people closer to the divine.

Illyn works mostly with young people, traveling to Christian rock festivals, college campuses and churches throughout the Pacific Northwest.

He has attracted his share of controversy. Many politically conservative Christians are skeptical of his message. Recently he has butted heads with the Alaska Congressional delegation and the Voice of the Times in Anchorage over his stance against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain.

"Hopefully religion still has the power to remind us that there is more to life than money," he wrote in a rebuttal to his critics.

Illyn recognizes that conservation issues are hot-button political and economic topics in Alaska, but said it is important to consider moral and ethical implications of stewardship decisions from a biblical perspective. Environmental issues are not front and center for most churches, but are neglected and avoided, he said.

Soldotna organizers predict the evening will include a lively discussion of faith and nature. The presentation is free and open to people of all creeds. A free-will offering will be collected.

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