Posted by: carlsafina | Sunday, March 29 09

Allies in Ann Arbor

I spent last weekend visiting evangelical Christians at several gatherings in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was surprised by the warm, and indeed, enthusiastic welcome I received. It’s not every day that a secular environmentalist gets a standing ovation from evangelicals in a church. But the message that we are all in this together resonates with people hungry to feel part of something larger, better, more important, and more transcendent than continued sniping.

Carl Safina at the University of Michigan Friendship Collaborative workshop

Carl Safina at the University of Michigan Friendship Collaborative workshop

It can be science and religion; it doesn’t have to be science versus religion. We don’t have to believe all the same stuff, and we can work together with regard to those things we all value.  And we have a lot in common. We share a profound moral sense that we must be good stewards of the world and its creatures.

One of the events was a workshop of “The Friendship Collaborative.” I have co-founded this effort with Ann Arbor Vineyard Church Pastor Ken Wilson to bring scientists and faith groups into dialogue about our shared moral commitment to conserve and restore the natural world. One objective is to help extinguish the “culture wars,” show our shared humanity, communicate science to culturally influential faith-based audiences, and express our need to work to alleviate environmental problems for nature and people worldwide.
See for example:
Some of the peacemaking tone of this project is reflected in this condensed excerpt from Rev. Ken Wilson’s website:
“Someone asked me: ‘Why are you having someone who doesn’t believe in God speak at church?’ I invited Carl to speak because I think we can learn something from him. More than that, I think we can feel something from him. We can feel love for God’s good earth and we can feel humility. I think Jesus wants to give us more of both and he’s planning to use Carl to do that. Can God use someone who doesn’t believe that he exists?  Read your Bibles and tell me. I’ve read mine and believe that he can and he does.”

I can only say, I had a terrific time, I realized more than ever that we share more than we disagree on, I got many very kind comments, and the church band let me sit in on drums.

I think this was a much more pro-science use of my time than talking to scientists or bashing religion. One might say that in the spirit of evangelism and my mission, I was spreading scientific understanding to people who don’t normally get to see and hear a scientist and ask him questions.  

Religious and scientific groups have often regarded each other as enemies. That’s been damaging. We can do better.

Ken Wilson at the University of Michigan Friendship Collaborative workshop

Ken Wilson at the University of Michigan Friendship Collaborative workshop

As we were recently reminded by Mac Maharaj, who has been described by the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen as the last African National Congress fighter to give up, “It sounds so simple, it sounds silly, but it really is: You don’t make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies, and the only way you end a conflict is to accept that premise.”

When I was a kid, it was widely recognized that America was based on religious freedom. Religion was not politicized. People were free to believe what they wanted, everyone assumed most people had some kind of religious faith, and we seemed to focus more on what we shared as Americans, in the same society. I hope that with these dialogues we can help recover that spirit of freedom and cooperation, and elevate both science and humanity in the service of community, our environment, and the creatures with whom we share the planet.



  1. “It sounds so simple, it sounds silly, but it really is: You don’t make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies, and the only way you end a conflict is to accept that premise.”

    an epiphany, a eureka moment, a d’oh moment, (as in homer simpson) a jesus moment, a mandela moment, a ghandi moment, PEACE WITH YOUR ENEMIES

    who’d have thought it

    mike brooks

  2. I am most Thankful for water.

    We swim in it, we drink it, we cleanse ourselves in it. It is a symbol of Spiritual Baptism. We use it to grow our food. We can see our reflection in it. We draw it, take pictures of it….enjoy the reflection of a beautiful sunrise. We learn from the ripples of a skipped pebble. We understand water’s strong current and the danger it could pose. We use it as a means of transportation. We enjoy the power of an ocean tide. We acknowledge water, its danger, that it can destroy us, our home and our families. We use it for energy. Water is AWESOME! And that is Only one aspect of planet earth. We ALL NEED to do OUR part in caring for OUR HOME!

  3. Hi Carl,

    I’m a Christian from Ann Arbor. I don’t speak for Vineyard. I speak for myself. I too warmly welcome you to my town. My family and I would GLADLY have you over for dinner and help you with anything you ever needed.

    At the same time, I VEHEMENTLY disagree with Ken’s decision to invite you to our church to speak from the pulpit.

    I’m sure you understand – you being an atheist and all.

    So, I wish you all the best, I see nothing wrong with people being exposed to your take on the environment and I’m sure we BOTH have a lot we can learn from EACH other.

    I just fundamentally reject the notion that somehow ‘science’ as we’ve allowed largely hostile or agnostic towards God individuals to define it has anything to say to Christians.

    To me, the fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of knowledge.

    Without that, you’re just traipsing around in the dark.

    Ok…Just thought you’d enjoy hearing a respectful, but decidedly MINORITY, take on your recent visit.



  4. I write as one person who’s heart was touched by your message to the Ann Arbor Vineyard. The stories and the pictures gave voice to the animals and people that have been affected by our indifference. It may be human nature to avoid blame by pointing fingers at one another. If we continue to do this the window of opportunity for change may have passed before we settle on who is at fault.

    Love for our neighbors compels us to care about the plight of impoverished people of the world and the natural resources they depend on to survive. Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

    With that in mind, I hope to add my “drop” to help change the destruction of our oceans. Thank you Dr. Safina, for opening my heart to the problem.

  5. I want to post another voice in support of your visit to our pulpit, Carl, to reflect the large majority of folks who were deeply blessed by your visit to our church in Ann Arbor. We do not give standing ovations lightly, like the one we gave to you. Your presence was a gift to us all.

    Though “fear of the Lord” may be the beginning of knowledge, that doesn’t preclude listening to the many other sources of wisdom in the world. Carl, thank you for having the courage to step into our church and speaking about your passionate stewardship and concern for the ocean and all life that depends on it. Your words resonate with the words in Romans about “the whole creation…moaning together in the pains of labor…” – we saw that moaning and *felt* that moaning in your slides and facts and stories.

    Indeed, we have much common ground.

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