Drive along many of Appalachia's scenic byways, and you may not notice what's just over the ridge. A Tennessee-based Christian group is calling for all of us to peer closer, before it's too late. "Only God Should Move Mountains," declares the flyer full of questions and answers, pasted with photos of rust-colored water and bare slices of stone where forests once stood. The flyer is from Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship, a group taking a prayerful, thoughtful approach to today's problems with mountaintop removal mining. As evidence grows that today's mining practices create far fewer jobs than ever before, while leaving communities devastated from disease and pollution, LEAF is trying to educate the faith community.
Mountaintop Removal Mining on Zeb Mountain in Campbell County, TN
A flyover shown in the documentary Renewaloffers evangelical Christian leaders a chance to see clearly what's happened to Appalachia's most valuable natural resources. The tour of mountaintop removal sites, those that nonprofit groups estimate have literally blown up more than 450 mountains in the Southeast, powerfully brings together visuals, personal testimonies and human reactions. Documentaries like this, along with flyers and books, are resources LEAF offers to Tennessee churches. Executive Director Pat Hudson explained that LEAF organized in memory of church youth leader, Christian environmentalist and cancer victim Kathy Lindquist. "She lived every day like it was her last," shared Hudson. "She had a deep awareness of wanting to make a difference and wanting to use every day to try to make a difference." The last church newsletter topic Lindquist had written about before her death from cancer in 2005 was mountaintop removal. Her church founded LEAF that same year, tackling tough environmental issues from the standpoint of a God-given responsibility for creation care.
Mountaintop Removal Mining on Windrock or Cross Mountain in Campbell County, TNCourtesy: LEAF
The latest session of the Tennessee legislature was a difficult one for the organization, which had teamed up with the National Parks Conservation Association to propose legislation restricting MTR. The measure failed, despite what seemed like bipartisan, diverse, support from around the state. Hudson said of the Cumberland Mountains, "We're sitting on a treasure and we're just, through inattentiveness, allowing it to be destroyed."
Despite the legislative setback, Lindquist's memory lives on in the efforts of Christians around Tennessee working to make everyday life more reflective of scriptural teachings. Tennessee churches may use the nonprofit group's resources for free, with no specific do's and don'ts required; LEAF organizers don't make any pretense about what various faith communities will feel inspired to do. LEAF respects that what works for one congregation might not be of interest to another, "We're more alike than we are different and we need to focus on what we can agree on," said Hudson of the wide range of denominations she works with.
An all-volunteer staff at LEAF has put mountaintop removal on the minds of more Tennesseans than ever before. It even enlisted the star power of Grammy-winning musician Kathy Mattea to help lobby in Nashville. A survey showed that Appalachians are more likely to support candidates in this election year who support environmental factors like clean water and oppose practices like MTR.
As the group's website states, "LEAF is a Christian fellowship of Tennesseans whose faith leads them to take action for Tennessee’s environment. Concern for God’s Creation is not a matter of being liberal or conservative, a Republican or a Democrat. We believe people of faith can look beyond such distinctions and do the Lord’s work together."