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Oct. 20, 1998

United Methodist women adopt environmental principles

Contact: Linda Bloom (212) 870-3803 New York

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) – Strengthening its commitment to be environmentally responsible, the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has gone "green."

Division directors adopted eight principles during their Oct. 16-19 annual meeting to help achieve that goal. The principles call upon United Methodist Women (UMW) to:

  • practice garbage prevention;
  • recycle waste and buy recycled products;
  • maintain zero tolerance for toxic chemicals;
  • avoid plastics;
  • conserve energy;
  • produce and consume locally grown food;
  • use natural, safe materials; and
  • promote the total well-being of people.

The principles are based upon resolutions already passed by the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body. They are intended to be used as a road map in setting goals and measuring progress as UMW strives to become a more environmentally responsible organization.

Mary Melvin and Mary Morris

The Women's Division's Office of Economic Justice, based in Washington, D.C., is producing a book on the subject, Green Guidance: How to Plan Environmentally Responsible Events. More information is available by contacting that office at (202) 488-5660.

A year ago, the division responded to the need to contain dioxin contamination by pledging to use chlorine-free paper and products when possible. Dioxins are toxic chemical contaminants.

Directors Mary Melvin, left, and Mary Morris spoke during the Environmental Justice workshop.

As a result, Response, the UMW magazine, negotiated a new contract with its printer and began using processed chlorine-free paper with the September 1998 issue. Other resources, such as the United Methodist Women's Assembly book and Green Guidance, also are utilizing chlorine-free paper.

Alma Mathews House, the division's conference center in New York, has begun to use non-chlorine cleaning products, and the Washington office uses only chlorine-free paper for printing, copying and faxing.

In her address, Joyce Sohl, the division's top executive, noted that John Wesley himself was an environmentalist. In his sermon on "The Use of Money," the founder of Methodism said: "We ought not to gain money at the expense of life nor (which is the same thing) at the expense of our health. …

"Some employments are absolutely and totally unhealthy," he wrote. He cited jobs that involve "dealing much with arsenic or other equally hurtful minerals, or the breathing of an air tainted with steams of melting lead, which must at length destroy the firmest constitution."

Before the directors voted, they participated in a worship and information session focusing on the effects of environment on cancer. More than a million new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year. The number of U.S. women suffering from breast cancer alone has increased from 1 in 20 in 1964 to 1 in 8 today.

This increase is not just due to inherited risk or better detection, according to Christine Keels, a director from Baltimore. She noted that the World Health Organization believes up to 80 percent of all cancer cases are due to environmental factors.

Highly industrialized countries have disproportionately more cancer cases. "Breast cancer rates mirror the industrialization pattern," explained Shan Yohan, a director from Atlanta. "They are highest in North America and Northern Europe."

But pollution knows no national boundaries, and the United States has managed to spread its toxic chemicals elsewhere, she said. "Even if a chemical is banned in the United States because of environmental concerns, it can legally be exported."

Medical waste, found by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a source of dioxin, is being exported for incineration outside the country. "Sometimes, nations deeply in foreign debt agree to store hazardous waste as a way to earn much-needed currency," Yohan added.

War has contributed to the chemical explosion. After World War II, "the production of synthetic chemicals increased 100 times in two human generations," noted Joan Chapin, a director from Caro, Mich. Many were developed "in the secretive atmosphere of war time" and were not adequately tested for safety, she said.

Besides the Green Guidance book, UMW is considering joining various campaigns and coalitions working on the causes of cancer.

Division President Sara Shingler of Spartanburg, S.C., was among those present who had been touched by breast cancer. "I want you to know I’m a 20-year cancer survivor because of early detection," she said.

Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.

For general questions about The United Methodist Church, please call InfoServ at 1.800.251.8140.

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