On a recent Monday morning, Rabbi Abraham drove to Newark, New Jersey to bless some electric cars. He pulled into the lot behind Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, parked his Chevy Volt beside two Teslas and headed inside.
It may sound unusual, but many faiths have ceremonies for blessing a vehicle. In Hinduism, a puja ceremony is often performed when buying a new car. The Catholic Church has an official blessing for automobiles. The blessing at Mt. Olivet was interfaith, with several Baptist ministers, an imam and Rabbi Abraham in attendance. They all spoke about electric vehicles not just as objects to be blessed, but as tools for carrying out the larger spiritual missions of those faiths.
“The book of Genesis gives us a job,” Rabbi Abraham said, addressing an audience of religious leaders and community members from Mt. Olivet’s wooden pulpit. “We are stewards of this earth. It is our job to take responsibility for this planet.” Electric cars, Abraham said, can help us protect the Earth for future generations.
For Imam Saffet Catovic, who also spoke at the event, the importance of electric vehicles follows logically from a verse in the Koran. “‘The servants of the merciful are those who walk upon the earth softly,” Catovic said. “Commitment to walking upon the earth softly means reducing our carbon footprint.”
Of course, not everyone can afford to buy an electric car, and poorer communities are often hardest hit by air pollution from vehicle emissions. In some Newark neighborhoods, one out of every four children have asthma. Kim Gaddy, an environmental justice organizer for clean water action, spoke to the group about the need to insure everyone benefits from the shift to electric vehicles. Communities can cut pollution not just by switching to electric cars, but also from electrifying public vehicles, such as buses and police cars. “I come to you as the parent of three children who are asthmatic,” Gady said. “We have to be concerned about the entire fleet, not just the personal vehicles.”
Reverend Fletcher Harper echoed Gady’s points. Harper is the head of GreenFaith, one of the environmental groups that helped organize the event. The group is putting together an open letter from Newark religious leaders calling on New Jersey elected officials to invest in electric charging stations, electrification of municipal fleets, buses and cargo-handling equipment at ports.
“Breath is life. It’s a very simple thing,” Harper said. “We all need to breathe, and it’s absolutely wrong that in the wealthiest country in the world, there are places where the air is so dangerous that it’s not safe to breathe it.”