Profile: Faith — and Respect for the Natural World — Motivate Episcopal Pastor

Tom Johnson | July 29, 2015 | Profiles
Rev. Fletcher Harper heads up GreenFaith, an interfaith group committed to environmental leadership

Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director, GreenFaith.
Name: Rev. Fletcher Harper

Title: Executive director of GreenFaith, a Highland Park-based organization that works to motivate people of diverse religious backgrounds to become environmental leaders.

Age: 52

How he got here: An Episcopal parish priest for 10 years, Harper has been executive director of GreenFaith since 2002. A Hackensack resident, he also served in leadership positions in the Episcopal Church. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Union Theological Seminary. While no longer a parish priest, Harper often speaks at houses of worship of various denominations.

How he embraced environmental causes: Harper has always loved the outdoors, an attraction that began for him in grade school. “The natural world is this incredible gift. How we are trashing it is clearly wrong.’’ When he got involved with environmental issues, there were few religious groups focusing on these topics, but that is changing, he said.

Biggest frustration: “Right now, it is the U.S. government’s failure to act on climate change,’’ a stance he calls “embarrassing and a disgrace. I think people increasingly get that this is a huge problem and we need to take action on it.’’ At the same time, his interfaith organization’s focus on the issue has led to some success, Harper said, citing GreenFaith’s role in mobilizing between 10,000 and 15,000 people to take part in a climate change march in Washington, D.C., as well as a similar event in Rome.

GreenFaith’s other priorities: The group has been working on reducing exposure to toxics both in the state and nationally. It also has worked with dozens of other like-minded organizations to promote water conservation and improve water quality, according to Harper.

How New Jersey is doing on the environment: “Unfortunately, at present, there is more backward progress than forward progress,’’ Harper said, citing the Christie administration’s withdrawal from a multistate program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contributes to global warming. “I can’t say I’m a big fan of the current administration in the steps it has taken or not taken.’’

What about environmental justice: “As a faith-based group, this is an important issue for us. There is no question that citizens of color and poorer citizens suffer way more than their share of pollution. The challenge is one of the ways to address this issue, to say no further polluting sites in our urban areas.’’

Do other faith-based groups share GreenFaith’s commitment to the environment? “With some people, they do; with some people they don’t,’’ said Harper, adding that religious organizations tend to be moderate to conservative. Environmental issues typically fall to the second or third tier for the clergy. “No matter what your political persuasion is, there’s a very strong moral imperative to protecting the environment. The science is incredibly clear. We’ve got a very narrow window for making progress on this.’’

Does he miss pastoring? I’m doing work that I love. I am in the right place. It is what God called me to.’’

How he relaxes: Hiking, fly fishing, and jogging.

Family: Divorced father of two.