eleventh commandment fellowship (Religious Movement)

Founder: The Holy Order of MANS Country of origin: United States

During its brief lifespan (1980-8), The Eleventh Commandment Fellowship (ECF) helped catalyze a concerted response to the ecological crisis from within the American Christian community. It was instrumental in forming an international coalition of religious and secular environmental groups, and in implementing an ethic of ecology that was rooted in the Jewish and Christian traditions.

The fellowship was an outgrowth of a prominent new religious movement of the 1960s, the Holy Order of MANS (HOOM). The order was founded in San Francisco in 1968 by Earl W. Brighton, and was organized as a nondenominational service and teaching community that resembled Catholic sub-orders such as the Jesuits and Franciscans. The group practiced a form of esoteric Christianity and celebrated seasonal festivals such as the solstices, equinoxes, and full moons with complex rites designed to expand the student’s attunement to natural laws and processes. By the mid-1970s the order had established over sixty-four mission centers around the world and was best known for its service outreach, which included shelters for victims of domestic violence. Following Blighton’s death in 1974, Vincent Rossi assumed control of the movement and began to formulate a series of carefully articulated responses to pressing issues of the era. In 1979 he published ‘The Eleventh Commandment: Toward an Ethic of Ecology’, in the order’s journal, Epiphany. The article communicated the group’s vision of an authentic ecological lifestyle to both Christian and non-Christian thinkers and activists.

In the piece Rossi indicted American materialism and consumerism for crimes against the earth and its bio-systems. He called for a profound rethinking of Western culture’s values and goals, and a global awakening to the divine presence in the natural world. In the spirit of the prophets of old, he proclaimed an eleventh commandment: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: Thou shall not despoil the earth, nor destroy the life thereon.’ Through the efforts of a committed coterie of eco-monks and nuns, humankind could live in harmony with nature and create an economic system founded on sharing rather than competition.

The article also included an action plan that included educational workshops, a changeover to appropriate technologies, and efforts to organize spiritual communities of all stripes into an effective environmental action group. The ECF, founded in 1980, was the outgrowth of Rossi’s call. During the first half of the 1980s, the fellowship spearheaded an ecumenical educational outreach to churches and parachurch agencies. The fellowship set up local chapters throughout the country, organized food cooperatives, helped plant community gardens in inner cities, and convened educational events to raise awareness concerning the environmental crisis. Its national office, under the leadership of Fred Kruger, published a newsletter, organized annual Earth Stewardship symposia in Northern California, and convened conferences throughout North America that brought together such luminaries of the ecological movement as Thomas Berry, Wendell Berry, Jeremy Rifkin, Calvin DeWitt of the Au Sable Institute, Joan Orgon, Sister Miriam MacGillis of Genesis Farm, Charlotte Black Elk, and Maria Artaza Paz of the National Council of Churches. Groups as diverse as the Gaia Institute, Native Americans for a Clean Environment, and the Mennonite Agricultural Concerns Committee co-sponsored these conferences with the ECF.

The high point of ECF’s organizational efforts was the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology (NACCE), which drew over five hundred people representing every major Christian denomination in North America to a retreat center in North Webster, Indiana, in August 1987. The working document produced by the conferees stated that God was calling humankind to:

1. preserve the earth’s diverse life forms;

2. create an ecologically sustainable economy;

3. overcome the destruction of nature wherever it was occurring.

Because of a split between moderates and conservatives in the conference, a faction of NACCE members formed the North American Conference on Religion and Ecology (NACRE) to foster a more interfaith approach to eco-spirituality. When the HOOM transmogrified into an Eastern Orthodox Christian sect (Christ the Savior Brotherhood) in 1988, the ECF ultimately merged into the more Christian-centric NAACE.

The ECF’s publications, workshops, and conferences helped spearhead a coordinated movement of regional and local religious/ecological groups in North America that continues to address the ecological crisis.

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