Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Greening up the Faith

I am an environmentalist and a Christian. If that sounds odd to you, it shouldn't.

For years now Conservative Christianity has been connected politically with the "Religious Right" and the "Moral Majority" which in turn have fed the Republican party with millions of votes. Ascribing to Republicanism has arguably become an eleventh commandment in the minds of many believers. One of the many down sides to this reality is the unfortunate marriage of environmentalism (a good cause) with the Democratic party (a disease to conservatives). It has therefore become mildly treasonous to speak well of environmentalists in Christian Republican circles.

I will be the first to admit that there are elements within the green movement that are downright embarrassing. For example, environmentalist activists don't do themselves any favors when they paint their opponents as not merely wrong, but evil. But there is much to be embarrassed about on the conservative side as well.  The creation of terms like "tree hugger" and "environmentalist wacko" have been unjustifiably used to describe many who display any common sense degree of environmental concern.

To me, environmentalism is not about forcing people into starvation because they might try to grow crops on land where a rare owl may be nesting. As propaganda it is very convenient, but it is also very misleading. Painting people this way is a classic case of false alternatives where we are given the choices of either caring for the environment, or caring for people. We are not allowed to choose both. So, Christian conservatives feel they must choose people over planet because it sound more godly.

I think there must be a third option. I choose people and planet. I want to be able to clean up my street and turn the lights off without being labeled a tree-spiking-SUV-tire-slasher. Does that not sound reasonable?

Many people who care deeply about leaving the planet better than they found it point the finger at Christianity itself for leading to the environmental apathy among the faithful. It seems that many of us who take seriously the doctrine of imminence think we're too close to the return of Christ to worry about the state of the planet. So, instead of planting trees we pack suitcases and wait to be whisked away to heaven.

Though I agree wholeheartedly that we must be ready for Jesus' return, I disagree that we should ravage the planet and then sit around expecting God to send Jesus back to clean up our mess. As a thought experiment try telling this to your grandkids, "Sorry, Jesus didn't keep his end of the bargain and come back when we thought he would. If we had known he would delay we would have tidied up a bit." Comforting? Doubtful.

Another biblical misunderstanding is that the only things God created that he really cares about are people. It seems he could care less about what happens to everything else. We believe that humans alone possess eternal souls but does that mean we are all that matters to God? If we fall for this thinking then the physical world becomes just a means to our personal happiness--and convenience seems to be a matter of happiness. Indeed, if dumping paint or motor oil in the woods behind my house keeps me from driving out of my way to the recycling center then dump away I shall! Or so the thinking goes.

I believe the anti-environmental mindset is an affront to the whole idea of Biblical stewardship. In Genesis 2:15 we read, "The LORD God took the man (Adam) and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it" (emphasis mine). Why would he tell Adam this if it's preservation didn't matter?

I submit that of all people Christians should be more environmentally sensitive than the average citizen. If God cares for "the lilies of the field," and "the birds of the air" then maybe we should too.

For more information on conservative environmentalism see:

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