Is God Green? Evangelicals Fight Over Genesis

How did conservative evangelicals, who tend to present a unified front on most matters of political significance, end up in such a public battle over how to approach environmental issues like global warming? What’s behind this difference of opinion? (Taken from http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/green/environment.html)

In most respects, the divide comes down not to a disregard for the world — which is, for evangelicals, the creation of God but on how exactly to care for that creation. Evangelicals part company on what God calls them to do about the environment: where to focus their attention, how to interpret scientific data, what the role of legislation and/or the free market should be in protecting the environment and human interests. Does God ask Christians, explicitly or implicitly, to make environmentalism, or “creation care,” part of their ministry and political platform? (Find out more about creation care, wise use and environmental stewardship)

Concern for the environment, and the current debate it has engendered, might be a hot topic in the evangelical community, but it is not a new one. Environmental policy debates emerged among evangelicals…in the 1960s and ’70s. There were some critics, like medieval scholar Lynn Townsend White Jr., who went so far as to blame organized religion itself for the world’s ecological ills, arguing that medieval Christian attitudes in particular, and the entire Judeo-Christian tradition in general, taught a disregard for nature and led to exploitation of the environment. That argument finds echoes today among certain evangelicals who insist that in Genesis, God gave man “dominion” over the earth and its creatures — essentially, carte blanche to do what he wants with his environment.

But for a number of religious Christians and evangelicals, this represents a dangerous misreading of the Bible. God, they contend, appointed man steward of the world, to protect it and sustain it as a way to honor to the divine work of the Creator. Caring for the environment, they say, isn’t a political issue — it’s a theological imperative.

In 1970, one such group, the National Association of Evangelicals (NEA), released a strongly worded policy resolution that called on Christians “to support every legitimate effort to maintain balance in ecology, preservation of our resources, and avoidance of the cluttering of our natural beauty with the waste of our society.” And they didn’t hedge at adding a bit of fire and brimstone: “Today those who thoughtlessly destroy a God-ordained balance of nature are guilty of sin against God’s creation.” (Read the documents)

In 1993 the Evangelical Environmental Network began to turn creation-care beliefs into action, publishing a declaration which began, “As followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the full authority of the Scriptures, and aware of the ways we have degraded creation, we believe that biblical faith is essential to the solution of our ecological problems.”

But another religious group, which later became known as the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship, wanted to take the environmental debate in a different direction. They made their opposing views known in the 1999 “Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship,” which warned that groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network’s presented “a romantic view of nature, a misguided distrust of science and technology, and an intense focus on problems that are highly speculative and largely irrelevant to meeting our obligations to the world’s poor.”

The Cornwall Declaration stressed a free-market environmental stewardship and emphasized that individuals and private organizations should be trusted to care for their own property without government intervention. It also claimed that environmental concerns like global warming, overpopulation, and the extinction of species were either unfounded or greatly exaggerated. In the words of Father Robert A. Sirico of the conservative Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and member of Interfaith Council, “Environmental ideology is increasingly being used, not to preserve nature’s beauty, but to restrict human enterprise that is essential to a more humane existence for people.”

The Evangelical Climate Initiative The rhetoric over the role of evangelical Christians in the global warming debate escalated significantly in February 2006 when 86 Evangelical leaders signed and publicly released a statement entitled Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.

Among the tenets of the statement:

(a) Human-induced climate change is real.
(b) The consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest.
(c) Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem.
(d) The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change-starting now. (Read the document)

News that the call to action was in the works in January 2006 prompted the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a group related to the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship and the Acton Institute, to attempt to forestall any global warming policy statement by the National Association of Evangelicals. They sent the group a missive warning them to “not adopt any official position on the issue of global climate change,” as “global warming is not a consensus issue, and our love for the Creator and respect for His creation does not require us to take a position.” Led by high-proflie evangelical leaders Charles Colson and James Dobson, (also included Pat Robertson/John Hagee/Calvin Beisner) Interfaith Stewardship Alliance called for the National Association of Evangelicals not to put their name to the document.

For others in the evangelical community, taking a public stand on issues like global warming just isn’t part of the religious plan. Christian broadcaster Jan Markell believes that evangelicals are called by God to win souls for Jesus, not to take up social issues, and that environmentalism distracts from the real mission of the evangelical church.

I personally like the fact the NEA took a stand for something to do with the environment, which caused the split in the first place within evangelicialism. I have been fairly big on social issues and this one fell into my lap while watching Moyers TV show. What do you think? Is environmentalism a Christian ideal or just a bunch of hog-wash?

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19 thoughts on “Is God Green? Evangelicals Fight Over Genesis

  1. Thanks BB for coming by and leaving a comment. I’ll come and check out your site and give a ‘hey how’s she going’.

  2. To say that we have carte blanche is incorrect. If we have dominion over His creation, then we are to act as a king would. Who is our role model for king anyway, a tyrant? Not.

    The problem is pollution. We need to focus on that. This issue has become more conflicted since climate alarmism became the cause celebre of the Mass media. It used to be that we focused on the facts; smog, measuring estimated pollutants in the air, cleaning up our rivers and waterways etc.

    Global warming hysteria has blurred our focus instead of strengthening our resolve. GW is simply the result of radicalizing, politicizing and emotionalizing (that a word?) something we should all be united on together – and were, prior to GW.

    I think God gave us dominion so we could grow and populate the earth, while showing respect for Him by not wantonly wasting His creation.

    My thoughts. Very informative post! Take care

  3. Issues like this confuse me. I mean, what great thrill do we get from trashing the planet that we’d argue over whether or not to continue? Why wouldn’t you WANT to take care of your environment?

  4. A funny question…hmm…well if I think that the gospel must be preached around the world in order to get as many into heaven as possible, then I will certainly neglect the environment. And heck, I might let the poor stay poor, so that they will be more needy and accept the gospel more readily, without our western comforts and distractions…

    Who cares about polar bears when we’ve got human eternal destinies on the line? Unless polar bears have eternal destinies too, then that changes things.

    God made the earth. From what I can tell, he likes it. To me, that means: take care of his stuff.

    I don’t worry about people’s eternal destinies; I have a lot more hope than that, and a lot more faith in the power and love and wisdom of God.

    BUT, there remains this issue: how much resource shall we allocate to helping feed and cure those PRESENTLY starving and diseased, and how much do we allocate to preventing environmental collapse?

    God help us.

  5. The globe is warming?

    That’s funny… back in the seventies, chicken little was running around crying about the coming “ice age”!

    I tend to think that God built the earth to take care of itself, and the puny effect we humans can have on it are immeasureably minute. The earth can heal itself quicker than we can wound it.

    If pollution and environmental abuse are the cause for climate changes, how do you account for the last dozens of ice ages, and intersecting warming trends?

    I think we want to give ourselves more credit than we deserve, thinking that it’s all about us, and what we do. We all seem to want to believe in something, and environmentalism is the new religion of the “non-religious”. I know the deep-thinking “caring types” out there will have a problem with what I say, but I really think that the world will be what the world is designed to be.

  6. Ursa, so true, why wouldn’t we want to help in any way we could.

    Jathan, good question about priority. I think we can do both and not have to lose a dime.

    Bruce, interesting take on the whole ideal and one not covered in this little article, the world just might replenish itself after all. Still doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least recycle.

  7. Yes, if that will help you feel good about yourself, then do it as well as you can. Personally, I feel good about myself without doing anything. I don’t tend to worry about things, or “get busy” just to feel good about myself. I tend to enjoy people and relationships, and environmentalism, like religion, separate people instead of unite them. Just like “religious” people, “environmental” people are divided because no one group can agree on the best approach to serving their cause.

    And, it just occured to me, why are we so bent on saving the earth when the God of the bible says that its going to be destroyed anyway. Maybe this is how he wants to destroy it?

    Why do we like to worry so much?

  8. it has occurred to that the earth may be destroyed long after it has become a desert. And I’m not big on deserts…. I like trees and rivers, with clean water.

    I think that a healthy balance is important to achieve. It’s one thing to be all about God, and yet neglect his creation, and it’s quite another thing to be all about environmentalism and have no concept of God. But to love God and recognize that He has asked us to be stewards of His creation makes me ashamed of the current state of things.

    Living in Canada, it’s easy to think that it’s not a problem, but my sojourn in Africa has taught me better.

  9. Dude,
    as long as earth is the only place we all have to live, I kinda believe that it’s a good idea to take care of it. To poison the planet is to poison ourselves. I wonder why “secular” folks have been in the lead on this issue. Thanks for posting your thoughts and the links.

  10. “Yes, if that will help you feel good about yourself, then do it as well as you can. Personally, I feel good about myself without doing anything. I don’t tend to worry about things, or “get busy” just to feel good about myself.” (Bruce)

    I get what your saying here Bruce, not to weigh ourselves down about the worries of life (ex: environmentalism), and I can agree that we shouldn’t let this destroy our lives or become such a burden we cannor bare (thus in the end judging ourselves over it).

    However my point is Christianity should not be ‘self-serving’ and should be more about ‘serving others’, or our ‘love for others’. Environmentalism is just one of those issues where we ‘serve others’ and respect what we have been given for the next generations to use. I am not the biggest environmentalist around or nothing but I can’t help but side with caring for this earth…it makes all the sense in the world.

    For me, this isn’t about trying to make ‘myself feel good’ or about ‘making myself look good’ or about a religious imperative…it’s about simply caring for others. I don’t have a version of Christianity that is all about ‘bless ME Lord’…I have a belief in Christ that means I should love others as much as I possibly can (and even more than what I am able to if I read it correctly). See Jesus didn’t just come for me, hang on the cross for me, and love the world just for me…He did that for everybody and I think to say ‘well I am good so who cares’ is ‘self-serving’. I think caring for others takes some weird twists and environmentalism is just another avenue where we can partner with others for their well-being (and nothing more).

    To be honest, I really don’t consider myself in the equation when I think about my faith, it’s all about caring for others and focusing on the well being of others (and if that is ‘religious’ or seems ‘lawful’ then I am at fault). I see a a God of love, dies for me…translating into my life as a person of love dying for others (following the spirit of Christ in his 2 commandments). I am not talking about a religious law here, I am talking about focus. I can focus on myself but wil I be happy, as happy as the person that took his 2 cents and hid them in the dirt.

  11. kevin, interesting point. I wonder why “secular” folks have been in the lead on this issue.

    Global warming is the baby Jesus of many secular folks. Global warming is not being anti-pollution. We are all still anti-pollution but Global Warming represents the politicization of the debate.

    The radical climate alarmists’ goal is not reducing pollution but returning man to nature, back to the Garden of Eden.

    “Until such time as homo sapiens decide to rejoin nature, (we) can only hope for the right virus to come along.” (David Graber, research biologist with the National Park Service) There are many more quotes at the link.

    Here’s a link to Michael Crichton’s speech on how pseudo-science and politics have merged.

    Unfortunately, this new Malthusianism has blurred the real debate. Bush’s “Clean Air Act” actually allowed for a lot more pollutants in our air, but the mass hysteria on the other side of the aisle over Global Warming made them look rather unstable while Bush’s plan came off looking like an example of moderation. It wasn’t until after the new standards were passed that I saw an article that actually stated the volume of pollutants it allowed.

    Politics is a nasty thing. I’d prefer to live in a kingdom with a perfect King.

  12. SVS, what are you willing to do to “serve others”? How far will you take it? Will you stop driving a car? Will you stop heating your home? Will you stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere by your relentless breathing? Will you give up using plastics, and all other petro-chemical products? Will you stop using products made from wood? Will you… will you… will you… the list goes on forever and ever.

    And if you don’t want to go to those extremes, where do you draw the line? What is enough? And what is not enough?

    I’m not trying to be a smarta$$, but I’ve struggled with many of these questions and concerns to the point that it all just became non-sensical. I saw how silly the hardcore environmentalist looked when challenged for real answers, instead of a lot of theoretical fluff.

  13. Bruce I get it I get it…and I agree, where do we draw the line? I am not that hardcore of an environmentalist nor is it my sole concern (so I do appreciate your ideas on the issue). However, I think the church has some social responsibility to the environment and that can work in any number of ways (and doesn’t have to become lawful). I admit we can’t solve all the problems in the environment but I think can help by contributing in some helpful ways, realistic ways like recycling, cleaning up our neighborhoods, car-pooling, etc…or any number of idea’s. I am no efficiando on the idea but I think each church can pitch in in any way they want. I like the fact evangelicals at least are discussing the idea, that’s a huge step forward for a religion that refused to touch the issue in year’s prior…makes me believe their is still some glimmer of hope in evangelicalism for some real revolutionary change within society. Next thing they will actually start thinking about helping out in their neighborhoods in real, actual ways that touch and reach people in the struggles they have (ex: poverty).

  14. Well, I guess I fall on the side of the enviormentalist on this issue. I think some of the problems stem from a literalist interpretaion of scriptures.For example, if God is going to destroy the world in a seven year tribulation, and then create a new heaven and earth, then why should we bother with something that is not going to survive anyhow? I used to take that position as well. But, I have changed my thinking in almost all areas. It is a problem that must be addressed with some common sense though. We can’t all start riding horses and burning wood for heat. We can, however, use our God given intellect to make some positive changes.

  15. SVS, you stirred the pot didn’t you.

    Bruced,
    A couple of points:
    The science on the issue of global warming is confusing and at times contradictory but we allow drugs to become available to the pubic with weaker evidence from biased (drug company) scientists.

    Environmental science, like all science, relies heavily on inferences made from statistical data. Many things can influence the validity of the inferences but the one that plays a huge role in the global warming debate is sample size (n). When dealing with forests say, you can sample many forests (n > 50) and determine if the effect you are hypothesizing is supported or refuted. With global warming n = 1. This is the primary weakness of the global warming study.

    You said earlier that the earth repairs itself. I agree. I also think that the manner in which the earth repairs itself (e.g., long periods of drought, severe flooding, more intense and more frequent storms, etc.) might be a hindrance to human life on the planet.

    Conclusion:
    SVS, I’m happy to see evangelicals making this point too. When I see this Pat Robertson, John Hagee, and the like telling me something is evil, I wonder how it affects their pockets. I generally do what they tell me not to do.

  16. Pingback: Dominion & Stewardship « The Original Soapbox

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