Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Environmentalism: A Dirty Word?

"The devil has two horns: the horn of pride that says there is nothing we ought to do, and the horn of despair that says there is nothing we can do."

Environmentalism. It's a term used to describe a broad and diverse range of concerns, beliefs, and initiatives pertaining to the atmosphere, the earth, the earth's resources and creatures who inhabit it. As opposing views in America become more and more polarized (and thus more cliched and shallow), an increasing tension has emerged between evangelicalism and environmentalism. There are many factors that contribute to this tension, and being that I identify myself with Christianity, I will address the mindset and/or objections coming from some Christian camps.

1. Association.

Some Christians deem environmentalism as a cause of democrats, liberals, New Agers, feminists(?), abortionists (?), gays (?)), and atheists(?) who refuse to worship God, so they worship nature instead. These stereotypes steeped deep within church world taint environmentalism for many. Has this unfair lumping or over-lapping environmentalism with separate issues caused the Church to neglect a divine call to godly environmentalism and stewardship? I am not sure why environmentalist are met with such hostility or bewilderment from certain segments of the church. Whether they know it or not, their desire to maintain God's creation is an act of cooperation with the innate order God has set up: to be in awe of His glorious creation and to treat it responsibly.  Instead of branding environmentalists as tree-hugging hippies, we should recognize their appreciation for creation and see this issue as one of common ground (or what should be common ground) between us.

2. The Global Warming debate.

A good portion of conservative evangelicals dismiss the concern over global warming for a myriad of reasons. Some believe there is not enough conclusive evidence to prove that mankind is causing global warming or that global warming is even an imminent threat. Some speculate that the earth is just going through its natural cycle. The more pessimistic evangelicals reject global warming on the belief that Revelation lays out the demise of the world, and global warming "ain't it" (although one might argue that even if  global warming won't  cause the earth's "ultimate" demise, it could still do some horrendous damage). And yet, some others have confused their politics with the tenets of Christianity. Some leaders discourage belief in global warming under the guise of religion when it has more to do with the effects on big business regulations. I am no scientist, so I don't pretend to have the answers about global warming, but I can see how some Christians view the hype as alarmism, but I also see how godly people are concerned about global warming, and that in no way should diminish the validity of their faith.  Anyway, global warming (just one aspect of environmentalism) has pushed the segments of the churchcommunity further away from environmental movements.

3. End-Times Defeatist Mentality.

Some are so certain that Jesus' return will be SO VERY VERY SOON and the destruction of the earth is inevitable that environmentalism is deemed a useless waste of time and a deceiving distraction from "real moral issues." This mentality puts forth that the earth and our pilgrim-like earthly existence are temporary, so those who would put energy into a dying earth are "worldly" and in SOME VERY SMALL EXTREME circles, even the enemies of God.

This End-Times mentality is disturbing for a few reasons. One, because nearly every generation of Christians since the time of Jesus have believed that Jesus would surely return in their time. And since no one knows the when (no matter how badly people want to pretend to know the when and how), it is bad theology to use the return of Christ as an excuse to dismiss environmentalism. Two, our temporal earthly existence does not negate our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth while we are here.

Environmentalism, like anything, can be distorted and abused.  But I would contend that the other extreme of raping the earth and opposing (sometimes demonizing) movements of environmental preservation is not only poor stewardship, but a violation of loving your neighbor as yourself. As long as God has placed precious life on this earth, we must do what we can to preserve and maintain the earth to continue fostering life. Many preservation efforts are about keeping waters from being contaminated, keeping animals from extinction (which affects the balance in nature), keeping lands healthy and fertile, so they can harvest food, etc. etc. Those are all preservation efforts that, for a Christian, are just as much about loving our neighbor, as it is caring for creation. Without maintaining clean water, fertile lands, and animal life, many humans would needlessly suffer and die, as they already do. A "Jesus is coming back, so we don't have to do anything" kind of attitude, is not only lazy, but harmful. When millions of people (mainly children) die every year because they do not have access to clean water, or their land cannot produce food, or pollution corrupts the air (which spurs on all kinds of diseases), then environmentalism IS a MORAL issue. By neglecting the earth or abusing it, we harm our neighbors. It's easy to dismiss the efforts of those trying to preserve clean water as "worldly" when we have an abundant supply of it, but I bet environmentalism would be viewed as a Godsend, if we couldn't get clean water, or food from our lands. That is a reality for millions of people.

Currently, there are environmental movements within the evangelical community (The National Association of Evangelicals, Evangelical Environmental Network, Restoring Eden, etc.) that are coming under fierce criticism from many Christians. It saddens me to see their efforts belittled as a "lesser cause" or "a waste of time." If these faithful servants of God are caring for the environment because they desire to honor God's creation and better the quality of life for our neighbors, families, and future generations, then it's not a lesser distraction, but a manifestation of loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving their neighbors as themselves.

Here is the website for the terms of Creation Care signed by hundreds of evangelicals.

1 comment:

  1. This is very true. It's guilt-by-association at it's worst.