Steve Dresselhaus December 2012
Let’s look at two stereotypes: that of the environmentalist and that of the fundamentalist Christian, recognizing that stereotypes did not materialize out of thin air – they come from some observable, if exaggerated, pattern somewhere. The first stereotype is that of the environmentalists. Environmentalists are a bunch of peasant topped, Birkenstock-wearing, organic brown rice-eating, worshippers of Gaia whose main passions in life are to stop all human development, abort babies and protect whales and snail darters from humans. To these Earth Mommas being a Vegan is a plus. Carpooling in a hybrid car while drinking fair trade soy milk lattes is like,…. you know,….. nearing enlightenment, dude.
The second stereotype is that of the fundamentalist Christian. This person is the angry, proof text-quoting, evangelical gnostic who believes that only revealed truth and knowledge matter. Since his dispensational view teaches that God will destroy everything material in a totality-encompassing miracle of de-creation, everything except the non-material soul of people is ultimately cursed, irredeemable and therefore must be not only destroyed but turned into absolute non-existence. This being the case, it is foolish to work to preserve anything. In the cosmic battle between God and Satan, the fundamentalist must get used to the idea of God getting trounced in round one and having to start over from scratch.
If you are an environmentalist you clearly saw all that is wrong with your stereotype and thought to yourself, “that is not me at all.” If you are a conservative Christian you were clearly not happy with your stereotype and could not imagine yourself being described this way – not now, not ever. Remember, these are just extreme stereotypes! However, don’t we tend to push opposing camps into their most extreme positions and then view that as their norm? I clearly do not fit my stereotype, but amazingly the people with whom I am in disagreement seem to fit their’s perfectly.
Must Christianity and environmentalism be at odds with each other? Is there not some way, somewhere and sometime that the two groups could share some common goals? I suspect that many of us Christians secretly long to be more involved in some kind of creation care but are afraid of being described as “going liberal.” In the western fascination with dichotomy we have been conditioned to think spiritual things take precedence over physical things resulting in care for the Earth being historically overlooked by most conservative Christians. However, we read all the verses in the Bible about nature and clearly see that we have the privilege and mandate to care for God’s Earth; but we don’t know where to start. God doesn’t seem to create a chasm between the spiritual and the physical.
At the same time there must surely be some environmentalists who are seeking spiritual truth but who are afraid of rejection at the hands of some churchgoers. Or maybe they are just put off by what they perceive to be an anti-science bias or by an apparent apathy towards creation care. Maybe their stereotype of Christians has scared them off.
Perhaps a starting point for Christians to become more active in creation care would be to examine how we view the environment. Our view of nature will govern and direct our actions, moving us to protect, ignore or harm our world. In America, because we are wealthy, we have the tragic luxury of being able to ignore environmental problems by purchasing our way out of them. If there is a problem, say a drought, we buy more tomatoes from Mexico or we pay more for our weekend BBQs – it may cost a bit more, but is really no big deal. If it is colder than usual we buy more oil from the Middle East to heat our luxury filled homes. We are wealthy enough to ignore the environment. A second way Americans typically view the environment is as a thing of great beauty where we go for our vacations. We tend to think of beautiful mountains, bubbling brooks and tropical coral reefs as places we go for fun and relaxation. For us, nature is to be either ignored or used for fun. We don’t often think about nature as being God’s tool to provide for us. We don’t often link the Lord’s prayer of “give us this day our daily bread” to environmental issues.
What about a poor farmer in Guatemala or Somalia? To them, environmental issues are not problems from which they extricate themselves by simply paying more for food; nor do they view nature as a vacation spot in which to relax. They depend on nature for their very survival. To these farmers a bad environment means their children die. Their prayer for daily bread is answered through adequate rainfall, proper erosion control, enough birds to eat the crop-destroying insects, and no toxic waste from a nearby factory.
How should we followers of Jesus view the environment? I think a place to start would be for us to look at nature and understand that God created the cosmos as a self-regulating system capable of providing abundantly for all of its inhabitants, be they human, animal or plant. Sin messed up the balance in nature by creating competition, scarcity, envy, gluttony, hoarding, exaggerated expectations of comfort, greed and a whole host of other habitat-ruining behaviors. As followers of Jesus, we must do what we can to protect and enhance the environment for the sake of others, never losing sight of the core truth that the root cause of environmental degradation is human sin and is therefore rooted in spirituality. As more and more people begin to fully follow Jesus and are transformed by Him, their selfless lifestyle will result in the gradual healing of God’s beautiful planet while we wait his return and the eventual and complete reconciliation of all things to God by the blood of Christ.