The story of creation as told in the first two chapters of Genesis is perhaps one of the most widely known moments of the Bible. As many may recall, God speaks the world into existence one thing at a time, “and [sees] that it is good.” He creates the Garden of Eden, and puts the first man in it “to work and take care of it,” to be a steward of his miracles.
Fast forward to today, Oct. 27, 2012, when environmentalism – or “going green” – is largely thought of as a trend soon to pass. Furthermore, the campaigns of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore in 2000 cast the issue of climate change and global warming as a partisan one. As a representative of conservative Christian values as well as a candidate opposed to taking action against climate change, Bush drew many evangelicals to his non-green viewpoint.
“The error is in seeing environmentalism as something new. It’s mistaken as a fad, so people don’t take it seriously, but it’s actually a very old idea that we’re returning to,” said Jason McAnally, pastor of Origins, a seed church of The Orchard.
“It depends on how you think God views material things. A person may ask, ‘if the world is going to end, why preserve it?’ But a Biblical view is not one of destruction, but restoration. God left us as governors, not owners, of his creation,” he said.
Katharine Wilkinson is the author of “Between God and Green,” in which she examines a resurgent interest in global stewardship in the evangelical community. Over the past month, she has spoken at universities across the South including Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi.
Her interest in Christianity’s role in the environment began in 2002, when she saw a full-page magazine ad for an organization called the Evangelical Climate Initiative. The ad read, “Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis,” and bore the signatures of 86 evangelical leaders.
“It seemed to me like a large shift in the evangelical community that at the time seemed so focused on political alliance that it sometimes neglected issues that should be important to Christians,” Wilkinson said.
The subject became the focus of Wilkinson’s studies as she earned her Ph.D in Environmental Studies from the University of Oxford, England. She found that Christianity entered the discussion on the environment in 1967, when professor Lynn White published his article titled “The Historical Facts of our Ecological Crisis.” In his article, White blames a Christian worldview for environmental problems, alleging that Christianity purports notions of dominion and freedom to exploit the planet’s resources as people see fit.
Wilkinson said Christian leaders responded that White’s assertions had no basis in theology, which sparked a back-and-forth between academic circles.
“There are two main arguments for Christianity’s obligation to global stewardship,” she said. “The first is that we are called to care for God’s creation. The second is the call to love our neighbor and ‘care for the least of these,’ in the sense of the far-reaching impacts of environmental degradation.”
Wilkinson said the discussion reached the public forum in 1996 when the Noah’s Ark Campaign defended the Endangered Species Act, and later in 2005 with the “What Would Jesus Drive?’ campaign. Over time, the issue became more and more intertwined with politics and the energy crisis.
“A conservative attitude opposes environmentalism because conservatism is anti-regulation and pro-free market,” she said. “But how do we solve this problem without regulatory framework? It’s scary because it forces us to rethink and change the way we live. We may be apart on other things, but the planet we live on is a mutual obligation of concern, and calls for collaboration among Christians, scientists and policy-makers from all parts of the spectrum.”
McAnally sees the evangelical environmental movement as a conscious effort for the religious community to separate its Christian allegiances from its political ones.
“When political and religious motives coincide, politics always benefits and the church does not,” he said.
At its inception three years ago, Origins appealed to a young adult crowd. Though currently McAnally reports the congregation’s age range has expanded dramatically, the congregation is still very representational of its original dynamic. McAnally said this generation is mistrustful of the government to make changes, so many young Christians are taking things into their own hands by starting their own non-profit organizations and putting together their own missions.
Like many of these efforts, environmental evangelism is a grassroots movement attempting to work apart from the political sphere.
“This generation is often criticized for not getting involved in politics,” McAnally said. “That’s true as defined by a two-party system, but they are much more active in local and global issues they care about, like global stewardship.
“Regardless of political affiliation or whether you believe in climate change or not, as Christians we are called to be stewards of God’s creation. He created everything, and we honor him by how we care for his world.”
(GENESIS 2:15) – The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
(LEVITICUS 25:23) – ... the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.
(JOB 12:7-10) – But ask the animals...or the birds of the air...or speak to the earth...or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of
every creature and the breath of all mankind.
(PSALMS 24:1-3) – The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
(DEUTERONOMY 20:19) – When you lay siege to a city... do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their
fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?
(EZEKIEL 34:17-18) – Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?