Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Whatever Happened to Christian Environmentalism?

It still exists. Good luck finding it.

Christian environmentalists today are largely obscured by the loud cacophany of Christian Republicans who worship Donald Trump and his overt hatred of the Earth. Here are a couple of Christian environmentalists who stand out against the polluted tide of toxic religion:

  • Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, who has stood for decades as a voice of Christian conscience.
  • Katharine Hayhoe is a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, who believes that Christians should take global climate change very very seriously.

There are others, but you won’t hear about them. If you do a Google search for Christian environmentalism, one of the first hits on your search will be an article from the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pat Robertson’s platform, one of the major sites for the extreme fundamentalist Republican gospel. They report on one Christian pastor who holds services and wants to “defend God’s creation.” They do not have any arguments to show that he is wrong. But they dismiss all Christian environmentalism with this statement at the end: “the new wave of Christian environmentalists are "God's Greens...waging holy war on behalf of an embattled creation. But, critics ask, is this a truly divine cause -- or the devil's work?” By critics, they mean themselves. A 2017 article in Christianity Today gave loyalty to Donald Trump as one of the main reasons that evangelical Christians have stopped supporting environmentalism. The Cornwall Alliance, a group that sounds British, is actually an American evangelical Christian anti-environmental organization; they call environmentalism “the Green Dragon” which must be slayed.

Things have changed a lot since Loren Wilkinson wrote Earthkeeping in the 90’s. I reviewed it back when it first came out, for the American Scientific Affiliation. I have recently looked at the book again. Wilkinson recently retired from the Faculty of Regent College, a Christian institution in Vancouver, an institute and a city that American evangelicals consider ungodly.

Wilkinson said some things that would get him lynched by American evangelicals today. Good thing that he is Canadian, I guess. Among his assertions were the following:

  • We need to have fewer kids, because of the Earth’s population explosion. Evangelicals, in contrast, often champion the Quiverfull approach: God said in Genesis 1 that Adam and Eve should have as many kids as possible and “fill the Earth.” They ignore the fact that we have already filled the Earth and that it is now time for us to do something else. God also told Adam and Eve to make clothes for themselves out of animal skins. Does this commandment also apply to us?
  • Christians should honor God’s gift of the Earth by honoring the minerals of the Earth, by recycling them, giving them new life, instead of wasting them. God’s natural world recycles everything; so should we.
  • If in fact Earth operates as an integrated system (the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis), Wilkinson considered this to be evidence of God. In contrast, most evangelicals consider Gaia to be paganism.
  • The Creator gave independence to creation, and it therefore has its own rights. God never said or intended for the creation to be raw materials for humans to plunder. The Fall of Adam (which evangelicals blame on Eve, and on women in general) created a division between each person and all others, humankind and the Earth, and even divisions within each person—a division Jesus wants to heal.
  • Noah’s Ark was a very clear example of God wanting to save at least part of his creation from the destruction of the Flood which God intended as a punishment for human sin. God might have said, I don’t care, Noah, if you don’t like all these species; I command you to give them refuge. The Ark was in complete contradiction to the Tower of Babel, which was the symbol of mankind glorifying itself.
  • Humans have dominion over the Earth, but Biblical dominion means for the dominator to bless the dominated. How can this be? A good king is supposed to bless the people, just as Jesus, whom Christians consider to be the ruler of the universe, blesses us. He even went so far as to say that humans should be saviors of Creation just as Jesus is the savior of humans.
  • We humans are meant to be stewards of creation, not conquerors. There is no single way that a steward should take care of whatever is in his or her charge. For example, to be stewards of creation does not mean that every bit of natural landscape must be kept intact. Human existence would then be impossible. But it does mean that humans should try as hard as possible to take care of the Creation, and think of creative ways of doing so. In contrast, evangelicals are by and large satisfied with us destroying the Creation.
  • Wilkinson said that Christians must study ecology so that they know how to be effective stewards. Not only that, but Christians should participate in protests to save the Earth.

One can always hope that Christians such as Wallis and Hayhoe can turn the tide within the evangelical community. But I, for one, am not anticipating that this will happen soon, within my lifetime, or ever.

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