[The second of two editorials I wrote in the summer of 2010, the first being "Giving to Caesar". Hope you like it! A special thanks to Liz Albright for her encouragement and advice as I wrote this.]
I am a Christian at a private, secular college. Needless to say, my fellow Christians and I face an uphill battle to be known as the loving bearers of the Gospel instead of the angry and divisive Christians displayed in the popular media. Thus the question is how to connect with fellow students while holding to the truth.
One political issue I’ve seen conservative Christians generally drop the ball on is the environment. Many have sided with the Republican/capitalist view that more important than endangered species, global warming, and ecological damage is the preservation of a strong American economy. They fearfully point to the “Climategate” scandal or extremists who call for a massive decrease in the human population (such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement) as reasons to reject environmentalism.
But while the environmental movement does have its extremists (like any movement), I think conservative Christians are misguided and shortsighted to ignore the merits of its arguments. Putting aside all questions of whether global warming is primarily caused by humans or not, it is obvious that severe environmental harm has been inflicted on the Earth by humans—one need look no further than the Gulf of Mexico. Damage to the environment, justified by conservatives in the name of “energy” or “jobs”, harms people in the form of less arable land, polluted food, and sickness. And we must ask if the few cents saved on gas or food is worth destroying entire species of plants and animals that God specifically designed to endure for his glory? Humanity’s first task was to be stewards of the earth, and there is no reason that we should ignore that now.
Moreover, by working with environmentalists to protect the earth, we have a huge opportunity to talk about the Christian view of Fallen man. For decades, Humanism has trumpeted the false claim that humans are born good but corrupted by their environment. Now we can show the Biblical truth that the exact opposite is true: humans are bad and corrupt their environment. Over and over in Scripture we see the literal and metaphorical connections between sin and environmental degradation (Genesis 3:17-19; Hosea 4:1-3; 1 Kings 8:35; Jeremiah 23:10). Likewise, the sins of insatiable greed and selfish overconsumption by modern Americans harm the Earth. Christians, by joining in with calls to protect wildlife, will earn the right to share the God who can fix the root cause of the greed and overconsumption.
Working to protect the earth can also complement and foster the development of other Christian values. Environmentalism stresses the importance of caring for the community rather than one’s personal interests. And the environmentally friendly practices of living simply, buying less, sharing, and frugalness could start to uproot the thorns of materialism that too often choke out faith. As the prophet Ezekiel wrote, the problem with the people of Sodom, perhaps like that of America, was that they “were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).
We can limit abuse of the poor and needy in other nations by making sure that when companies extract resources they pay fairly, mine safely and do not wreck ecosystems beyond repair. Perhaps it is makes sense that Jesus sent the disciples out into the world with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a staff and a tunic (Mark 6:8); he did not want them hindered or distracted from their mission by the things of this world. The added benefit of following their model, besides aiding the spread of the Gospel, is that a simple lifestyle will help to save the environment.
Some Christians hold that the earth’s resources are infinite, and that the American lifestyle can and should become the norm. But is it really so hard to believe that God only gave humans as much as we need, not as much as we want? The American way of life is unparalleled in human history. Every average “Joe the Plumber” enjoys luxuries like clean water, plumbing, technology, healthcare, education, and entertainment that in the past were only available to the top 1% of societies. This lifestyle is not seen as the enormous blessing it is—instead it is fought bitterly for as an American “right”. That would be fine if we lived on an infinite planet. However, unsustainable practices wreck forests, pollute ecosystems, and create poverty all around the globe. According to a recent UN environmental report, if everyone on the earth lived as extravagantly as Americans do, we would need five earths just to supply the resources.
It is a Christian obligation to defend the good of everyone else above our own. Limiting our economic and personal interests which damage the world may cost us some money or personal comfort. But it will gain us friendship and perhaps a chance to witness with this rising generation of environmentalists as well as the “least of these” who we hurt with endless consumption. The aftermath of the Gulf oil spill offers Christians a unique opportunity to show humility, apologize where needed to environmentalists, and start working to preserve our planet.