They seem to have the same doctrine, but a different set of hot topics. They have their choice conferences, their prized speakers, their preferred political candidates, and their favorite places to donate money. They even have their own Bible edition. They are the Green Christians, and they are committed to taking care of the environment. Are you a Green Christian? Should you be?
Should Christians Go Green?
In a recent Christianity Today article, the author wrote, “concern for the environment is one of the most controversial issues facing Christians today.” No kidding. Surrounded by the obvious error of “pantheistic spirituality” on the one side, and “environmental apocalypticism” on the other, some Christians have espoused a via media that they call “creation care.”
A Theology of Creation Care…and Beyond
The whole idea behind creation care has its roots in an indisputable Scriptural fact: the earth belongs to God (Psalm 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26). As part of the creation, humans are to take care of the earth (Gen 1:26-28). Thus, Christians should seek to protect it, conserve it, and take care of it, not abuse it, neglect it, or squander it. Jonathan Merritt, author of Green Like God wrote: “I think God and green go together, and I think they belong together….I’m an environmentalist because I’m a Christian.” (Other significant biblical texts on the issue are, Romans 8:22, 1 Corinthians 10:26, and 1 Timothy 4:4.)
The theology seems rather simple and straightforward at the outset, yet it hurtles headlong into the wider social, cultural, political, and economic issues that make news headlines, elicit public outrage, put politicians in office, and light up the blogosphere. It is impossible to extricate the issue from entanglements, political or otherwise. One young evangelical seminarian bemoaned his erstwhile Republicanism, saying “what good was it to the unborn if my Republican votes saved them from the abortion clinics, only to deliver them into a resource-scraped world of want?” (Source: ABC News)
Perhaps environmentalism is not an issue of God vs. Green. Perhaps it’s not an issue of Left vs. Right. Perhaps it is simply one of many facets of biblical adherence to which Christians should give careful and prayerful consideration. The fact that environmentalism is mixed up with pantheism and tree-hugging, does not mean that a Christian who plants a tree on Earth Day is also worshipping that tree.
Conservative Christians may pride themselves on defying culture at large but should be careful that their defiance aligns with biblical principles. Often, Christians tend to enmesh their favored political agenda with their form of Christianity, thinking that to vote Republican is to vote Christian. Such politicized pseduochristianity is problematic. This was why many conservative believers neglected (or opposed) the civil rights revolution (which in hindsight was a big mistake).
What’s Involved in Creation Care?
Creation care activists are concerned about a variety of issues, one of the main ones being climate change. A lot of people, which includes Christians, are not concerned that climate change is either caused by humans or endangering the planet. In their mind, there is no need to be concerned about carbon emissions. In opposition to this, a significant number of Christians are alarmed about global warming. These Christians are resolved, to “take the whole gospel to a hurting world…and to work to stop global warming” (from the evangelical manifesto, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call for Action.”
Other big-issue topics have to do with dependency upon foreign oil, renewable energy solutions, and protection of natural resources. Recycling, energy conservation, humane treatment of animals, vegetarianism, wildlife preservation, and even family planning tend to be characteristic of some Christian environmentalists.
Christians should be concerned about people whose livelihood is dependent upon preservation of the environment. When environmental recklessness pollutes clean water, erodes arable land, reduces food supply for livestock, and endangers people’s lives (as it has in many areas of Africa), there is a real problem. Millions of people are dying from preventable diseases, contaminated water sources, and the indirect results of environmental wastefulness of neglect. Into this present-day apocalypse steps the environmentally conscious Christian, putting his or her theology into practice and helping those in need.
True Care: Dangers of Christian Environmentalism
Yet there are dangers, but they are no different from the dangers that we see in just about any realm of Christianity (or religiosity for that matter). It is the danger of distraction, imbalance, or obsession. When a person encounters a truth that is significant or surprising, it’s easy to focus exclusively on that one issue. Maybe it’s the “doctrines of grace.” Maybe it’s complementarianism. Maybe it’s a denomination. Maybe it’s a Bible version. Maybe it’s a particular chronology of end-times events.
The same danger is present with environmentalism. There seems to be something wrong when we spend more time and money saving the whales then we do seeking souls. Think of it as an issue of priority. Environmental over-activism has the danger of edging out true gospel witness.
The word “balance” is fickle at best, and should be used with care. Nonetheless, it’s possible to get out of whack on the issue of environmentalism. Out of balance. When all of a person’s theology, study, activity, and charitable contributions have to do with the issue of environmentalism, there can result a stilted, lopsided, myopic religion. True, some Christians are called to a role of sounding the alert and spreading the news, but there is more in Scripture than just verses about environmentalism. Beware of obsession.
Perhaps Christian environmentalism isn’t a bad term, so long as “Christian” comes first, and “environmentalism” comes as a distant second. Biblical adherence is important. Worshipping God, not His creation, is essential.