There’s a little university town in Oregon called Corvallis. It’s a small town big on environmental sustainability. Green everything. Bikes everywhere. A ban on plastic bags, even. Sometimes people laugh at the city’s progressive eccentricities; they roll their eyes and say “Oh, that’s so Corvallis.”
While some of their policies are a bit, erm, overbearing, you’ve gotta respect the commitment of the people of Corvallis to sustainability. They aren’t just hopping on some green bandwagon; they’re genuine in their efforts, and they practice what they preach.
When it comes to evangelicalism, I sure hope we AREN’T practicing what some pastors are preaching about our responsibilities toward the Earth.
You’ve probably heard by now about Mark Driscoll’s latest controversy. At a conference he said, “I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” Conference-goers quoted him on Twitter; scandal ensued.
Some people were really disturbed by this comment. I read it and thought, “Meh.” Been there, heard that. Years ago, I heard a pastor say that from the pulpit; and I’ve heard many laymen echo the sentiment, if not the wording.
It might be meant as slight hyperbole, sort of a joke? But if pastors think that’s funny, they need to take an improv class or watch some stand-up. I for one rarely laugh at destruction and judgment.
Since it fails as a joke, we have to assume most people say this because they believe it. They believe sustainability is an unnecessary hobby or, worse, a liberal hoax. Caring for nature is just a hippie pastime! It’s just those Democrats, environmentalists, and probably communists trying to force us all into mandatory shifts at the community garden!
Well, sure, green initiatives have been politicized. Environmentalism has its radicals. But living responsibly, caring for the Earth, appreciating nature – what’s so dangerous or extreme about that?
I just can’t condone this attitude. There are too many issues with this “God’s burning up the planet, let’s help him!” ideology:
– It’s inconsistent. The people who perpetuate this burning world ideology wouldn’t apply the same logic to anything else. If some guy was like, “I’ll die eventually anyway, might as well smoke six packs a day now” or some 15-year-old girl was like, “Cancer shmancer, I’m gonna tan four hours every day,” concerned Christians everywhere would clutch their pearls and wail about the body being a temple. They’d point out the dangerous consequences of smoking or tanning and encourage preventative health measures instead: a Nicotine patch, sunscreen, regular exercise, lots of leafy green vegetables. They wouldn’t spout that future hypothetical death means we should engage in destructive behavior willy-nilly.
– It’s dishonest. It’s making a political statement disguised as theology. Can pastors and public figures have off-topic opinions and share them publicly? Sure. But let’s be clear that you’re talking politics, not faith – using your voice, not God’s.
– It’s a little Gnostic. Gnosticism values the metaphysical above the material; it shuns the physical in favor of the spiritual. It says Earth doesn’t matter, because, like, HEAVEN, guys! It says we are far too busy praying and philosophizing to care about pollution, endangered species, or that cats are taking over the world.
– It’s irresponsible (and kinda unbiblical). You have to follow a specific, Left Behind-inspired interpretation of the end times, one without much emphasis on renewal or even recreation, to buy into Driscoll’s attitude. Lots of destroying fire, not much refining fire. Oddly, the Christians who follow this sort of eschatology tend to also believe in the Genesis dominion mandate, sometimes called the stewardship mandate. It’s fun to think of this mandate as a Ron Swanson-like endorsement of sport hunting, the industrial revolution, and meatlovers pizza; but inherent in the theology is responsibility. Humans are supposed to protect, develop, and use the planet – but not to abuse or misuse it. If you “know who made the environment,” wouldn’t you want to honor the Creator and care for his masterpiece?
Even in that old garden, Adam was supposed to tend to the trees and animals. I don’t think he and Eve were like, “Eh, we’re eventually gonna sin and throw humanity into a death spiral which will probably lead to some sort of fire and brimstone ages and ages from now, so let’s just let Eden get overgrown and icky.”
– It’s lazy. This macho, devil-may-care attitude excuses Christians from having to think about the environmental (and therefore human, since we live in the environment) impact of the products we’re using or industries we’re supporting. It assumes the second coming, or God’s wrath, or the millennial kingdom, in whatever eschatological order you believe it all will occur, is coming very soon. It frees us from the future consequences of our present actions, saying: sure there are mounds of plastic in the ocean that will last hundreds of years, but the rapture will totes happen before that, so let’s use ALL the plastic!
I am not an environmental radical. I’m not saying SUVs should be outlawed or that you should never use plastic or eat steak. I’m not saying you should sacrifice your kids’ music lessons or college fund so you can afford all eco-friendly brands or install solar panels. I don’t think God has said any of that either.
But there is a balance to existing responsibly. There is a call to protect and create, not abuse and destroy. Evaluating how and why we consume resources seems right in line with wise, conscientious living.
Sustainability? That’s so Christian.