I cannot say how happy I am to see a trend in conservative Christianity toward environmental concerns. In this NPR story, An Evangelical Crusade To Go Green, the happy news is explained almost as something potentially cataclysmic and game-changing because it certainly will affect politics. Up to this point, most evangelical conservatives have been nonchalant about the environment despite the fact that their patron saint, Francis Schaeffer, appealed for serious concern for and love of nature. I think that part of the reason that American Christians have been flip about the environment is due to a couple of factors.
First, American Christianity of the last century has been undeniably more influenced by Dispensationalism than by other eschatalogical views and this led the evangelical right to what Francis Schaeffer said was a Christianity where there is “only interest in the ‘upper story,’ in the heavenly things – only in ‘saving the soul’ and getting it to Heaven.” In his thesis, Pollution and the Death of Man, Schaeffer described the Platonic concept of nature that seemed to be prevalent in American Christianity.
In such Christianity, there is a strong tendency to see nothing in nature beyond its use as one of the classic proofs of God’s existence. “Look at nature,” we are told; “look at the Alps. God must have made them.” And that is the end. Nature has become merely an academic proof of the existence of the Creator, with little value in itself. Christians of this outlook do not show an interest in nature itself. They use it simply as an apologetic weapon, rather than thinking or talking about the real value of nature.
Secondly, I think that the American Christians’ loyalty to partisan politics has skewered a biblical understanding of right and wrong on many things, including war and environment. It did not take me very long to come to the conclusion that the Iraqi War was not a good war for our country to be involved in, but I knew early on that there was no way I could keep my Evangelical Christian credentials if I sided with liberals on the topic, even if we arrived at the same conclusion by different paths. In the same way, Christians have listened to their favorite pastor for so long (Pastor Limbaugh) that they have completely yielded the claim to environmental care to the “whackos.”
There is no doubt that Christians should be politically active. But the fact of the matter is, we should not be the lackeys of any particular party. Sadly, some Christians are led about by the nose by the Democratic party, blinding themselves to moral difficulties with the party’s platform because it seems to best represent their cherished, Christian concern (i.e. care for the poor, race reconciliation, etc.). On the other hand, other Christians blindly sell their souls to a Republican party and sniff at many legitimate social issues because it represents their cherished concerns (i.e. pro-life, etc.). But finally, Russell Moore says the obvious: big business can’t be trusted without regulations.
No, duh. And that’s a political statement. Who cares which party may or may not benefit from it.
And this leads to a third reason American Christians have been flippant about the environment: it is because the great majority of them have been nurtured with a high view of man and an equally low view of all God’s creation. The whole creation groans, Paul said, and finally a respected, conservative theologian is coming out and saying, “Hey, it matters that the creation is getting mucked up.”
That means if people are sinful, if all of us are sinful, then all of us have to have accountability, and that includes corporations. Simply trusting corporations to go about their business without polluting the water streams and without destroying the ecosystems is really a naive and utopian view of human nature. It’s not a Christian view of human nature. (Moore)
But a final reason is more human and embarrassingly revealing because it accuses us of being too myopic with our lifestyles. Schaeffer said it best:
[A healthy love and awe of nature that is not romanticized] helps unmask the fact that other men’s activities are not just private, inconsequential, and limited in themselves; their arts, mediated through changes in nature, affect my life, my children, and the generations to come. In this sense, justification of a technological arrogance toward nature on the basis of dividends and profits is not just bad economics — it is basically an immoral act.
We don’t really conceive of immorality until we realize it affects us. Russell Moore is from the Gulf Coast. Finally, a theologian is speaking up and saying, “Hey, environmental concerns and issues are important to us as Christians.” And he’s right.
But it had to hit home before it happened.
Hopefully, Christians don’t wait until until everything around them is destroyed before they begin to think that it really should have mattered to them to be concerned about it. It not only would have been smart on a human level. It would have been Christian.