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Christians will become environmentalists when it’s too late.

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.


10 Responses

  1. Bob,

    I agree with you in the sense that for too long we have underestimated human depravity in the Republican Party and pretended that human depravity (self-interest) in the free market is actually a virtue.

    The difficulty is that depravity is just as prevalent among environmental activists and government regulatory bureaucrats as it is among corporations. It seems to me that evangelicals are more likely to follow the knee-jerk regulatory impulse than to discover a useful solution. And that outcome could surely swing the pendulum so far in the opposite direction that we cripple our economy (maybe that’s not all bad) and accomplish very little for the environment.

    So I do see progress in that we’re reducing our naïve laissez faire, pro-GOP/big-business optimism. That may be a first step in the right direction, but I’m unconvinced that this will bear good fruit. Mostly just different bad fruit. Maybe there’s something to be said for variety.

  2. It never occurred to me to even attempt to say this out loud. It should have. You’re right.

  3. Apparently the Gulf oil disaster happened because some people got sloppy with existing regulations. This could have been due to corporate greed or just laziness. This problem isn’t the result of blind loyalty to the Republican party. It is the result of human depravity.

    How exactly will a new ‘environmental consciousness’ or more regulations be able to prevent future errors rooted in human depravity?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Leaving aside Moore’s touching though naive trust in government, anybody who thinks business in America (especially the oil business) is operating without regulation should just keep his mouth shut rather than broadcasting his ignorance to be favorably quoted in places like this.

  5. Go Francis Schaeffer. Glad you’re reading him Bob. And, plenty of us “evangelical conservatives” have been listening to him and following his advice for years.

    You say, ” 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.”

    A couple comments: 1) Yes you can keep your Evangelical Christian credentials (I’m not so sure about Fundamentalist credentials). 2) No war is a “good” war, but some wars are “just”. Iraq is neither. 3) What’s in the water there in Illinois? A former fundy writing like a paleo-con. Have you been hanging out down in the offices of Chronicles?

    Good work.


  6. What an interesting conversation! First, “Pastor” Limbaugh is right about the environmentalist “wackos.” There are certainly many of the little people who actually want to do good, but at the heart of most of the environmentalist movements are philosophies such as Communism, paganism, worshiping Gaia, etc. None of those things really appeals to me and many other conservative Christians.

    Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan and bankers like that are the ones who really control the world. Are you that naive that you didn’t realize that much of BP’s stock was sold – just weeks PRIOR to the explosion? And if Obama and the other leftist heroes are such lovers of the environment, why did they sit on the problem for weeks and not take international aid and why such a continued slow response?

    And no, I’m not a right wing Republican Hannity fan, either. The war in Iraq was and is useless. What good did it do? And the war in Afghanistan isn’t much better. Is it really a just war when a big role of the US government is to protect the poppies so the international drug trade can go on undisturbed?

  7. By the way, I’m naive about way too many things. That wasn’t meant to sound like scurrilous comment.

  8. I have been thinking about this after I read Moore’s comments. I think you are absolutely correct in your points. Particularly the first one about Dispensationalism. I would add that growing up with a Christian education, one thing that was constant was we worship the Creator not the creation. While that is true, and many environmentalist do just this, it should not take away our responsibility to be good stewards with what God has given us.

  9. It seems to me that another reason Christians have been too long taking this issue seriously is because of a mistrust of science provoked by an evolutionary narrative that is at odds with their understanding of revelation. If Darwin and Dawkins can’t be trusted as to how we got here, why should we trust Rachel Carson or Al Gore as to the seriousness of the problems?

    Ok, Gore’s probably not fair to mention with those others, but you get what I mean.

  10. At the risk of sounding “nit picky” let me say I prefer to call the physical world around us creation, not nature-it helps avoid the evolutionary mother earth mindset.
    In regards to the topic at hand, I guess I have not seen the careless disregard for creation by Christians
    that others have, and no, I have not been in a fundamental closet my whole life.

    God tells us how we are to view His creation in Genesis, it is ours to subdue. This does not mean abuse, but we need to remember that it was given to us by God to use in a way that meets our needs. I believe that means, if we use our God given brains, that we should be good stewards of such so that it is a useable product for our children-this means, don’t trash it!

    To get overly caught up in the environmental mindset of our current culture (and the politics that go with it) is a mistake IMHO, especially with so many other areas that need attention. The science behind the environmentalist movement is spurrious at best,
    global warming being just one part of their false advertising, so don’t believe the lie, its not as bad as they make it out to be. If you just “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” you will be doing OK.

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