Is there an environmental problem? A background on evangelicals and the environment.
Mention Evangelicals and most people conjure up images of angry, red-faced televangelists such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or perhaps the creepy Joel Osteen. Perhaps it’s rightly so, for these megaliths lead millions of people all the way to the voting booths. Largely, Evangelicals have supported conservative politicians – the more conservative the better – due to stances on homosexuality and abortion. They come out in droves to vote on these issues – 30% of votes for Bush in 2000 were Evangelicals1.
Hey, it’s a free country, and they can vote on whatever issue they want – however, in this case, it appears that there is an underlying lack of understanding of theology at work. The anti-environmentalism sentamentalism (say that five times fast) present in many evangelical circles is hindering deeper concern and understanding for conservation, good stewardship and proper discussion of how best to follow God’s will.
Jerry Falwell said that September 11th happened because God removed protection from the US because of His anger over homosexuals, abortions and liberal groups.2 If someone is going to argue this, why would God not also remove protection from the US due to our unwise stewardship of God’s creation? Falwell and other evangelical leaders in his vein have missed the boat on this one; which causes more poverty, health issues, and injustice for people – homosexuality or rampant pollution? Obviously, it’s pollution. Jesus welcomed the marginalized, but he was angered by those who treated people unjustly. Evangelical leaders have largely missed this gigantic opportunity to minister to the poor, sick and marginalized through environmental stewardship.
Of course, there are also many evangelicals who are concerned about the environment and stewardship principles, including those who started the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), through which hundreds of evangelical leaders signed a petition to have higher concern for environmental issues.4 Environmentally-minded Christians see conservation and stewardship as a means to serve God and fix many of the problems that plague people today.
Of course, it’s not just the focus on hot-button issues that prevent many evangelicals from supporting wise stewardship of the environment. There’s the whole brouhaha over whether there actually is an environmental problem. This can extend from “I don’t believe climate change is human-induced,” to a lack of knowledge of how prevalent pollution is in our world and bodies, to even a theological viewpoint that negates the importance of stewardship. For example, an Evangelical high school history textbook argues that overpopulation and conservation are not issues because “the Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in God’s Earth. The resources are waiting to be tapped.”5
*Cringe.* This quote shows a lack of sound theology and for Christian environmentalists, raises 2 concerns. 1) Nowhere in the Bible does God say that there are unlimited Earthly resources. Yes, God will always provide to His followers (Luke 12: 20-32) but that does not give us license to relentlessly press for resources. There are many Biblical commands to be good stewards. The Sabbath principle extended to the land in ancient times – why do we not let our lands rest?
God gave the world to us for safe-keeping, and animals and people are dying, falling ill and being ‘taken away’ (extinction). We are looking, and we are documenting it all happening. Will God accept this? Will we pay restitution?
So who’s against who?
So what does this mean for stewardship? Is it simply the anti-environmental evangelicals vs. the pro-environmental ones? It is even more complex than that. Some evangelicals, such as the infamous James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, who regularly brought end-times speech into his politics, have stated that they believe in ‘conservation’ and ‘stewardship’, but their actions do everything to the contrary. Watt wrote an article to The Washington Post entitled “The Religious Left’s Lies” in which he defended himself against ‘extreme environmentalists and liberals’ who argue that he exploits the environment without concern due to the coming end-time. In response to attacks, he said that his belief was “The Bible commands conservation — that we as Christians be careful stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by the Creator.”6 Yet one must only look at his track record to realize there is a disconnect. As Secretary, he refused accepting private donations of land for public parks, wanted to open up all federal land to mining and drilling in 2000, leased a record amount of public land to timber and coal companies at a large loss, and boasted openly about opening up the entire coastline for oil drilling.7
It is not a simple problem. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding of environmental issues, or perhaps there is a political battle at stake, but either way, this blog aims to show that there are environmental and human health issues from industrial agriculture, what they are, and the Biblical and theological impetuses for why Christians should not support such a system.
1Scherer, Glenn. “The Godly Must be Crazy”. The Grist. Oct. 27, 2004.
2 Harris, John F. “God Gave US what we deserve, Falwell says.” Sept. 14. 2001. Washington Post.
3 Scherer, Glenn.
5White, Lynn. “On the historical roots of our ecological crisis.” 1967. pg. 88
6Watt, James. “The Religious Left’s Lies.” May 21, 2005. Washington Post.
7 “The Legacy of James Watt”. Oct. 24, 1983. Time magazine.