I found this image online the other day. I think it probably expresses well the pervasive attitude from within the Christian community regarding the environment. The implication here is that I shouldn’t care about environmentalism so long as unborn babies are still being murdered. While I don’t believe the two issues to be diametrically opposed, the message is clear: most Christians consider the environment to be of peripheral, rather than central, importance.
This is altogether unfortunate. The dialogue surrounding environmental issues tends to be couched in political terms that amounts to little more than posturing by those seeking our votes. If you believe the Religious Right, global warming is nothing more than a myth; even the term “environmentalism” bears much political freight these days. In the past 30 years, environmental issues have gotten little to no play among conservative evangelicals, written off as a leftist or liberal political agenda. And let’s be honest: much of the political rhetoric regarding the environment does come from the left. So it’s little wonder most conservative Christians hit the snooze button when the political discussion turns to environmental issues.
But I’ve come to the point where I want to divorce the issue from the unhelpful political baggage and the posturing of politicians and recover it for the deeply theological issue I believe it to be. (Better said, I consider myself an environmentalist on theological, not political, grounds.)
In the beginning, God created, as the Scriptures say. And this creation was called good. And God gave His little image-bearers dominion over the created order. God called humanity into a partnership. The Creator enjoins the created to tend His creation. To me, this is the grounds for a missional ethic of creation.
As Wendell Berry says, even the term “environment” is misleading. It tends to put too much distance between us and where we live. It sounds as though we think of earth as simply a place where we happen to be camping. The Biblical image of creation is so much more than this. As Eugene Peterson says, “Creation is not something apart from us; it is part of us and we are part of it. We don’t own this place and so we can’t do with it whatever we wish. We are this place, an identity that we have in common with all our earth-neighbors.”
I’m not saying we should all become vegans or never use the resources God created. But I am arguing for a greater sense of stewardship and responsibility among God’s people when it comes to creation. All I know is, if I were God and I made something and called it good and gave it to you to take care of and you treated it like garbage, I’d be ticked.
Back to the image at the top of this post: if I were forced to choose, obviously the life of a child has infinitely more intrinsic value than a tree. Trees aren’t made in the image of God. But I don’t see why this has to be an either / or issue. For too long, the discourse regarding “moral issues” has focused too narrowly on a couple of issues. And while the abortion issue is near to my heart, too, I think Christians also have a responsibility to make good stewardship of God’s creation a “moral issue” as well when casting their ballots.