Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Caring About Those Who Care About the Environment

Even if Al Gore is wrong, do we who are followers of Christ really want to be seen as antagonistic and anti-environment?

That type of question is one that has been consistently passing through my mind recently.  I know of many Christians who are actively fighting or mocking any "green" movement, and my question is: Why?  Usually the answer will be political or economic.  I propose that the question we should ask ourselves is: How has indifference, or even antagonism, toward environmental issues furthered the cause of Christ?

Put it another way.  Suppose for a moment that all the scientific reports and theories about global warming and eventual catastrophic calamities are incorrect.  As far as how we have conducted ourselves in the debate, how well have we as the God-fearing community in our culture represented the God we believe is the Creator of the environment?  Let me push it one step further.  Even if it is eventually definitively determined that there has been no human-induced large-scale detriment to the environment, what good is it if Christians are viewed to have won the battle concerning the environment, yet lost any positive influence on the larger culture in the process?

As usual, we are known more for what we are against than what we are for.

Let me be clear: We are for the glory of God in Christ, and as a result, the sharing of the gospel of Jesus is our privilege and task—it is our mission.  I am not suggesting we stop or pause our mission to take up another banner, nor even to add green issues to our mission.  I am also not suggesting we expand our definition of the gospel to include societal issues.  What I am suggesting is that we take an honest look at whether many Christians' indifference or antagonism toward green issues (and toward those who are proponents of green issues) is helping or hurting our own mission.  Is it possible that we have actually damaged the reputation of the Creator by claiming to speak for Him on these issues?

Although we should care for this planet because it is God's creation, we should care all the more about those who may not know the Creator.

My own denomination has been slow to clarify this.  So far the convention has produced two specific resolutions at consecutive annual meetings that were vague at best, and at their worst have served to reinforce others' negative perceptions of us.  However, recently I came across a document that I find encouraging.  An independent coalition among the convention has agreed on a declaration as part of the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative.  Many leaders whom I respect have signed the declaration.  The document says that "our current denominational engagement with these issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice."  In addition, the authors of the declaration state essentially what I am asserting here.  They say that the way in which we have responded to these issues (and I would add, responded to the proponents of these issues) "may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed.  We can do better."

I have no idea what the future holds for this initiative, nor for the specifics they have purposely yet to produce, but I am thankful and hopeful because some of my own have recognized that merely arguing or retreating on these issues is not helpful to the cause of Christ.  Props to Jonathan Merritt for doing something.  (Note the media coverage in Time Magazine and on ABC World News.)

So where does that leave us?  What I am asking for is that we Christians become engaged in the process in a positive, God-honoring way.  Again, we should care about the creation since we boast in the Creator, and we should care about those who care about the environment.  Consider this a plea for balance.  Clearly there are extreme elements of the environmental movement(s) with which we cannot align ourselves.  (One example would be those who advocate population controls in the form of abortion and euthanasia.)  But we also don't have to blindly fall to the opposite end of the spectrum by ignoring potential problems and vilifying advocates of green issues.

I am sure there will be much more to say about this topic in the coming months and years.  This post is by no means thorough.  But it was time for me to begin rethinking what it means to be a Christ follower who cares about God's creation, and more than that, cares about those who care about the environment.