Monday, January 21, 2008

Environmentalist and Christian

As a budding environmentalist and a follower of Jesus, I am asked every now and then what links might exist between spirituality and the environment. This doesn't happen very often close to where I live, since I am surrounded by many people with a Reformed (Calvinist) worldview, who even have a modern creed entitled, "Our World Belongs to God".

Other times, I'll read something written by a Christian that sees no connection between Environmentalism and Faith. Or, I read about Christian leaders trying to fire Richard Cizek, leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, because of his views on the environment. This is incomprehensible to me - he's one of the best things we have going. Thankfully, some of those critics have been shouted down by some of the more mainstream Christian leaders.

Upon encountering this mindset, I usually think and feel, "I am an environmentalist, not in spite of, but precisely because I am a follower of Jesus." It is clear to me from scripture that the world belongs to God. The apostle Paul tells us that creation points us to God and reveals his character - in fact, so much so that we are "without excuse" in recognizing God in nature. And you tell me we don't need to take care of this creation that reveals the nature of God to people who are far from him? We can trash it? We can wipe out species every day that point to and reveal the miraculous creativity of the Creator? Discipleship is not just about piety, worship is not just what we do on Sunday, and in a similar way, stewardship is not only about our wallets. We follow and worship and testify to God with our attitudes, our actions, our wallets, the way we drive, the way we compete, the way we do business, the way we pray, the way we play, and the way we consume (or not consume) resources.

Recenly, I read a challenge from a pastor that "there is no theology of ecology" and that the church ought to be primarily about the job of saving souls. If that is true and the Christian life is that easy, should the church of Jesus also not take stances on the use of money, ending poverty, abortion, immigration, AIDS, slavery, or war? Clearly Jesus was not merely about "saving souls" - he talked far more about how we use money that salvation itself. We have a skeptical mission field - we earn the right to talk about salvation with people when we live caring, responsible lives of integrity in community - which is a feature of the early Christian Church that "added to their number daily" (Acts 2).

My simplest argument is that Jesus' purest summary of the law, "Love God, Love your Neighbor" is in itself a succinct theology of ecology. If we love God we should love what He loves, and it's clear He thinks His creation is very good. Our North American consumption and disregard/ignorance for the way our habits affect the "least of these" is extremely sad. In 5 southeastern states, the majority of hazardous waste sites are in African-american communities, even though these communities only represent 22% of the population. 3rd world countries suffer even more. Who is my neighbor? Jesus made it clear that everyone is my neighbor.

I was thrilled when I read, "Serve God, Save the Planet" by J. Matthew Sleeth MD who sums up his approach to environmentalism in much the same way. (Link on right)

Incidentally, I'll be presenting on "Adaptive Reuse for Churches" at the Church Solutions Conference and Expo in Phoenix, AZ in February where I'll advocate that churches consider buying empty buildings and renovating them for use as ministry centers, rather than building new from scratch. In a future post, I will list the benefits of doing so - not the least of which is environmental. What is the most environmental building product out there? Bamboo? Cork? Wheat Board? Solar Panels? Photovoltaics? Wind Turbines? Actually, the most environmental product is the one you never use.