Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What's Your Question Wednesday

My dad and step-mom asked me to post about my position on Christians and the environment. This discussion was sparked by a news story about their friend's son who is a pastor of a prominent church in Boise, ID. He is also an outspoken proponent of what I guess you might call "Christian environmentalism" (for lack of a better term).

Basically, there appear to be two Christian positions lining up on this debate. One side says that Christians should care for God's creation by exercising good principles of stewardship. In turn, they are trying to adopt eco-friendly practices. Here is one quote from the article in the Idaho Statesman article:
"The protection of the environment is a biblically rooted task straight from God," Cizik said in Newsweek this year. "The status quo (of how we are treating the Earth) is simply not acceptable."

The other side of the debate says that the mandate from God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 to "fill the earth and subdue it" and to "rule over" the animals basically gives us permission to use the earth's resources any way we want. Here is another quore from the article in the Statesman:
"I believe it is a very dangerous thing for evangelicals to align themselves with environmentalists," [Bryan] Fischer said {executive director of the Idaho Values Network and a prominent Idaho evangelist]. "Inevitably what happens is evangelicals compromise biblical principles."

The difference between the two men on doctrine is small but important. Fischer says God granted man authority over the Earth to do with it what he pleases.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't tell us what "biblical principles" Fischer believes are compromised by the practice of environmental stewardship. I would be curious to hear what those are. And I'm a little suspicious that there isn't an exact quote from Fischer about his supposed position that humans can do "whatever we please" with the environment. But for the sake of argument, I'm going to assume this is an accurate representation of his position.

Let me say a quick word about the term "subdue." The connotation in the Hebrew here is that the earth was a wild and whooly place that needed to be brought under control. After all, the entire planet wasn't a lovely, divinely-planted garden like Eden; it was limited to the Mesopotamia/North Africa region. And once Adam and Eve were forced out of Eden in Genesis 3, they were no doubt confronted with this harsh reality. If you have ever watched an episode of "Survivor" then you know how precarious the line can be at times between life and death in our world.

Now, about this phrase "rule over." Many Christians will point to this word as a proof-text that humans should "dominate" creation and use its resources any ol' which way. In my opinion, however, this interpretation is overly simplistic. On the one hand, we share a kinship with the rest of creation; we are made from the same "stuff," if you will. On the other hand, Genesis places humanity in the very unique position in that we alone are created in the image of God. We are spiritually conscious beings that God has elevated to having the potential to have a relationship with Him. For this reason, we alone are qualified to care of His creation. Humans are God's representative or viceroy on earth. In other words, we are the caretakers for God's vineyard.

This interpretation fits much better with the teachings in the rest of Scripture. Jesus, for example, has a lot to say about stewardship of the financial resources he has given us. Although his parables aren't speaking about creation per se, it cetainly falls within the realm of possibility that as a general principle God wants us to practice good stewardship of whatever resources he gives us, including money and creation.

Also, according to Psalm 19 and Romans 1 (and other places), the glory of creation is God's way of revealing certain information about Himself to unbelievers. No human can say, "I didn't know God" because the Creator has left fingerprints of his existence throughout creation. But what does it say about us when God's own people are apathetic about treasuring this divine revelation? May I go so far as to suggest that reckless regard for creation is somewhat akin to defacating on a copy of Scripture?

I'll close with this. What are Christians to make of the science behind global warming? Although atmospheric science is a highly complex discipline, I think it's pretty certain that the earth is getting warmer. The question is, is it part of a normal oscillation in temperature that has occurred throughout earth's history, or is it being induced by human activity? The second question is, which is in my mind a lot more important, Can we stop the global warming? If this is just part of the earth's natural climate changes, then all of the recycling in the world isn't going to stop this. But either way, perhaps taking geo-friendly steps (again, for lack of a better word) could slow the process down. But again, the science isn't real clear on that either.

In sum, Should Christians use the earth's resources? Absolutely. We shouldn't feel guilty about that. God put them there for our use. Does this give us permission to squander earth's resources? Absolutely not. We need to use them prudently and wisely so they can be there for future generations.


Katie said...

Thanks for this post! So much of what I read is from the "global warming is not happening and anyone who thinks otherwise is a planet worshipper" camp. Trying to find balanced, scientifically sound material to present to my kiddos has been a confusing, and sometimes infuriating journey.

Re4mdmom said...

This is a really REALLY good post and I appreciate your thoughts on the matter so much. Over the past year or so, I've become somewhat of a greenie. I view Genesis 1:28 as a command for us to be stewards of the earth- to care for it and keep it, not to rule over or dominate it. I was glad to read in your post that I'm not totally off.

For the average Christian (or human being for that matter), I think it is important to do what you can- make the little changes that work for your family which might also help the environment. We use compact fluorescent bulbs. We buy local produce. We reuse grocery bags. Just little changes. I doubt my husband has even noticed, but I know, and I feel like, in some way, I am being a better steward over God's creation than I used to be. I just try to be mindful.

I heard on John and Ken recently that NASA has reordered the warmest years of the 20th century and that something like 3-4 out of the top ten were in the 1920's and 1930's. I guess I'm wondering if this lends credence to the idea that the temperature of the earth ebbs and flows...

mnemosyne said...

Thanks for your post. I recently read a comment by a YEC pastor (can't remember the source, sorry) that even if global warming is true, and caused by humans, then so what? the earth is just being "used up" the way God intended it to be, for our purposes. Needless to say, I was staggered!

I too, would like to know just HOW Christianity is being compromised by a concern for the environment.

Not being a scientist, I can't tell you whether or not the data are all in, however the vast majority of climatologists do believe that global warming is real and caused by humans -- I guess we who are not scientists have to firstly ask whether these opinions are based on the best possible science before we accept them, and then ask ourselves what the best course of action is. My feeling is that even if the science turns out to be wrong, what have we lost by the steps we may have taken to make the air cleaner, machines more fuel-efficient, agriculture more sustainable???