Monday, September 29, 2014

Can a Christian be an Environmentalist?

My article from this week's newspapers answers a question about Christians and Environmentalism:

Q:  Can a Christian be an environmentalist?  What should be a Christian approach to care of the environment? 

Responsible care of creation is a concern which should resonate with most Christians.  From the beginning, the Bible’s account of creation portrays man as the caretaker of creation.  Even before sin entered the world, Adam was tasked with the work of tending to the Garden in which the Lord had placed him, and both creation and Adam’s care for it were very good in the eyes of God. 

Throughout Scripture, humans are described as the stewards of the material blessings of the earth.  A steward is one who does not own the things he manages, but has been given authority by the owner to distribute and use those things, but with the understanding that he is also to care for them responsibly – since they are not his own, but belong to the master. 

In this case, man is the steward, and God is the master to whom it belongs.  We do not truly own any of the things that we possess or use in this world, but instead, they belong to God Himself, and we are given the privilege to use them for a time along with the obligation to care for them responsibly. 

Even though commands in the book of Genesis such as “be fruitful and multiply” or “fill the earth and subdue it” are occasionally taken out of context to conclude that man can carelessly consume the earth’s resources without limitation or concern for the consequences, a proper reading of Scripture leads the Christian to take this concept of stewardship to heart – that while we have the authority to consume resources, advance society, and build upon the earth, both form comfort and survival, we are not to do so carelessly. 

While abuses have occurred in history, be it out of selfish malice or simple ignorance, toward the earth’s resources, the focus of modern environmental movements may be both an overcorrection as well as a moral concern for Christians. 

One reason for concern is the connection of modern environmentalism to other spiritualities.  Much of the activism that surrounds the environment has foundations in philosophies and religions that are not only foreign to Christianity, but are even in opposition to Christianity.  For example, the Hindu earth goddess Gaia played a significant role in early environmental activism, and much of the underlying ideology of the environmental movement arises from an understanding of the earth as “mother” that comes to us from Wiccan and other pagan sources.  Because of this, it is important for the Christian to make sure it is science, and not assumptions based on foreign spiritualities which are informing their concern. 

Additionally, and of a more practical concern, are the tendencies within some sectors of environmental activism to portray humanity as the enemy of the created world.  This flawed assumption directly contradicts Biblical descriptions that man is the high point of God’s creation and the divinely-appointed steward of nature and its resources.  It also creates a worldview in which children, particularly large families, are to be avoided and frowned upon as burdens to the environment rather than understood as divine blessings to be desired and received with thankfulness. 

Ultimately, while responsible care for the environment is absolutely consistent with the Lord’s commands to humanity, it is necessary to use caution that we do not make the world or its care into an idol which supplants the Lord who created it.  At the same time, Christians should be at the forefront of responsible environmental stewardship out of respect for the Lord who created the world and appreciation toward Him who is the supreme source of its many blessings. 

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