Evangelicals are waking up to our responsibility to the environment. Evangelical initiatives on the environment are growing in cultural impact, but they continue to garner stout resistance. Too often, politics and capitalism get in the way of a clear evangelical consensus. Here's why I think creation care is important—and why some evangelicals still resist it.
I believe that, through Christ, God created the heavens and the earth. The created order includes an amazingly beautiful and diverse array of creatures (including us) as well as the natural systems required to sustain their (our) existence. When God made the world he commanded human beings to exercise dominion-as-stewardship; that is, he commanded that we care for creation as wise managers of the created order.
I believe that human sin affects every dimension of the human experience. This includes sins of omission and commission, what we do and what we fail to do. It also includes sins both personal and social, both corporate and individual.
I believe that basic scientific evidence available in any biology or ecology class documents that the modern, industrialized world created by human ingenuity has brought many amazing gains to human life but also has created considerable damage to God's creation. These damages, I believe, should be understood as constituting both personal and social sins against God and his creation.
A January statement jointly authored by evangelicals and leading scientists puts it this way: “The harm is seen throughout the natural world, including a cascading set of problems such as climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, the spread of infectious diseases, and other accelerating threats to the health of people and the well-being of societies.” Notice that climate change is only one of the problems mentioned. Climate change is not the only environmental issue.
I believe that when Christian disciples discover that we have been participating in sin, we are mandated to repent. We are required (and should be eager) to figure out what we have done wrong, why we have done it, and how to change our ways so that we don't do it anymore. I believe that the kinds of creation-care efforts that many of us are involved in represent an aspect of Christian discipleship.
Not wanting to pick a fight, but because we are already in one, I must say that it seems to me that those who resist creation care sometimes are motivated by a misreading of Scripture. I have been in conversations where people suggest that stewardship primarily means mastery of earth to use it as we please or need; or that human beings do not have the power to do real harm to creation; or that God has promised ever since Noah never to allow humans to do serious harm to creation; or that the earth will be destroyed by fire anyway, and soon.
I believe that all of these ideas are erroneous, and that we need to keep working deeply on the theology of creation care to move beyond them.
I believe that those who resist creation care sometimes offer a misreading of science, sometimes undertake a patent misuse of science, and sometimes are driven by a basic mistrust of science. In being concerned about the unraveling of the fabric of the divinely designed creation order, I stand with the great majority of ecologists, biologists, climatologists, and other mainstream scientists. A number of very influential evangelicals are staking their reputations and the public witness of our community on a profound mishandling of science.
I believe that those who resist creation care are sometimes motivated by an inordinate loyalty to laissez-faire capitalism, as if it is clearly unbiblical to favor any measure that might affect the operations of the free market. I believe that such economic libertarianism is a political ideology, and nothing more, and like all political ideologies it must submit to the mandates of God's Word.
I believe that those who resist creation care are sometimes motivated by an inordinate loyalty to political leaders, groups within political parties, or political ideologies that are suspicious of environmental concern. I fear that they are taking their cues from such political loyalties rather than opening themselves up to the witness both of our troubled creation and of Scripture itself.
I believe that if evangelical Christians drop their resistance to creation care, our nation's culture and politics will change rapidly. I believe that this will be one of the best contributions we will ever make to this country and to the world.
David Gushee is a professor at Union University.