There is a perpetual tendency in the modern social discourse about the environment, and our responsibility to it, to digress into angry debates focused on climate change. I bring this up at the outset because I believe that we have lost many good years and good ideas as casualties in a discussion that is, at best, peripheral to the actual issue. As Christians, the ethical core of our interaction with the environment, and our ecological responsibilities, do not revolve around climate change. The dilemma here is not as much ethical as it is directional. We do have a moral mandate to be stewards of the earth that God created, but modern Evangelicalism, which does believe this is true, has found itself largely impotent in this area as it has focused on political intrigue instead of biblical instruction. So there are actually two ethical problems, first our responsibility, or more clearly our abdication of it, to care for the earth, and second our intrepid pursuit of being right about things that do not matter.
Biblical Christianity believes that God created nature in an order, a hierarchy of complexity, and it is in the Divine declaration to mankind, “subdue the earth”, that we find our place in this order. What has happened, in the wake of sin and mankind’s rebellion against both God’s order and rule, is that we have been far more apt to read God’s command as “subjugate” not “subdue” the earth. To subdue something is to tame it, to mold it, to shape it so that it is more useful. Subjugation is an evil idea that reeks of slavery, abuse, and indiscriminate squandering. Strip mining, pollution, and fossil fuel depletion resemble conquest more than care. Roger Crook, in his work on Christian ethics, speaks to humanity’s unique position in the created order as those who are not only created but creators as well, and in this vein he says,
“If we focus on the high place in creation that is occupied by humankind, we must recognize it as one of responsibility and not ownership”.
– Roger Crook
While the Bible is adamant that creation, nature, is to be cared for, it is not nearly so concerned (it could be argued that it is completely unconcerned) with being correct about every issue that may arise within the cultural context of that action. The Bible is relatively silent on the role of science in the world, but it’s silence is noticeably so both for and against the role of study and human inquiry. This is an important point as it means that scientists are able to be completely right about climate change and not once contradict the Bible. It also means that they can be wrong and not contradict the Bible. The responsibility for Christians is not to fight tooth and nail to debunk or wholeheartedly accept science’s discoveries, but to join in with anyone who would strive to care for and steward the gift of creation. It should trouble the church to hear that the common Christian clerics response to a minister whose ministry focus is educating people about ecological stewardship, and implicitly inciting them to engage, is, “”Oh, now that you’re working for the environment, you must be a pagan” (from PBS report on Evangelicals and the Environment – view here).
I will talk more on this tomorrow, but I think this is worth thinking about for us. If there is a great hostility in us toward Al Gore or the climate change crowd, there needs to be a time of meditation as to why. Why are we so frustrated by these groups and reports? Is it because they mention evolution? So did the movie Transformers but I haven’t heard many Christians losing their minds over that. Could it be, and I’m meddling a bit here, that we are frustrated by this entire line of thinking because of residual guilt over some aspect of this issue? What would it look like to perhaps admit, at the very least, that something needs to be done in our world? Could we lay down our cultural guns and work shoulder to shoulder with people who don’t love the same God but who love His creation?
7 “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
8 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
9 Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.