This is the first of a series of posts that will be interacting with issues that will be discussed at the Lausanne meeting that will be taking place in Cape Town, South Africa October 16 to 25. Join in the discussions at conversation.lausanne.org
This is a reflection on the paper The Challenge of Environmental Stewardship
American Evangelicals and the Environment
Some of the most influential formative years of my life were spent living at a conference center in southern New Jersey. The property was huge with lots of woods and three fresh water lakes. I spent countless hours running through the woods, making forts, fishing in the lakes and camping. That love of the outdoors has stuck with me. There are few things I love more than hiking a mountain or running a good trail. I love being outdoors.
So, how do I feel about the environment? Until a few years ago, I’d say I was indifferent. At some point, I don’t remember when, I was confronted with the inconsistency of loving the outdoors and being apathetic about the environment. There was need for some self reflection and an understanding of what was impacting my thinking. I came to the conclusion that I was indifferent for two reasons, one theological and one ideological.
Theologically, evangelicals understand that one day Christ will return. An allegorical reading of the book of Revelation understands that his return will be preceded and accompanied by disaster. A new heaven and earth will be created. With this understanding, it is not too far a stretch to arrive at indifference about the environment. “If it is all going to be destroyed anyway, why should we worry too deeply?” This thinking is well encapsulated by James G. Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first interior secretary, when he famously made this argument before Congress in 1981, saying: "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." (see http://bit.ly/9heHK5)
Ideologically, those who have traditionally pushed a strong environmental agenda have often been politically liberal and disagree with evangelicals on a host of issues. Environmentalism has been on the opposite political/ideological stage as most American evangelical and has become guilty by association. Many American evangelicals would align themselves with the Republican party and believe issues related to the environment and global warming are politically motivated.
After some reflection, I decided that these were not sufficient reasons to carry on in indifference to the world that God created. While I believe that Christ will return, I also believe that man was made a steward of the earth and we have a biblical obligation to take care of it. Am I worried that many who care about the environment differ significantly with me on other issues I care deeply about. No, they have their reasons to care about the environment and I have mine.