Tuesday, August 10, 2010

American Evangelicals and the Environment

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.


  1. My thoughts exactly! I've grown up in a family where eating organic food and gardening are a way of life. But you can't spend much time in the beatniks Heath food stores and not start paying attention to the things they notice. I had to come to the same conclusion about my faith and the environment a while ago. The thing I keep coming back to is that God told Adam and Eve to take dominion over the land and care for it. Wasting the world is not caring for the world. Anyway, good read and good thought!

  2. Exactly - growing up in New Zealand I was and am strongly influenced by concerns of the environment. As a Christian I believe that we have a responsibility to take care of the world that God has given us - especially because many of the decisions we make as individuals and countries causes suffering for people in other parts of the world

  3. Although, I agree that taking care and respecting the world around us is important and something God wants, I cannot believe that it "trumps" people. Too often enviornmental conceerns put people of lower importance than nature. So people will always come first, environment second. That is what I believe fits with what the bible teaches.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I am glad I am not alone.

    Laura, a question, based on what I have written above, would you assume that I place a higher value on the environment than on people? Or, is your concern more general in nature - that many who value the environment tend to overemphasize it?