Increasingly, however, that’s about the only fact on which everybody can agree. Even among the evangelical Christian community, many of whom are just now coming late to the party, consensus concerning the environment seems elusive. Believers with a social activist bent tend to lean towards the more draconian, cure-worse-than-the-disease side of the argument, while traditional conservatives bristle at any idea that chokes profits.
Yesterday, I discussed the Manhattan Declaration, and how Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox adherents are being encouraged to participate in a one-million-signature demonstration in support of conservative social policy. But that’s not the only petition-oriented evangelical action website out there trying to get one million signatures. Christians concerned about government involvement in the climate change debate have founded WeGetIt.org, which promotes economically-balanced strategies for managing ecological resources from a Biblical perspective.
Is it About Conservation or Control?
The problem I’ve had with most conservative groups purporting to hold solemn respect for the universe God created involves their penchant for combining ecology with money. And to a certain extent, being careful stewards of the environment does involve some form of financial give and take. Preventing pollution costs more than just dumping chemicals into the air and sewage into rivers. Most Christians acknowledge that minimizing - or at least managing - pollution can work to our benefit.
However, further along the conservative spectrum, some American evangelicals take our resource-draining lifestyles as practically a God-given right. They forget that pollution in one part of the world tends to produce side effects in other parts of the world, which can reduce quality of life and even lifespans, which flies in the face of our "sanctity of life" ethos.
And WeGetIt.org doesn’t seem much different than other evangelicals with ethnocentric blinders when it comes to the environment. If you scratch the surface of the WeGetIt.org declaration, it does not require a stretch of the imagination to see a sub-culture of pro-business big-energy pundits whose agenda definitely tilts towards a uniquely American interpretation of God’s “rule and subdue” mandate for mankind.
Do We Really Get It?
As manifestos go, the WeGetIt.org declaration is short on specifics and long on platitudes – two suspicious characteristics which give it a lot of wiggle room when it comes to crafting policy. Which undoubtedly isn’t unintentional. In theory, the wording of the WeGetIt.org declaration could be taken on face value as a legitimate mission statement for an evangelical social or environmental organization. However, pour some water (one of our limited resources) on the wording, and gaps begin to appear as the sugary coating begins to dissolve.
For example, phrases like “watch over His creation,” and “stewardship… based on Biblical principles and factual evidence” leave a lot open to interpretation, as does the term “poverty.” The declaration also claims that theories of man-made global warming are “speculative dangers” and that we should help the world’s poor be “producers,” and I don’t think they were talking about movies or Broadway shows.
What does watching over God’s creation really mean? Do we watch farmers in the Amazon clear-burn, or do we watch to make sure sustainable agriculture takes place? Do we watch our skies play host to tons of undesirable chemicals, or do we watch polluters and make sure they’re incorporating the latest air-scrubbing technologies?
Aren’t the terms stewardship and Biblical principles open to interpretation? To some people, stewardship involves careful management and conservation of resources, while to others, stewardship just means resources are available for use as you see fit. And one person’s Biblical principle can be someone else’s heresy if doctrines and theology get too myopic.
When Scientists Disagree
By now, we all know that plenty of scientific experts have taken sides in the climate change debate. But has this posturing proven that man-made climate change is a fallacy, or just that it’s a far more complex situation than sound-bite Americans can handle? What if climate change is taking place but it’s NOT man-made? Does that negate our responsibility to respond to whatever perils may be inherent with living on a warming planet? What if this warming trend is short-lived, as some experts suspect, considering that some glaciers seem to now be re-freezing? Do we drop the mandate for more fuel-efficient cars and go back to 10 miles per gallon?
Who's "facts" do we believe? The ones that suit our economic philosophy?
What nobody seems to be addressing here involves the basic consumeristic mentality many evangelicals have embraced as their right. How many evangelical leaders have we heard calling people of faith to live lives of moderation, conservation, and simplicity? Do believers have an inherent right to their gas-guzzling SUVs? Does it make sense to double the consumption of a finite resource to get from Point A to Point B when a smaller car will get us there just as well? Do we honor God by running a small production studio in our living rooms, draining the power grid with all of our electronics? Must we reside in large, energy-inefficient homes? How will enabling people across the world ascend to our wasteful lifestyle improve the quality of life for all of us?
Can Somebody Answer These?
- What do we do with the science of air pollution? Is it all bunk? Here in north Texas, we can see the air on bad ozone days, but is that just an optical illusion?
- Even if we had 100% proof that mankind has no effect on global warming, does that mean Alaska’s permafrost isn’t melting?
- Are jobs more important than a healthy environment? If we’re all gainfully employed but suffering appalling cancer rates from industrial pollution, have we really gained anything except the ability to pay for our own premature funerals?
- Have we given up on technology? How protective are many evangelical environmental activists of old fossil fuel industries? Where are the creative inventors and entrepreneurs who used to tinker with new ways of thinking and doing? I hate change as much as anybody, but obviously, we can’t continue down our current path for too much longer. Natural resources have a way of running out, particularly when they’re wasted. Who’s leading the way? From my limited perspective, it looks like the Japanese are way ahead of Americans when it comes to fuel cell research.
- What is the extent to which our “rule and subdue” mentality among American evangelicals – which usually means “use and abuse” – is working to our own detriment?
What is the Object of Their Intention?
At the end of the day, it all boils down to intentionality, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a lot of objectivity in the WeGetIt.org philosophy. I kinda like the wording, but I’m cynical enough to wonder if all the space between the lines holds a subtle agenda for the status-quo.
Or at least the status-quo that lets us keep as much of our North American lifestyle as possible.
Where does “denying ourselves” fit into evangelical environmentalism?