(By guest blogger Breanna Beers)
In the sphere of environmental policy, Christians have failed. Collectively, they have failed to biblically consider and thoughtfully discuss environmental issues from conservation to climate change. Trust in God’s sovereignty is used as an excuse to push back against the environmental advocacy of the left, while the Dominion Mandate is cited by both industrialists and activists to advance their own ends. Christian failure occurs on two fronts: truth and love.
- The Truth Failure
A recent study by Dan Kahan found that while scientific literacy had little to no impact on Americans’ level of concern about climate change, political affiliation did. The United States at large is less concerned with truth than with picking sides, and evangelicals are no exception.
The American environmental debate is often framed with capitalist polluters on one side and socialist tree-huggers on the other. Both have caricatured the other into the worst extreme of their arguments. If you aren’t certain that carbon caps on industrial giants will be the most effective approach to climate change, you are a robber baron leaning back to watch the world burn. If you support such caps, you’re a socialist scheming to undercut the American economy and destroy everything this country has ever stood for. Christians on both sides of the aisle have been guilty of this, despite Christ’s call to unity. The failure of Christians to genuinely listen to one another, let alone to our perceived enemies, is one of the greatest tragedies of the modern church. While we are indeed called to engage in the political sphere, we are called to do so in a way that looks fundamentally different than the world around us — even if that means winning less and listening more.
- The Love Failure
Once we have considered the data and weighed the options, let’s examine our approach to environmental policy. Genesis 1:28 is the first biblical example of stewardship: to assume leadership in the care of that which belongs to Someone Else. We are called to care for the earth in the same way God would: for His glory. This means that our approach to environmental policy centers not on the inherent value of capitalist industry or government-mandated conservation, but on pursuing God’s glory.
And where is His glory most magnified? In the gospel of Christ. And how does the gospel relate to environmental policy? Because this earth is the home of the people for whom Christ died. My argument is this: our care for the environment stems from our care for God’s people. We should use the earth’s resources for human flourishing.
But be wary, Christian, what you assume from that statement. Human flourishing is not all about profit accumulation, economic advancement, or industrial development. Can all those things lead to flourishing? Yes. But they do not define it. Human flourishing means a return to what we were made for, fellowship and intimacy with God. So the environment should be used for profit when economic advancement enables people to live more freely, to spend time with their families, or reach out to those in need. The environment should be conserved when the majesty of this earth moves mankind to meditate on God’s magnificence. And while we Americans live most of our lives in 70 degrees, our policy on climate change is significant for those who don’t. Crop irregularities in southern Africa may lead to famines, the melting of glaciers in the Andes may disrupt local ecosystems, and droughts in Sudan may trigger waves of political violence.
Let’s remember that caring for the environment is caring for people, even when, from our privileged position, we don’t always see the effects.