Over the past couple of years, I have written a handful of articles for the online edition of Relevant magazine (you can find them archived on the sidebar under “My Writing). As their tagline suggests, the articles are categorized under the headings of God, Life and Progressive Culture. One might find articles from established authors such as Scot McKnight and Doug Paggitt alongside many other, lesser-known voices. Some articles come and go quickly and quietly, while others (which, for example, might be based on misquoting a famous rock star) generate some boisterous discussion.
One recent article about the environment caused a bit of a stir among some readers. While some might not have understood the format (“You can’t write a letter to the environment, you idol-worshiper!”), the most off-putting objections created a false dichotomy between being a good steward of God’s creation and sharing the Gospel with non-Christians. In a stunning display of logic, one commenter argues that caring for the environment is a slippery slope, inevitably leading to acceptance of homosexuality and abortion. Interestingly enough, this commenter also claims that creation care is a political, not kingdom, agenda — though this person’s politics are readily evident.
I recently completed Serve God, Save the Planet by J. Matthew Sleeth — it’s featured on my “Currently Enjoying” page. Sleeth does much to dispel the myth that people who care for creation must be mother earth-worshiping pagans. Just the opposite — for those of us who love Jesus and take seriously His command to love God and others whole-heartedly, we are compelled to care for His creation. As the title implies, the greatest command is to love and serve God — but we must recognize that responsible living and creation care are expressions of deep, genuine love for God.
Sleeth argues that living an environmentally responsible lifestyle is a biblical mandate. He warns us not to equate “dominion” over the earth’s resources as a license for wastefulness or greed. Far too many Christians have justified their harmful lifestyles with faulty theology. Picture the Bible-belt businessman who was caught dumping toxins into the water from which local residents drew their drinking water. His response? Well, Jesus is coming back anyways, so what does it matter if we trash the place?
For those who worry about elevating the care of creation over care for human beings, Sleeth writes, “Being pro-stewardship is not a case of valuing forests more than people; rather, it means valuing human possessions less, and God’s world more.” Indeed, if we genuinely want to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must be conscious of how our lifestyles affect them — especially the poorest among the world’s poor. Sleeth writes from his personal experience:
This honest inventory (a personal assessment of the environmental impact made by his family) is what the Christian faith required of me. How could I say that I was being a good steward when I was causing so much damage to God’s creation? How could I say that I cared about my neighbor when the poorest people are most affected by the climate change that I was causing?
In essence, caring for creation and being a goods steward is part of our response to the central command to love God with everything we have and to love others in the same way. We love God by caring for what He has created and partnering with Him in its stewardship. We love others by recognizing that our lifestyles have a direct impact on them. Even for those who argue that a Christian’s only responsibility is to share the words of the Gospel with others, we cannot witness to people if they have already been killed because of the climate change, drought or famine that was dropped on them.
This has been a slow process of small changes in my life. For example, my wife pointed out to me early in our marriage that I would let the water run the entire time while I brushed my teeth and washed the dishes. I shudder to think of how much water I have wasted in my lifetime, especially given how limited access to clean water is in many parts of the world. So now, I shut off the water while brushing or washing dishes. Recently, we have begun trying to drive our cars less. In Southern California, it would not be uncommon for a person to drive down the block to see a friend instead of walking. So these days, if I need to pick up a coffee while I’m at church, I will take the ten-minute walk instead of the thirty-second drive.
One of the things I am very excited about is the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) we just signed up for. Through the Tierra Miguel Foundation, we will be picking up about fifteen pounds of fresh produce every two weeks for less than $17.00 a week. In this age of mass production of food, we are glad to be able to support a local farm. The food is organically grown using environmentally-sound principles, so it is good for the earth. And it is locally grown, so it reduces the negative impact of shipping food across long distances (exhaust from the long-haul trucks, wasteful packaging, etc.).
We might take our daughter to visit the farm during one of their volunteer days. Although learning about creation care can be a bit stressful for her at times, we want her to develop a God-centered perspective early (which is not easy in our princess-obsessed culture for little ones). After all, it makes more sense to start with simple living rather than trying to combat years of having a materialistic perspective.
I have been encouraged and challenged by the many communities who have seen that creation care is an integral part of God’s message of redemption for the entire world. I hope this thread also runs through my life and the communities of which God calls me to be a part.