Welcome to the Table: The Green Evangelical Movement

TableMore and more people each day are joining the sustainable table. I am not referring to the wonderful website about healthy and ethical food choices, but heck it’s worth a mention anyway. By “the sustainable table,” I mean the conversation about how to bring the vision of a greener world into reality. So when I read “Evangelical leaders host ‘creation care’ summit in Orlando-area church” in the Orlando Sentinel, I got this funny picture in my head of church folk sitting down for brunch with a bunch of barefoot tree-huggers.

“‘We are the ones who are late to the table,’ [Rev. Joel] Hunter said. An emerging national evangelical leader on environmental issues, Hunter said the goal of the conference was to ‘get mutually stirred up’ and to ‘assume stewardship’ of this issue.”

Evangelical leaders gathered at Northland, a Church Distributed to hammer out “creation care.” If these green evangelicals are beginning to embrace terms like “sustainable,” “green,” and even “carbon neutral,” but still shudder at the sound of “environmentalism,” are we really all sitting at the same table? Or are we sitting at completely different tables, looking at the same evidence, but pretending to ignore each other’s solutions?

The elephant in the room is the rocky relationship between environmentalists and evangelicals. Both have a history of dismissing one another; environmentalists for being anti-religious and misanthropic, and evangelicals for intolerance and anthropocentrism. The rivalry has dissolved, probably because the mounting evidence of global warming has hit a critical level of importance for just about every household in America, across the political spectrum.

As someone who has been a part of both conversations, I have some constructive ideas for both parties if we are going to sit together.

Evangelicals should be familiar with Lynn White, Jr.’s groundbreaking essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.” White makes the assertion that Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen. The belief that “nature has no reason for existence save to serve man” has played a role in the utter disregard for the planet. Humble pie is on the menu, and evangelicals need to be able to admit that people outside their circles have something to teach them with regard to morality.

Environmentalists must recognize the amount of influence that religion has. If substantial progress is to be made, we will have to work together. Inroads have been made. With more evangelicals seeing the need for environmental responsibility, they are working alongside secular groups in clean-up projects and public policy efforts (Scroll to “Evangelical leaders join scientists to fight global warming“). Amidst all the dirt and sweat, new relationships are being forged.

If we are all going to sit at the same table and talk about the future, we need to be familiar with each other’s language. The word “stewardship” implies ownership of the Earth’s resources as well as human priority and should be used carefully outside of Sunday morning worship. “Creation care” sounds like the Earth is a damsel in distress in need of a knight in shining armor. We can’t forget that the planet did OK taking care of itself for billions of years before humans took over.

I have hope that we can work together for a better future, but we can’t ignore one another’s efforts.

So what does this table look like? Tree-huggers look a lot different than they used to. Has the message been diluted or enhanced now that the evangelicals have arrived?

Photo credit: Flickr; licensed for commercial use through Creative Commons.

  1. Autumn

    Everyone should practice environmental stewardship, but only champions and innovators deserve a medal. Personal reasons and beliefs really don’t matter to the planet. Taking responsibility for wasteful actions should earn evangelicals a seat at the table, but no further clout to muddy up science textbooks with religion. We’ve got to make sure those distinctions stay sharp.

  2. Bobby B.

    “…Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen.”

    Not suprisingly, that statement narrows the green attack on religion to only one faith. Do some research to discover how much damage was done to the environment by societies seeking to eliminate Christianity from within their borders. The old Soviet Union (USSR), Nazi Germany, modern China, etc. have a history of being even less green than the self-centered Christians, although those societies did do a better job of advancing the green platform plank known as population control.

    “We can’t forget that the planet did OK taking care of itself for billions of years before humans took over.”

    If you’re targeting Christians who are supposed to believe in The Creation, you are forgetting that they exist on a planet that is thousands of years old; not billions.

  3. Chad Crawford

    Every faith would benefit from a little self-examination now and then when it comes to its own environmental report card. I’m focusing on Christianity for this article because of the recent movement of “green evangelicals.” By the way, Lynn White called himself a “churchman” in the article, so it’s not a green attack on a religion. He concludes the article with positive strands of thought within Christianity regarding concern for the Earth.

    Some Christians (not all) do hold to a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation, demonstrating the need to set metaphysical beliefs aside if we are going to come together. This is what I understand Autumn’s point to be. No matter what motivations draw us to the table, we must focus exclusively on our shared responsibility to take care of the Earth.

  4. JCamasto

    You were able to see through the flawed intentions of “stewardship” and “creation care”, but your statement:

    β€œWe can’t forget that the planet did OK taking care of itself for billions of years before humans took over.”

    is only more anthropocentric hubris. We (non-indigenous human cultures) only have the illusion of being in control of the planet…

  5. Bobby B.

    What you call “metaphysicals beliefs” others call “the truth”.

    Personally, I believe that much of “the church” has lost its way – or forgotten its purpose – and is seeking some new way to justify it existence. Society has bought into a belief system that wants to reject an Almighty God, a standard for redemption, and a judgement that includes the possibility of an eternity in Hell. “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” was presented to my high school literature class some twenty years ago as the worst example of a pastor trying to scare folks into repentance. But throwing away a leftists teacher’s bias, one can see that it is really a dissertation by someone who is completely humbled by God’s power. Unfortunately, such sermons no longer pack the pews. So, many churches are beginning to abandon theology for ecology (or some other social feel-good cause) in an effort to attract paying customers. The new “health and wealth” congregations are probably the worst examples of church pandering. However, rather than go off on that tangent, let’s close this out with two scriptures:

    For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? – Matthew 16:26

    And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment. – Mark 12:30

  6. Chad Crawford

    TouchΓ©, JCamasto, and good point. I was using a little sarcasm. I should have put “took over” in quotes. Is there a tongue-in-cheek emoticon?

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