You could say my grandma was eco-friendly. Decades before caring about the environment was in vogue, she set her thermostat low and pulled on a sweater. She reused glass jars and tin cans for canning, baking, and crafts. She patched old clothes. When those became threadbare, she recycled the material to make rugs and potholders.
Yet if Grandma were alive today, she'd be perplexed by Al Gore PSAs, Prius-driving celebrities making "green" living trendy, and "eco-anxiety"a new mental disorder characterized by intense fear about the dangers of global warming. Grandma probably never imagined commonsense simplicity (today called "conservation") would become a hot-button issue.
The debate over environmentalismspecifically, global warminghas intensified over the past few years. Some Christian leaders assert the Bible mandates us to take responsibility for "Creation care"; others state that when God granted humans dominion over the earth, he gave us the right to use it. Many Christians express opinions that fall somewhere in between.
Two groups of evangelicals have been feuding over this issue for the past two years. They've held press conferences, released public statements, and sent letters to top government officials. This battle even drew extensive news coverage, including a PBS special report, "Is God Green?"
Both sides support their claims with climate experts and research data. The Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), whose members include Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life; Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine; and Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, believes human activities cause climate changes. An advocate of immediate carbon-emissions reduction, the ECI is asking U.S. leaders to pass laws requiring businesses to reduce emissions, and encouraging churches and individuals to purchase energy-efficient appliances and vehicles. Essentially it's saying, Be proactive. Measures taken today will lessen the potentially devastating effects of global warming in the future.
On the other side is the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Backed by James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, and Chuck Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries, the Cornwall Alliance also acknowledges global warming, but it believes natural factorsnot human activitiesmay be global warming's primary cause. Additionally, the Cornwall Alliance believes if world governments call for mandatory reduction of fossil-fuel use, gas prices will skyrocket and economic development in poor countries will slow, creating a far worse situation than global warming might cause. And, the Alliance suggests, global warming may produce benefits scientists haven't yet discovered. Essentially it's saying, Be prudent. Hasty actions without thorough study of global warming might cause bigger problems than we currently have.
A Spiritual Issue?
Noticing both camps represent a literal who's who of evangelical Christianity, I wonder, Should I be proactive or prudentespecially with global destruction on the line?
Then I think about my grandmother. Grandma never faced the two great threats of today: excessiveness and entitlement. I can afford to buy disposable tableware, hand wipes, cameras, cell phones, and plenty of other one-use items. How does this abundance affect my attitude toward possessionsand life? Will I become ungrateful for what's used but still serviceable? Do I become more self-sufficient rather than God-dependent when I obtain whatever I want, whenever I want it? Suddenly, conservation isn't solely about reducing carbon emissions or saving the planet. It's about God's supremacy, his benevolence to me. If I'm conserving merely as a matter of self-preservation or self-reliance, I've missed the point.
Two concepts offer clarity: simplicity and stewardship. Simplicity says, I don't need to buy a new wardrobe every season to feel pretty. I don't need to leave every light on in my house to feel safe. I don't need to drive a gas-guzzling SUV to feel empowered. If I realize I don't need those things to feel good about myself, maybe I'll look to God more often for my value. Stewardship similarly says, Everything I have is on loan from God, so being careful with his stuff shows him respect.
At some point, I may need to take sides on the environmental issue. Until then, I'll use my God-given common sense about conservationjust as Grandma did. My grandmother's thrift was an expression of gratitude to God. When we reduce, reuse, recyclewe're being proactive, prudent, and grateful.
Holly Vicente Robaina, a TCW regular contributor, also writes for TCW's Walk With Me blog.
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