A surprisingly well-informed article in Sunday’s Washington Post notes the trend of a rise in environmental concern among American evangelicals. I say well-informed because the reporter, Blaine Harden, actually did his homework and got a number of perspectives on the issue. He writes:
There is growing evidence — in polling and in public statements of church leaders — that evangelicals are beginning to go for the green. Despite wariness toward mainstream environmental groups, a growing number of evangelicals view stewardship of the environment as a responsibility mandated by God in the Bible.
Harden notes the tension that many evangelicals see between “green” environmentalism and “creation care,” or stewardship of the earth. Evangelicals have rightly been wary of associating with environmentalist causes, whose radical egalitarianism often places humans and trees at equal value. The Bible sets parameters that are at odds with such a notion:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. — Genesis 1:28-30, ESV
Dominion over the earth and its living things is clearly not a carte blanche for destroying the earth in the name of profit or anything else. However, the biblical view of dominion and the worldview of environmentalism are radically different. While some of the outworkings may intersect (for example both the biblical view and the environmentalist view would say clean air is a good thing), the underlying philosophies are opposed. In the biblical view man—the image of God—is the pinnacle of God’s creation. Consider Psalm 8:4-8:
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
The rest of creation is never portrayed in the Bible as an equal, much less as a superior, to mankind. It is assumed within the text that creation, like peoples, should be governed responsibly.
Christians must indeed seek to do a better job with their stewardship of the environment—but they must be careful that they not confuse the worldviews of environmentalism with biblical dominion. Harden quotes one environmentally-conscious “evangelical” pastor as saying, “The Earth is God’s body…God wants us to look after it.” This pastor’s substitution of the body of Christ—the church—with the earth shows just how dangerous (this is outright heresy!) environmentalist-thinking can be.