When approaching an important issue, it is common for people to defer to comments on the topic from news sites or credible leaders rather than investigating for themselves the teaching of Scripture on that issue. Through a series of tracking exercises among 30 students at the Moody Bible Institute, it is identifiable how people often derive theological views on the environment from their political stance rather than having Scripture inform a Christian’s perspective.
The Cultural Climate
In Moody Bible Institute’s Doctrinal Statement, the Institute explains that the school “accepts students from other theological traditions within conservative evangelicalism” (Moody); therefore, the most extreme theological difference must still fall within the realm of conservative theology. Students who are attracted to the Institute typically classify themselves as conservative, or at least are willing to be trained under the culture of conservative theology. Therefore, the word “conservative” is held in high regard here as it refers to a theological stance. However, the word “conservative” can also be used as an adjective to describe one’s political stance as inherited from one’s parents or as inculcated by one’s habitual media consumption.
An indication of the conservative stance held by the school is demonstrated on the second floor of the Alumni Student Center. In the student coffeeshop, JOE’s, the television on the wall plays only FOX News. In no other area is there a television that remains on all day, and this channel is the only one that Moody will broadcast. Through this, students see that the school finds a very politically conservative, right-wing station to be the most reliable to obtain crucial news. When asked what she thought about the station’s politically conservative biases, a junior student commented, “Yes, it’s biased. But it’s the correct bias.”
Growing up on FOX
Many of the students who attend Moody consider it normal to have FOX News playing in the background. All Moody students but one who were surveyed reported that their parents kept updated with the news. Of those surveyed, 20 of the families are informed by television, 9 learn about it on the internet, 8 families mainly read the newspaper, and 7 hear updates on the radio. A majority of the students surveyed reported that they grew up watching FOX News, and if not FOX, then a republican-based news station. One student comments that her family watched “FOX News and nothing but FOX News, so help me God.”
The Political Stance
In republican news stations and within the conservative political platform, one of the most commonly-shared beliefs is the disinterest in environmental concerns. In 1994, the Republican party became a “major instrument of anti-environmental policy, and Republicans with positive environmental views were placed under considerable pressure to conform to a growing official anti-environmental stance by the party as a whole…by the 1990s it had become clear that the anti-environmental movement was a permanent feature of the landscape of public affairs” (Hays 119). This has been a relatively unquestioned component to the conservative stance, and the issue of environmental conservation became quickly equated with a “left” agenda.
One of the most prominent spokespersons of the Republican party is a FOX News show host, Glenn Beck. In one of his shows in 2010, he talks about the relationship between the church and environmental issues. He sarcastically describes how “the president’s council envisions the government and religion partnering to push the good news of global warming, climate change, and green issues. Friends, it’s the religion of environmental and social justice! Isn’t that great? I’m excited!” (Merging The EPA…). He then goes on to talk about how the government wants to help finance green building projects for churches and how that is misleading and is trying to make Christians compromise. This perspective on environment concern as a liberal ploy is a belief that is then held by many of Beck’s viewers.
Also, in an article about botched environmental forecasts, FOX News recounts eight assumptions made in the past about the state of the earth presently (Lott). They described predictions from ten years ago to forty-one years ago, such as a lack of snow, completely melted ice caps, ushering in a new “ice age”, etc. FOX presents these hypotheses, finding them to be invalid and, in some cases, far from current reality. This article appears to be an encouragement to brush off past scientific estimations as extremist and untrue, thereby giving justification to continue life without concern for those issues.
The Political Pressures
This line of thinking is also found among the Moody Bible Institute student body. When asked what things people associated with the phrase “the environment”, six people responded immediately with “liberal”. Another student replied, “political agendas”. Also, one student answered that he thought of “mostly Al Gore and the Green Peace people downtown that are always annoying me”.
Then, when asked what the hesitations were for a Christian’s involvement in environmental concerns, many respondents described the political associations. One student said he didn’t want to get involved “because it’s generally associated with other liberal beliefs”. Another student “because it seems too ‘hippy’ or left-wing for [Christians]”. Even a student who wasn’t opposed to creation care in itself had problems with it practically because “there is so much negative connotation behind it from an evangelical standpoint it’s difficult to do”. One student explained that “I think that since [my parents] went to college in the 70s…it turned them off to being really vocal about environmental conservation…I think they did not want to be perceived as ‘tree-huggers’”. And yet another expressed that they had hesitations “only because of that political connotation that only liberals care about the environment”. Much of this thinking arises from the home; one student explained that “my parents are lovely, conservative people, and as such tended to communicate that people who were concerned about the environment were all hippie, liberal democrats”.
Even professors at Moody Bible Institute feel the strain of environmental politics. When asked about their thoughts on how a Christian should approach environmental issues, a well-respected Moody professor expressed that he did not even want to approach the issue because of the “dangerous politics of green”. Although this professor aims to be frugal and not waste products, he is frustrated when he hears any mention of “environmental concern” because of the political connotations.
The Message of Omission
Detrimental to environmental concerns is not just the negative associations made in the eyes of the conservatives, but even the lack of discussion on the topic. 20 out of 30 people surveyed said that their parents never talked about the importance of environmental conservation with the family. One remarked that it was “because there are other issues at hand”, another said “there was no emphasis put on it [for their family]”, and yet another student explained that “it wasn’t an important issue largely addressed in our community or church, and therefore in our home. There were always ‘more important/pressing’ things to talk about, I guess’”. As for recycling, a student described how it “is not as highly valued in my home as it should be”, another said that her mother is “unaware and/or lazy” when it comes to discussing the importance of environmentalism. A male student explained that his parents “didn’t think it was a big deal”, and another handful of students said, “it wasn’t important enough of an issue to them to worry about”.
One student describes how, for generations, they have not learned the theological importance of environmental conservation: “[for my parents] it wasn’t really an issue that was in front of them. It wasn’t talked about and there was no emphasis placed on it that was from someone they respected that shared their worldview, like their pastor”. Another republican student who had grown up watching FOX News explained that environmentalism “is incredibly needed and incredibly neglected”. The student goes on to say that “it is such a good witness to show that Christians can be caring, good stewards and not just politically motivated to be against any environmental movement”. This neglecting of environmental issues sets up a plausibility structure; when students are surrounded by messages that ignore the environment, they tell themselves it doesn’t matter, even if they do not specifically hear the opposition.
Therefore, in regards to politically-charged topics, such as the environment, it is easy for those that align with the conservative platform to dismiss environmental concerns because this attitude is validated by the stations they watch, specifically FOX News, as well as the overlooking of the issue by those they consider credible. Furthermore, it has come to the point where Christians do not respond critically with a grounding in Scripture; rather, the instinct is to equate environmental concern with a liberal agenda, and therefore be apprehensive or even rejecting of the issue.
The Call for a Critical Consideration
In many ways, this assessment is a plea for Christians to think critically about what they believe. It is so easy to derive theological views from messages taught by the culture through parents, news, teachers, movies, doctrines. However, it does a disservice to the believer if they do not understand why they believe what they do, and it also devalues the rich scriptural basis that is established so that we can glorify the Lord better, love Him more fully, and live more abundantly. It is easy to assume truth when listening to someone a person considers credible, but it does not always necessitate truth. Author of Green Revolution and previous congressional candidate Ben Lowe comments that “everyone has allegiances, but Christians’ spiritual allegiances should run even deeper”. Christians must constantly engage their minds to filter the content through a biblical worldview. Scripture must be the tool that Christians use to navigate through difficult issues.
Biblical Basis of Stewardship
In surveying students at Moody, it was uncommon to find an individual who opposed or supported environmentalism on the basis of theological grounds. However, believers should be actively creating a biblical worldview to filter through all content. In approaching the issue of creation care in specific, Christians have been given responsibility to steward the earth. Many people read humans having “dominion” over the earth in Genesis 1:26 to be a statement that humans can take advantage of the earth as they wish. However, the first part of the verse describes how God said “let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth”. God does grant people power over the land and its inhabitants, but he does this all in the context of making man in His image. Christians must consider what it means to rule as God would rule; He is just but He is also gracious and nurturing, he does not solely exploit but lovingly supports the things He has made.
Too often Christians possess inconsistent logic when it comes to issues of the environment. It is so easy to neglect intentional care of the earth, but then still call others to be good stewards with their money, time, relationships, and energy. However, it is important to remember that Christians must be conscientious about stewarding the earth as well. Christians are not always called to success but faithfulness. In Mark 12, Jesus tells of a poor woman who put in two copper coins. Although her offering only amounted to a cent and did not make a big difference in the general funds, Jesus commended her because she gave all she had. Believers will often excuse their inaction by explaining how it won’t make a big difference. Some even advance this thinking by commenting how “the earth is just going to burn up anyway”. However, this thinking is also inconsistent logic because if people truly believe that, no one should care about things that do not last forever such as the physical needs of people, whether people are well fed, or if others have water to drink (Matthew 25).
One of the ways that this responsibility is recognized is in Romans 8, where Paul describes how “the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:19-21). The first phrase in verse 19 is allegorical, originating from the concept of someone, with interest but also hesitancy, extending their neck out and stretching forward to see what will occur (Fitzmyer 507). It is specifically used here to describe how creation is yearning for the coming of those who will help bring about its restoration, namely, the “sons of God”. In addition, the great anticipation for these believers to be unveiled matters to creation, as is indicated by the word “for”;creation eagerly waits for this revelation. The relationship indicates a bond between mankind and earth; the connectedness of the two subjects points to the responsibility of the sons to the earth, and a type of dependency of the earth on the sons. Therefore, when these sons of God are redeemed by the gospel, they begin to regain a rightful dominion over the created world (Jewett 512). This demonstrates how the transformation of people is expressed holistically. A believer’s new life in faith develops a modified way of doing things; this changed lifestyle is expressed to rehabilitate the earth which has been so damaged by sin. Throughout this verse and rest of the passage in Romans 8, it is evident that God is concerned with His creation. God purposed for non-human creation to bring Him glory, but because of the curse on the land and humanity’s negligence of stewardship, the earth is not able to fulfill its designed function to the fullest extent. However, these verses still indicate that creation has intrinsic value, not just instrumental value.
Love Your Neighbor by Loving Their Land
In addition, caring for earth is bound up with caring for the other. Jesus declared that the second greatest commandment in Scripture is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). In order to do so, Christians must care for the land that these people are living in. There is an interconnectedness in the world with the earth and those living in it. Although many Christians will respond that they do not believe the environment is a crucial issue, most would agree that a crisis such as Hurricane Katrina is of incredible significance. However, Hurricane Katrina is an environmental issue; natural disasters and the function of creation are important environmental justice issues. In addition to natural disasters, a large environmental issue is the problem of the clean water crisis. According to UNICEF, about one in every five children under the age of five dies because of a water-related disease worldwide. (UNICEF). These pertinent issues weigh heavily on the second greatest commandment, but they also involve the devastation of the earth. Therefore, Christians should contemplate the implications this verse has on managing the land.
Furthermore, Ben Lowe encourages believers to reflect on not just a few verses, but the whole of the story God reveals in Scripture. He reminds Christians how the Bible started with good creation existing in the state of shalom, and then follows God’s process of redeeming it all back into right relationship. Jesus’ death on the cross demonstrates the apex of the story, hinging salvation on Him alone. Then, Colossians 1 describes how Christ holds all things together and is restoring all things; He not only redeems humans, but also is reversing all things that have been impacted by sin, including creation (as seen in Romans 8), and then the whole picture ends in Revelation 22 with creation existing in shalom once again, with the humans ruling with God in the end.
In recognizing that God desires faithful stewardship, Christians should be compelled to treat the land in a similar manner to God’s good ruling. It is also significant to observe the relationship between the earth and the people that live in it, and respond to the responsibility given to love one another. A deeper understanding of the biblical basis for creation care and seeing the issue holistically should lead Christians to a more thoughtful approach to all matters.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. Romans: a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print.
Hays, Samuel P. “A History of Environmental Politics … – Samuel P. Hays.” Google Books. 12 Oct. 2000. Web. <http://books.google.com/books?id=jG5IwgEFSYQC>.
Jewett, Robert, Roy David Kotansky, and Eldon Jay. Epp. Romans: a Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007. Print.
Lott, Maxim. “Eight Botched Environmental Forecasts | Fox News.” Fox News – Breaking News Updates | Latest News Headlines | Photos & News Videos. 30 Dec. 2010. Web. <http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/12/30/botched-environmental-forecasts/>.
Lowe, Ben. “Comments on Creation Care.” Telephone interview. 3 Dec. 11.
“Merging the EPA With Churches?” Glenn Beck. 18 May 2010. Web. <http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/40847/>.
“Moody Bible Institute | Discover MBI | Our Beliefs | Doctrinal Qualifications for Students.” Moody Bible Institute. Web. <http://www.moody.edu/edu_MainPage.aspx?id=3470>.
“UNICEF – Health – ‘Diarrhoea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done’.” UNICEF – UNICEF Home. 14 Oct. 2009. Web. <http://www.unicef.org/health/index_51412.html>.