Green Christianity; a sustainable future through faith Environmentalism is an advocacy toward protecting the natural environment from destruction or pollution. This is certainly not a static movement. Instead, it is constantly evolving in response to new scientific discoveries, leading to conscious awareness of an earth in danger. In the asses and ass, environmentalism aimed at a candid approach by simply trying to preserve certain resources and nature reserves. Today, forward-looking environmentalists are taking more action by developing a sustainable and renewable future.
They address environmental issues within many intents, including economic, social, cultural, and religion. Each context contributes in its own way. Specifically, I am interested in the religious role in preserving the environment. Religious environmentalism is based on the concept that the current environmental crisis is, at its core, a crisis of values. The idea has been around for centuries but may have gone unnoticed. Ecological crises including invasions, wars, droughts, famines, floods, and hurricanes have impacted environments all over the world.
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Naturally, faith has been used as a mechanism to adapt to ecological crises by using faith and hope as rebuilding mechanisms. As a result, many deeply religious individuals, from all across the globe, are coming to the realization that a deeper understanding of environmentalism can provide a refreshing relationship with the earth that falls in line with their beliefs. Moreover, religious environmentalism has been hailed as a “diverse, vibrant, global, movement of ideas and activism that roots the general environmental message in spiritual framework” (Goodliest 231).
Both religion and ecology complement each other, while “ecology’ stands for environmentalism and “religion” is the force that can inspire and mobile it. A religious group that is increasingly adapting religious environmentalism is Christianity. Biblically understood, “the environment” is a part of God’s many creations. However, why should Christians care about the environment and not devote all of their time directly to God? This question can be answered with two short verses, “Christ died to reconcile all creation to God (Cool. 1 :20)” and “All of creation belongs to Jesus” (Cool. :16). Thus, caring for every creation provides a Christian with a deeper sense of faith since it is a part of loving God. This idea is called creation are, a theological attempt to connect religious faith and practice with environmental stewardship. This idea accounts for taking care for all God’s creation by preventing harmful activities such as water/air pollution and species extinction. By practicing creation care, devout Christians are fulfilling God’s will. As previously mentioned, religious environmentalism treats the environmental crisis as a crisis of values.
Christians follow this notion by maintaining a balance between being both a part of creation and apart from creation. If nature is treated as having no intrinsic value, our win value is diminished (Simmons 2009: 47). Overall, this special breed of Christianity strongly believes that God is glorified by caring for his creation. These Christians can fall in a subcategory commonly referred to as “Green Christianity. ” This certain following of green Christians poses the question; can Christianity have an active role in preserving the environment?
In order to answer this question, religious environmentalism must first be broken down. According to Smith & Puller, it is often minimized into two separate approaches. The first environmental advocacy approach is issues-based environmentalism. This approach focuses on a specific environmental issue, such as pollution or climate change. The issue is handled through a more direct engagement, using scientific, legal, or technological solutions to solve it in a strategic manner. There is little emphasis on shaping people’s core values to solve the issue, rather attack it from a hands-on approach.
The other approach is called ethics-based environmentalism. This strategy handles environmental crises in a much less specific framework. Followers of this approach try to instill ethics into individuals, so that they will make environmentally conscious decisions in the future. They may do so by holding a seminar about the importance of being “good stewards to the earth” but may place less emphasis on what is exactly necessary to resolve global climate change (Smith & Puller 2009: 147). So are religious environmental groups issue or ethic based? A study conducted by A. M. Smith and S.
Puller sought to answer this, as well as document the motivation behind forming a religious-environmental organization. In addition, pros and cons of each approach were weighted. The methodology of their study includes interviews with representatives from 42 religious-environmental groups from the United States. Each group was carefully selected based on certain characteristics. First, the group must engage in environmental work with a spiritual or religious rationale. Secondly, they must have existed for at least a year to establish themselves as a legitimate organization. Moreover, they must have a website, be headquartered in the U.
S. , and be primarily of Jewish or Christian faith. Through a rigorous interview process that included questions, a list of eleven statements representing philosophies behind groups’ work, and whether or not they thought ethics-based or issues-based work would work best to achieve a global change. Not surprisingly, the results yielded religious-environmental groups considered ethics-based work as the more productive approach for environmental adjustment. They strongly felt that beliefs translate into actions, thus promoting environmentally conscious actions in their followers. One interviewed participant stated, “… Hess issues are not scientific or political, but rather ethic and spiritual… (and) we aren’t going to make sufficient progress without the involvement of the religious community’ (Smith & Puller 2009:155). This defends the ethics-based approach, claiming that values and behavior will be changed and have longer lasting implications when people can think of things in terms of religion and morals. Nonetheless, the religious environmentalists did not completely disregard the issues-based approach, because they want people to increase their environmental awareness no matter what approach is used.
Overall, religious institutions are more than capable of promoting environmental ethics and morals since they have historically been the basis for most of the population’s ethics. The promotion of environmental ethics is believed to have a long-term effect rather than the immediate effect of issues-based ethics. The goal is to make this approach widespread enough to eliminate any need for an environmental movement altogether. Instead, the ethics learned from religious environmentalism would serve as every person’s guide on how to treat the environment properly.
Now that it is clear that religious environmentalism is based off an ethics-based approach, more questions arise. More specifically, how does this fit in with Christianity? As previously mentioned, religious environmentalism is based on the idea that the global crises is a crises of values. Despite Christian moral and ethical cashing, some have blamed Christians for the demise of the environment in the West. Professor Lynn White poses two immediate questions in his essay that puts the past ecological crises on Christianity.
He asks “does the Bible really provide mankind a license to dominate the earth without care as to the consequence of its actions? ” This question derives from the Creation story from Genesis 1, which states “Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. And, although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image. ” This passage insists on an anthropogenic view that humans beings are above any other part of nature.
This is the primary argument that commentators like Lynn white would argue against Green Christians. However, Green Christians focus less on the Creation story and more on passages of the Old and New Testament that promote environmental stewardship”. One example of an environmentally ethical New Testament is a follows, For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colombians 1:16-17).
This passage explains to Christian followers that all things were made “through” and are intended for Christ. It rejects the anthropogenic notion that humans have complete dominance over nature and should rule freely. Furthermore, the Old Testament reads, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till and keep it,” (Genesis 2:15). This verse refers to humans as care-takers of the earth. “To till and keep” can be interpreted as to “serve and preserve”. It also implies that humans should treat the creation in the same way that God treats us.
Overall, I reject the idea that the bible is anthropogenic and anti-environmentalist, as do Green Christians. There is ample evidence in the bible that allows a Christian follower to construct his or her own theology of environment. It very much depends on the interpretation of the bible. If the correct interpretation is accepted, Christian churches could become strong protectors of the environment. An interesting concept meant to increase Christian environmental stewardship in congregations in the U. S. Is the use of the “sense-of-place” concept. (Sifter & Shaw 2013: 266).
Sense-of-place is defined by Sifter & Shaw by two dimensions. This includes the symbolic meaning assigned to a place as well as the functional/emotional attachment felt toward that place. Interestingly, there is a significant correlation with sense of place and protective behavior, notably correlations of pro-environmental behavior (e. G. , Kalamazoo 1998; Version and Rises 2001). This correlation explains that feeling a special bond to a particular place predisposes protective actions. This bond can especially refer to a congregation’s church and its surrounding environments.
Sifter & Shaw investigated the sense-of-place concept further through interviews of Lutheran Christian congregations in Wisconsin. These churches participated in an outreach program entitled “Grounding Your Congregation in a Sense of Place”, with the motivations of debilitating environmental issues and define a Christian’s sense of place to adopt theologically-grounded stewardship behaviors (Sifter & Shaw 2013: 269). This program consists of a five-session group study, team development of place reject(s), and activities for communicating sense of place to the congregation.
The first few sessions teach congregants a biblical understands of place and their relationships with the community. The final session consists of brainstorming of exercises for the congregation to devise a place project, which addresses the congregation’s need and how to improve environmental stewardship. As a result, ‘sense-of-place” is a message frame. Framing reveals the “how’ of conveyed information, how people understand, evaluate, remember, or act upon a problem. In the case of this study, religiosity is the “place. Was the framing of sense of place successful?
A majority of 19 participant’s responses showed that the sense-of-place program “heightened their awareness about their roles in creation care. ” (Sifter & Shaw 2013: 276). One participant was more apt to connect environmental stewardship and faith, and believed that the church should have a more active role in environmentalism. One pastor that participated was “surprised by the place focus because it provided them a new way of thinking about creation care that extended beyond the usual understanding of what it means to go green. (Sifter & Shaw 2013: 276).
Consequently, churches involved with the case study became active in environmental stewardship. One church made the change of switching to environmental friendly cleaning materials and installed a rain garden. Another church got an energy audit to install solar panels in the future. The third church prioritize waste reduction, recycling, and the elimination of disposable kitchenware. The last church formed a memory garden for congregants who passed, which was not related to environmental stewardship but improved the congregation’s sense-of- place.
Similarly to Smith & Pullover’s findings, the belief in strength in numbers played an active role in empowering several participants to become environmental stewards. Aaron Simmons, an environmental philosopher, backs up the positive belief of Green Christianity and creation care. As an environmental philosopher, I firmly believe that the evangelical turn to the environment is not something that should interest only Christians, but everyone concerned about the future of the planet and who recognizes that, in order to be effective, we need to make common cause around large areas of moral concern.
Indeed, for ethical and political reasons, secular environmentalists are increasingly recognizing this development as some- thing to tap into and partner with (Simmons 2009: 43). He follows this statement in his article “Evangelical Environmentalism: Oxymoron or Opportunity? , the importance of understanding the central themes and commitments of this movement, as well as the important historical events which shaped it. Simmons summarizes four common threads within Christian environmentalism. His first is the firm distinction between Creator and creation.
In other words, “God is not to be confused with the earth… He Creator of the earth is not part of, or circumscribed, into the earth itself. ” (Simmons 2009: 44). However, he further explains that this is not to say that God is not involved with earth. Green Christians are committed to an ontological dualism, which clears the confusion between Creator and creation. God is the Creator, and the creation must be loved because God created it. The next common theme he discusses is the intrinsic value of the earth and everything in it, because of its created status (Simmons 2009: 44).
This idea originated from the Old Testament, when God looked upon the earth, at light, land, eater, sun, moon, and all of the natural world and proclaimed “that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18). He proclaims it as “good” six times in that passage. The earth is not good because it provides humans a sustainable environment for humans to live and rule. It is good of itself and own beauty. Therefore, Green Christians argue through ethical principle that the earth is intrinsically valuable. Its only purpose is not for extracting resources and energy, but to exist as a creation of God that is beautiful and “good”.
There must be some sort of moral equivalency. To allow this, Simmons explains the position of humanity and the “doctrine” of stewardship. This is the idea that since humans were created in God’s own like-ones, to be capable of ethical and moral actions, then humans possess the special responsibility to be given ethical commitments. Stewardship is deemed possible because of the Joint relation of humans to both God and nature. Nature and man cannot exist without the other, and both could not exist without the relationship to God.
However, this notion presents a criticism for Green Christians, that they would be more concerned with saving a tree or animal over a human life. This conflict is resolved from a biblical based approach. Both by endowing them with his image and by placing them in authority over the earth, God gave men and women superiority and priority over all other earthly creatures. This implies that proper environmental stewardship, while it seeks to harmonize the fulfillment of the needs of all creatures, nonetheless puts human needs above non-human needs when the two are in conflict. Besides et al. 2000: 66) (Simmons 2009: 49) This approach provides a moral solution that is not anthropocentric, and still emphasizes that humans must be environmental stewards. The final theme Simmons addresses is the recognition of human limitations and an embrace of God’s sovereign grace. In other words, by being environmental stewards, god is glorified by caring for his creation. His sovereignty is reaffirmed through the effort of preserving the natural world. All things considered, green Christians live in the world as residents in the kingdom of God.
For this reason, it is the ethical responsibility of Green Christians to care for God’s creation and most importantly must be faithful. Under these circumstances, one may wonder what types of creation crises Green Christians focus on. Russell A. Buts, an Associate Director of Environmentalism and doctor in Theology, addresses the major the major ecological problems Green Christians are set out to fix. For starters, the very real global climate change, and its disruption of natural systems.
Moreover, deforestation and the elimination of biodiversity, pollution of land, water, and air resulting in harm to living organisms. Coupled with the rapidly increasing human population growth, and the depletion of natural resources from over-consumption and harvesting (Buts 2002: 17). All of Hess ecological concerns ultimately result in one of the major “signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). This passage states “And in the morning, it will be foul weather today for the sky is red and lowering; o ye hypocrites. Ye can discern the face of the sky but can ye not discern the signs of the times? Jesus Christ emphasized how important it is to understand the significance of the times we live in, and this passage ultimately explains that this would be a sign from heaven for the end times. Therefore, when viewing the environmental crises through a biblical lens, it can be best understood to Christians as a “creation-in-crisis. (Buts 2002: 18). Buts claims that Christians are responding effectively using certain guidelines and principles regarding the stewardship of creation. Creation is centered on God, an ongoing process, and an idea of order.
Creation requires ethical behavior to maintain the harmonious design of living organisms and their environment. Therefore, human stewardship is essential for fulfilling the wishes of God and his creation. “The Christian ecological vision must draw upon the organic model of stewardship” (Buts 2002: 21). This means that, as stewards, Christians must respect ND care to the diversity and fruitfulness of life and promote both human and non- human forms of life. This belief of stewardship draws comparison to scientific ideas of interdependence??how all forms of life rely on each other.
Further, stewardship of creation must recognize that human beings have a God-human relationship, which makes us special for conscious self-reflection and the ability to take care of the earth. Also, stewardship contains general norms for ethical behavior that must be sustained. It relies on Christians to engage and practice in behaviors that lead to eventual elimination of human practices responsible for global climate change. Along with understanding these four common principles as well as creation-crises, it is also important to understand the timeline of how this movement came to be.
Surprisingly, the Green Christian movement does have some history and is not as new as many would think. In 1971, the National Association of Evangelicals (ANA) was established, although it was over within two decades. The ANA released a summary entitled; “For the Health of the Nation” which is a summary of seven spheres of social involvement evangelicals should follow based on a biblical framework. The ANA brought attention through their seventh point of that document which called to “protect God’s creation”, actively introducing the idea of creation care to many Christians.
A few years later in 1979, the Au Sable Institute was established in Michigan for the purpose of Christian environmental education. In 1992, the Evangelical Environmental Network (EN) was established at the Au Sable Institute. This network provides resources for creation care programs in homes and churches and even publishes a Creation Care magazine. 0 years later, the EN established the What Would Jesus Drive campaign, which promoted CEO-friendly cars such as a Toyota Pries, and spread the consequences of pollution, oil dependence, and global warming to churches across the south.
This campaign started gaining notice, and the EN was finally getting the message across that pollution was highly immoral. In 2005, more than 100 evangelical leaders met in Washington D. C. To discuss and create a statement on global warming. This statement, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” was released in 2006, and caused a stir within the Christian community and helped bring evangelical environmentalism into mainstream American culture. So much so, PBS had a special on green Christianity to consider the question, “Is God Green? ” granting the movement attention on the national level (Simmons 2009: 57).
With greater attention focusing on Green Christianity came more questions and challenges. The first and most obvious challenge was fear of a more liberal church. Being associated with a hippie or “tree-hugging” image was a problem for most religious environmentalists. Environmentalism is often associated with other liberal issues in which the church does not support including abortion, sexual liberation, and secularism. Being associated with such liberal actions would cross a boundary by violating basic Christian principles derived from the bible.
Jim Ball, Vice president of the EN, explains the reality of the conflict in simple terms; Because environmentalists are perceived to be liberals, anything tagged as an “environmental” concern must be liberal, too. There is an unfortunate guilt- by- association dynamic at play: if something is liberal, then evangelicals should have nothing to do with it. This environmentalism-is-liberal barrier stops many evangelicals from exploring the richness of the Bible’s message on creation-care, creating additional barriers of ignorance and lack of motivation (Simmons 2009: 61).
I especially like this quote because it an example of two types of subcultures holding erroneous stereotypes about the other, therefore not being able to work together. This is a very common conflict seen in American culture every day, to name an obvious one, Democrats versus Republicans. A clashing of ideas makes the fight for environmentalism more difficult than it should be. Similarly, another challenge arises for some Christians thinking about becoming green.
This challenge deals with Christian eschatology, which is a part of theology that deals with what is believed to be the final events or destiny of humanity and the world. The first major concerns is the belief that since the world will eventually end as the bible tells, there is no point to take effort and time to care about something that is already doomed or destroyed. The second belief is, given the amount of time we have left on earth before it ends, time and energy spent preserving the environment could instead be used on converting people into followers of Christ. Devout green Christians see this argument as an excuse.
They believe that the purpose eschatology is not to wipe out humanity from the already created world, but to restore the creation in harmony in God through Christ (Simmons 2009: 66). Therefore, a Christian’s ethical tasks that were appointed should not be disregarded just because there is an inevitable end of the natural world. With the established following, beliefs, and actions of green Christians, there is evidence that pro-environmental behavior can be brought through religion. However, the question remains whether these nature-esteeming Christians are increasing in the United States.
Some conclusions can be drawn from the recent American Religious identity Survey (EAR’S) that was conducted in March 2009. ARISE interviewed 54,461 people and found several important statistics. Americans who identify as Christians has declined 1 1. 6% from 1990 to 2008. There is also evidence of a 7% increase in “ones”, which are those who identify as agnostic, atheist, or no religious preference (Azalea 2013: 146). Overall, US citizens are following the European trend in a declining belief of traditional Christianity as well as other religions.
So what does this mean for the green evangelical movement? The general trend of declining religious beliefs, especially for Christianity, may negatively affect the overall role in preserving the environment. However, surveys such as the ARISE are focused primarily on the status traditional super-naturalistic religions and not nature hallowing religions (Azalea 2013: 148). However, I believe this movement is an effective method for positive environmental change. Christians make up one-third of the world population and over three-quarters of the U. S. Population (Sifter & Shaw 2013: 267).
This is an undeniable truth that Christian’s numbers alone could have a significant effect on environmentalism if the message is spread and more mainstream. Moreover, Christianity is continually relevant in societal functions, moral guidance, and attains the ability to inspire adherence into action (Sifter & Shaw 2013: 268). One report from 2008 reports that 67 percent of Americans care about the environment solely because it is God’s creation. Another report suggests that protecting God’s creation is the second most internally important reason to prevent climate change.
One of the most important factors of religious communities, including Christians, is the powerful communication channel. This channel includes family, friends, and community members who all share a common belief system and practice similar norms. Therefore, environmentally conscious schemas and change can be easily impressed on several large communities. Also, referring back to the sense-of-place concept, pro-environmental attitudes adopted by churches around the U. S. Will have a strong local sense of responsibility (Sifter & Shaw 2013: 268).
National action begins at the local level and Christian churches are the perfect institutions to do so. Given these points, I strongly believe Christianity plays an active role in preserving he environment. Green Christianity and all religious environmentalism has become an important sub-discipline within the field of environmental ethics and conservatism. The earth is in the midst of a significant climate change and global warming is an issue that needs to be acted upon now more than ever. Environmentalism is often deeply rooted in an issue-based approach and tends to be a political issue.
Combining both issues and the more recent ethics-based approach should boost pro-environmental behavior between the US and the whole earth. Moreover, ideas of creation care and sense-of-place have the ability to appeal to a ere large Christian following and effectively promote environmental change. Lynn White’s 1967 essay suggested that the Bible presents humans dominating over nature, leading to only caring for themselves or industrial progress has sparked controversy and criticism on whether Christians are harming or helping the environment.
However, there is increased awareness of the environment in congregations around the US with the help of new and pro-environmental interpretations of both the Old and New Testaments. Whether it comes down to a crisis of circumstance or values, a solution to the environmental crisis can be created if there is cooperation. Boom-Perigee (2006) quotes Edward O. Wilson summarizes my argument with saying “religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today… F religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem of [biological catastrophe] would soon be solved. ”