What Does Jesus Have to Do With the Environment?

In my About Page, I explain that one of the key things I want to explore on Becoming Peculiar is creation care. Some Christians might find it odd to place so much emphasis on caring for the environment, so I thought I’d devote a post to explaining why it’s central to my theology.

In recent years, the term “Creation Care” has begun to pop up and grow in importance in some Christian circles. But until recently, talking about the environment hasn’t been high on most denominations’ priorities list. After all, what does saving the rainforest have to do with the Great Commandment (“Love the Lord you God…”) and the Great Commission (“Go and make disciples…”)?

For some Christians, protecting the environment seems like an obvious element in following Jesus. For others, though, it’s an irrelevant distraction from the important work of evangelism.

Here are just a few reasons why I believe protecting the planet is vital to a Christ-centered life.

1. Saving the planet means saving human lives.

I’ve heard Christians scoff at those who concern themselves with “the environment,” as if “the environment” was some lifeless, abstract thing distinct and separate from us humans. But the truth is, “the environment” is (among other things) the place where other humans live. It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals we eat, and the ground on which we build our homes.

Taking care of the planet, then, is the same thing as taking care of other people’s homes, and keeping their food, water, and air safe.

One thing that all Christians can (hopefully) agree upon is that we’re called to care for one another. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbours. Our neighbours include the people who live downstream from our water pollution, downwind from our air pollution, and downhill from our soil erosion. I submit that our neighbours also include our descendents and the descendents of our neighbours.

Caring for the planet is perhaps one of the most important ways, then, we can care for our neighbours. As Wendell Berry says, “It is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for the earth.”

Another way of looking at the issue is to acknowledge that Jesus doesn’t want us to poison or starve one another. But that’s essentially what we’re doing – indirectly — when we drive our cars, buy things made in factories, and eat industrialized food: we’re filling the air, water and soil with hazardous toxins that make people sick.

Followers of Christ must work hard to live lives that do not contribute to the pollution of our planet — and even work to reverse the damage we’ve already done.

2. God made and loves the world, so we ought to, too.

God declared creation good before we humans even entered the scene.

Christianity is unique in that unlike other religions which deprecate matter as inferior to spirit, the Bible celebrates matter: the sun, the moon, the earth, the water, and everything else in the universe is good, without or without us.

The earth is so important to God that his very first commandment to us humans includes taking care of the earth and animals. It’s of central importance to him, and therefore ought to be to us, too.

When we care for God’s creation, we express our love for him, because we’re loving what he loves.

3. Jesus died to save all of creation.

As we read in Colossians 1:19-20, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (emphasis mine).

In Mark 16:15, Jesus tells his disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:21-22). And in Christ’s future Kingdom the rest of creation will be transformed into a new earth (Rev. 21:1).

If Jesus died for all of creation, I think we can trust that he wants us to show as much concern for the rest of the world, too.

* * *

So a key part of my Christianity involves driving my car less and riding my bike more. It involves growing my own food rather than buying processed, packaged food shipped from overseas. It involves shopping at thrift stores rather than the mall. It means using cloth diapers and line-drying my clothes.

These are all ways that I attempt to love my neighbor, show God that I respect and value his beautiful handiwork, and participate in Jesus’ reconciliatory work between God and creation.

I feel like I’m still forgetting a whole bunch. What’s still missing from my list? In what other ways is planet-care relevant to following Jesus?

Image courtesy of losvizzero.
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Comments

  1. You make some great points, Kathleen. I am so pleased that your blog seems to be focusing on the responsibility of the individual in regards to stewardship of the property entrusted to him by God. There needs to be a sensible voice in this arena, and sadly there are few. Indeed, any discussion of the environment seems to divide people into two distinct camps: those who are of the religion called “environmentalism” (and yes, it is a religion, as I’ll explain), and those who couldn’t give a rat’s petutty and throw out the baby with the bathwater in decrying all things environmental. So, I’m excited about the perspective that you seem to be taking.

    My view on “creation care” could probably be summed up as follows: placing a high importance on caring for the earth via the individual and the free market. I oppose any state intervention in environmental matters other than as it relates to property rights and tort law.

    It is for very good reason that many people are highly skeptical of the “new religion” of environmentalism that sprung up only several decades ago. It is a movement that is entirely co-opted by the state, controlled by the state, for the benefit of the state. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about my fellow Christians, it is that they have no hesitation to bowing down before the state, and even becoming the main mouthpiece for much of the state’s agenda. Don’t believe me? Kony 2012. Iraq. Afghanistan. War on Terror. War on Drugs. Abortion legislation. Now add the environment. It seems that a favorite pastime of the church is to work towards legislation on its pet issues, and it is almost a certainty that the issue of the environment will not fall outside the pattern once the church has sold it to it’s membership. Thus, environmentalism as a religion; a set of man made rules enforced at the point of a gun under the guise of “collective responsibility”, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to what the Creator intended for His creation.

    I think you would love what Joey Salatin is doing on his farm, and his approach to “creation care”. He calls himself by the labels that others have branded him with: a christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic. He writes: We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.” The remarkable thing is that Joe, who has garnered a tremendous following, advocates a strict non-state-interventionist approach. I have spent many hours reading his stuff and watching his videos. Check him out on Youtube or at http://www.polyfacefarms.com.

    In my bookmarks I also have two articles that have helped inform my thinking on this issue. “What is Environmentalism?” (www.lewrockwell.com/rozeff/rozeff151.html) and “Environmentalism as Religion” (http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig8/ostrowski-john1.html)

    I am looking forward to this new blog of yours, Kathleen.

    • I strongly dislike this approach, which advocates leaving environmental protection to the whims of the free market. This has been tried already (London in the 19th Century, the US in the early 20th twentieth, China today) and resulted only in widespread destruction of the environment, disproportionately affecting the poor and most vulnerable (children are especially sensitive to pollution).

      The rich and powerful are able to escape pollution, either through the purchase of expensive items (air filters, water filters, etc) or more commonly, by moving elsewhere (the majority of China’s elite currently plan to retire in another country like Canada or New Zealand). They don’t have an incentive to care about the mess they leave behind. Leaving it to the free market doesn’t work because there isn’t a credible alternative (most people cannot leave their home, even if it’s polluted and destroyed), and so competition does not work.

      The only thing that HAS worked is citizen advocacy leading to stricter regulations for companies and the wealthy. Compare Beijing’s air quality with London or Washington DC, and you will see what a difference this can make. (London’s polluted air killed 12,000 people in 1952; then they passed the Clean Air Act; a similar thing happened in Donora, Pennsylvania in 1948).

      Kathleen, I think this is a worthy goal, and anyone who loves and cares for his neighbor ought to pursue it. I will have to try doing a better job myself.
      Grace recently posted..Pulau Tioman, Day 3My Profile

  2. @Terry: I’ve come across Joe Salatin’s name a few times and have been meaning to seriously read his work; you’ve made me decide to bump him up on my reading list!

    @Grace: Wow, it sounds like you have read quite a bit on the subject. Very interesting! Thanks for your input.

    To both:
    The topic of the government’s role in enforcing ethical behaviour is an interesting one, and one I didn’t think I’d be addressing this early in BP’s life. But here are a few quick thoughts.

    I don’t have a strong opinion on whether/how much the government should be involved in environmental issues.

    I do believe, however, that the best/most long-lasting ways to enact change are to (a) “be the change you want to see,” and (b) inspire others to do the same through example and art.

    I want to see people choosing to care for the environment out of real concern for the well-being of fellow humans and creatures. If the government tries to regulate things we may see some improvements, but unless hearts are changed, these changes only last until people find ways to evade the laws (or revolt entirely).

    Jesus worked not by getting the government to create laws, but by providing an example of how we should behave and encouraging others to join him. So that’s how I want to work.

  3. Very poignant and well said! I’ve always wondered why it’s so often the “environmentalist whackos” and “Gaea worshipers” who are the ones most concerned with preserving the earth. Shouldn’t Christians be the most active of the “green movement”? God made the earth and put us on it to tend to it. Seems to me that a lot of Christians are so afraid of being thought of as Mother Earth-worshipers and environmentalists that they tend to swing in the complete opposite direction. I love the earth and want it to stay beautiful and productive! And while I want everyone to feel the same way, it would be awesome if someone saw that you were careful about your pollution and waste output and their first thought was “I wonder if they’re a Christian.” Rather than “They must be into that whole ‘mother earth’ thing.”
    This new blog has me very excited!

  4. I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only Christian my age who has decided that taking care of the planet and being a Christian not only doesn’t conflict but actually go hand in hand! I feel like I’m always fighting a battle to convince people I haven’t turned into some crazy hippie tree hugger!

  5. Great post, Kathleen. I will share with you that the reason I turned away from the church was BECAUSE of this dichotomy that exists between “jesus lovers” and “environmentalists.” It became too unpalatable to hear the sermon about loving thy neighbor, but then, like you alluded, dump toxic chemicals on them if they lived downstream. Now, that isn’t to say that I don’t believe in God or that I am not spiritual. I am. But I don’t respect people that hide behind the cloak of religion while practicing things that knowingly harm our own kind, or harm the animal and plant kingdom as well. Thank you for this post, and thank you to everyone for your insightful commentary. I’ll sign off with a few relevant quotes:

    Only in the last moment in history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the living world. …E.O. Wilson

    Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man. …Stewart Udall

    Man should not destroy what it cannot create. …Dr. Ruth Kiew

    The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be …Anne Frank

  6. June Moore says:

    Protection of the environment should be given as much emphasis in schools’ curriculum as maths or English. Young people whose greatest desire is possession of a motor car should be made aware of the toxic properties of exhaust fumes and its damage to the air we breathe, and consequently its damage to mankind.

  7. Misty Dawn says:

    I came across this blog while researching an article I was attempting to write, tentatively called “Where are all the Christian Environmentalists?” I think you give a well-reasoned, impassioned argument for being good stewards of the Earth, using both Old Testament and New Testament examples to bolster your point. I must, however, question why the Bible (OT and NT) omits any direct teachings on the issue of protecting our environment (in all of your examples, you *infer* that God or Jesus wants us to take care of the planet because he told Adam to, or because Jesus said to love your neighbor, but neither explicitly said so).

    Other religions make environmentalism a chief concern of theirs. From the numerous Native American religions who urge respect of the plants and animals that bring humans sustenance, to the Greco-Roman pantheon and their representations of environmental phenomenon as gods and goddesses…even Islam commands people not to pollute! But The Bible is eerily silent. God could have had 11 Commandments…Jesus could have told environmental parables. But they didn’t.

    While I don’t think environmentalism is *inconsistent* with the message of The Bible, I certainly don’t think it is a requirement, a priority, or even much of a concern. If it were, it would be emphasized more. It would be directly spoken to.

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