A small sign at the San Diego Zoo informs visitors of a horrifying statistic: each week, it takes an entire forest of trees to supply the paper just for the Sunday newspapers in America. I used to buy the paper each Sunday for a quick scan of the front page, the TV guide, the Target ad, and the comics. I rarely recycled it. I need to change both habits.
I’ve been puzzled for years how Christians can justify intense, vocal involvement in some issues (abortion, gay rights) and not others like the environment. Although God created the earth, called it very good, and charged humans with its care, the protection and conservation of natural resources is seen as a “liberal” issue. (And of course no good Christian is a liberal.)
So I read with interest an article in the latest issue of Fast Company magazine about two pastors— Richard Cizik and Jim Ball—who also co-lead the Evangelical Climate Initiative. In February, the two leaders began the ECI by holding a press conference to share the biblical foundation for the program and to ask for tougher environmental laws. (Cizik is also a lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, or NAE.) Fast Company reports that 86 evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren and several college presidents, pledged their support.
However, others did not—most notably Stuart Shepard, an editor and spokesman at Focus on the Family. “There are certain issues that define what it means to be an evangelical,” he says. “Global warming doesn’t fit into that.” Focus and 20 other groups pressured the NAE to remove Cizik after the announcement of the initiative.
I find this staggering, and disturbing. Apparently, some in the religious right feel the inclusion of these concerns weakens the political impact of their position on abortion, homosexuality, and other “moral” issues. Yet the April 3 Time reported the huge potential consequences of disregarding the damage we’re causing. Cizik points out that 20 to 30 million people could be victims of these catastrophes–flooding, hurricanes, drought, and more. Many of those affected will be the poorest of the poor, and many of them will not yet be Christians—how does concern about these people not qualify as a moral issue? Every church I know donated money and organized volunteer teams to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina—is it somehow less “Christian” to work toward preventing the next round?
Natural disasters happened before global warming, of course. But even if no human being ever suffered from our treatment of the planet, Genesis 1 still reminds us we are called to be careful stewards of the world God created.
Cizik says, “Reducing pollution is loving your neighbor.” If evangelicals feel compelled to participate in politics, I wish our worldview could be truly global—broader than just a few hot-button issues, and concerned with the globe itself.