It still surprises people that evangelical Christians are concerned about environmental issues. As the executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen in print that our educational campaign, “What Would Jesus Drive?” is attributed to “radical environmentalists.” It is just too jarring–and scary–to some that evangelicals would do something like this.
We don’t consider ourselves radical environmentalists for talking about the lordship of Jesus Christ over all our lives, including our transportation choices. We are, however, disturbers of the environmental status quo because we are Bible-thumping, born-again slaves of Jesus Christ who believe he created the universe as the pre-existent Son of God, continues to sustain it and has reconciled all things to the Father.
We care about what secular society labels “the environment” not because society says we should, but because it belongs to the Lord. We address environmental problems not because it’s fashionable, but because pollution and environmental degradation hurt people, especially the most vulnerable. As such, it runs contrary to Jesus’ most basic ethical teaching: to love our neighbors and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We try to reflect God in our stewardly dominion of his created order, and to tend God’s good earth because his word commands it.
Not all evangelicals have completely understood what the Bible teaches about creation-care. But our ranks are growing. In late June my organization, along with Christianity Today magazine and the National Association of Evangelicals, co-sponsored a historic conference for senior evangelical leaders. Previously unconvinced and unmotivated leaders became converts to a biblically based, Christ-centered approach to caring for creation. Participants wrote a covenant where they pledged before God to spread the word about creation-care to other evangelicals.
We are coming late to this understanding, in part because environmentalism has been perceived as a liberal issue. But the harmful effects of pollution do not respect political ideologies. When a little girl with asthma is struggling to breathe on a bad air day, she doesn’t care whether someone working to reduce pollution is a liberal or a conservative. And conserving the resources God has entrusted to our care certainly isn’t solely the responsibility of liberals.
Yet we need to tip our hats to those across the political divide who have been working to help ease the suffering of children with asthma for years, or who have carried the banner of conservation, while we remained on the sidelines–or even opposed their efforts. We must overcome any guilt-by-association tendencies. We may end up supporting some of the same goals as environmentalists, but we do so for different reasons.
By being ourselves, we may afflict the comfortable on all sides of the environmental debate. Some environmentalists won’t like our business-friendly stance, which seeks to utilize the efficiency of the marketplace to achieve environmental goals. Social liberals in the environmentalist community may resent our outspokenness in defense of unborn life, which deserves protection in all ways, including but not limited to toxic chemicals that threaten children in the womb.
Our Republican friends might resent our focus on the grave threat global warming poses to the world’s poor, owing to increased hunger, disease and malnutrition, as well as to animal species created by Christ to glorify the Father. And there is this potentially unsettling side effect of the church’s increased environmental activism: that evangelical Christians, the most reliable constituency of the Republican Party, just might start to make that party greener.
Just as evangelicals have worked with rock star Bono on fighting AIDS and feminist leader Gloria Steinem on combating sexual trafficking, don’t be surprised to see us team up with seemingly strange bedfellows for the sake of stewarding the environment. Yet we will do so while remaining true to ourselves, true to God’s word and true to Jesus Christ. Our calling is to protect what God has made, especially the unborn, the poor and his endangered creatures.
It is a calling that is full of joy, because it is part of what it means today to love God and neighbor. Isn’t that what all of us were created to do?
This article appeared previously as an op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning News. It is used here with the author’s permission.
Jim Ball is Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change at the Evangelical Environmental Network and author of the award-winning book, “Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.”