Evangelicals from around the world gathered for a day of worship, learning and dialogue about how evangelicals should respond to climate change while diplomats from more than 190 nations gathered in Paris for the COP21 United Nations climate conference.
Jointly sponsored by A Rocha International, an international Christian conservation organization, and the Lausanne Creation Care Network, an initiative of the Lausanne Movement started by Billy Graham and other global evangelicals, the conference was billed as “A Christian response to climate change.”
Held offsite from COP21 at St. Michael’s Church, an English-speaking Anglican church in Paris, the Dec. 5 conference brought together more than 100 evangelicals from several countries and denominations.
Held in both English and French, translation services allowed everyone to participate.
Dave Bookless, director of theology for A Rocha International, argued that evangelicals can add to the climate change conversation by bringing biblical values into the discussion, which can impact people more than scientific data.
An evangelical Anglican pastor from England, he spoke about biblical issues and climate change at multiple events during COP21.
“Science alone and education alone aren’t enough to motivate people to make the changes they need,” he said. “We need to engage the heart.”
Bookless urged the use of “stories that are very personal” about real people and “prophetic action” that shows people a different way to live. He called evangelicals to live out “those core Christian values of faith, hope and love in tangible forms through practical projects.”
“The reason we do this is because we believe, ultimately, the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” he added.
Bookless refuted several common evangelical objections to climate change.
For instance, he noted some say the Bible does not address the topic so neither should Christians.
He pointed out that the Bible also does not mention abortion but Christians find lots to say on this topic, and that the Bible does not say one can drive a car or use a microwave but Christians do anyway.
He called on evangelicals to look at the full witness of the biblical worldview to find the call to care for creation.
Addressing claims that only God – and not people – can impact nature and that the Christian spiritual mission remains more important than material concerns, Bookless argued both of these objections are based on secular philosophies and represent a “profoundly unbiblical worldview.”
He explained that modern thinkers popularized the idea that people cannot impact nature, but that the Bible teaches otherwise.
He added that ancient Greek philosophers pushed the separation of spiritual and material realms, but that the Bible connects them.
“If Jesus Christ is to be Lord at all, then Jesus Christ must be Lord of all,” Bookless declared. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not only about saving souls; the gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? It’s God’s rule over every part of God’s creation.”
“We need to move from an understanding of mission that is only about saving souls,” he added, stressing that saving souls and caring for people and creation are all important.
Jean-Francois Mouhot, an environmental history researcher who works for A Rocha France, similarly spoke about his hope that more evangelicals will find a “conviction of sin” and “repentance” on environmental issues, much as he once did.
“At this time of Advent, we can remember it was wise men – scientists – who saw the signs in the sky,” he commented. “God speaks through prophets, but he also speaks through scientists.”
Mouhot discussed the problems of end times theologies – like “The Late Great Planet Earth” and “Left Behind” – since these perspectives lead people away from caring for creation.
Such theologies suggest that since God is going to destroy the Earth anyway, there is no point in trying to save the planet from climate change.
Arguing that those perspectives remain flawed, Mouhot and other speakers noted that people still go to a doctor even though they will still die someday.
He said that even the apocalyptic book of Revelation offers a condemnation from God of those who “destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18).
Mouhot added that biblical mandates to love God and love neighbor mean that caring for the environment “is not a distinct from our mission.”
He compared creation care to how one might react to art, insisting that one could not claim to love an artist and his work and then sit back and let “hooligans tag his paintings with graffiti.”
Recognizing some of the ideological assumptions people make about those who care about the environment, he said evangelicals who care about the environment need to clarify they “worship the Creator and not the creation.”
Mouhot also argued that regardless of one’s positions on other political or social issues, an evangelical could embrace the need to care for creation and reduce climate change.
Bishop Efraim Tendero, secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance, also spoke at the conference, adding to the arguments he made the previous day during a panel in the “green zone” (public area) at COP21.
Tendero shared one of his responses to evangelicals who wonder why he cares about climate change.
“Why are you do that, don’t you read the Scriptures,” he recounted being asked.
“Yes,” he said he responds, “I read the Scriptures and that is why I do this.”
Editor’s note: Kaylor is in Paris for the COP21 United Nation’s climate change conference. Pictures and videos from his trip are available here. Previous news stories on COP21 are:
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.