Fueled by misconceptions, misinformation, and even showmanship, the environmental debate rages in the popular media. One side likes to quote Rush Limbaugh, who paints Vice President Al Gore and friends as "tree huggers"; the other charges "rape of the Earth."
It is not very different in evangelical churches. When it comes to God's creation, evangelicals want to have ardent convictions, though misunderstandings and myths get in the way. Is concern for the earth biblical? Should our theology shoulder the blame for the crisis? Is there nothing we can do to make a difference?
CT decided to take such questions to key evangelical thinkers and leaders. When the Evangelical Environmental Network offered to cosponsor a symposium, CT signed on. A dozen people representing an array of disciplines spent the better part of two days late last year hitting the issues head-on. Many of the symposium participants staved on to help shape "An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of r Creation." As expected, there was plenty of vigorous and interesting discussion.
The question arose, for example, concerning whether there really is a problem. Nobel laureate Henry Kendall, professor of physics at MIT (one of the few nonevangelicals present), set the stage by reviewing quantifiable evidence. Citing studies on water resources, oceans, soil, and atmosphere, he noted that the scientific community generally agrees that all is not well.
A public-policy shaper also joined the group, putting to rest the notion that all who work for environmental causes are neopagan New Agers. Susan Drake, a former UN representative for the Environmental Protection Agency and now senior conservation adviser for the U.S. State Department, told how Christian faith guided her work in highlevel, international environmental forums.
Bunyan Bryant, from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, showed that African-Americans are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution. Studies show a disproportionate number of Blacks living close to hazardous waste-disposal sites.
Contributing editor Thomas Oden, concerned that "evangelicals not allow themselves to be co-opted by an agenda that is essentially politically motivated," urged symposium participants to think through a uniquely Christian approach to the issues.
The Church is to Blame
The writers included in this CT Institute do just that. Their presentations at the symposium were particularly helpful in tackling "eco-myths." They offer insights that are sure to keep the church's discussion going.
David N. Livingstone
In 1967, historian Lynn White, Jr., provoked a furious controversy by suggesting Christianity was largely to blame for the world's environmental problems. His article in Science magazine, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," argued that Christianity had to shoulder such responsibility because its theology was hostile toward the natural order. White's article has been quoted and vigorously debated ever since. Some found in White's analysis a justification for seeing the church as the planet's enemy.
But White's article must first be read in the light of his self-professed Christian faith. His father was a Presbyterian professor of Christian ethics, and White himself remained a lifelong Presbyterian and a frequent contributor to church publications.