Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Climate Change and Christians as Stewards of the Earth

I grew up a native Californian Reagan Conservative with strong fundamentalist Christian values. At the same time, the terrible air quality, acid rains, and pollution which spawned the 1970s Green Movements were embedded in my childhood memories. I can remember the dirty brown smog in the LA basin rolling by, entirely obscuring the mountain ranges for months at a time. When I came of age in the 1980's, acid-rain and pollution were waning thanks to regulation, but the Cold War was still raging. Things were so bad that I took perverse comfort in living in proximity to both an air force base and a nuclear power plant because I knew that if there was a nuclear war I'd likely die early so I wouldn't have to live in the hellish aftermath.

It was the documentary film "Broken Rainbow", which launched me from complacency into activism. The forced relocation of Navajo Indians for the purposes of making the land accessible to mining activities, the visuals of children playing in uranium tailings, the high rates of cancer, and the knowledge that our treatment of the Navajo people had been models for Nazi concentration camps inflamed me. I learned about the pollution along the Mississippi River corridor, of watersheds so compromised that poor mothers were nursing babies with toxic breastmilk. I worked with inner-city children who grew up in extreme poverty and drug abuse and sexual abuse. It was the death of one of "my kids," the mistaken-identity shooting of a bright young single mother who had still managed to finish high school and college and climb out of the ghetto that broke me and ended my activism for  nearly a decade.

The re-election of George W Bush and the marked failure of compassionate conservatism to address the very real needs of the American people brought me back to activism. In despair over the national political scene, I sought community and responsibility on the local level. And I found it. I also found myself. I discovered that I could maintain a balance between advocating for others and caring for myself. I felt called to become an ordained minister, and to pick up the sex-education efforts I'd put down years earlier. I wrote extensively. I joined a community that focused on heart-centered connection and intimacy. I cared for the dying and the living as my family entered a period of one catastrophic illness after another, and then I took a much-needed break to rest and determine what I wanted to do next in my life.

I care passionately about the world I live in. The Snowmass Wilderness and the Big Sur coastline were my backyard when I was a child, and I experienced God through joy in His Creation. I was taught to love God and the works of God, and to love my fellow man as Jesus loved me. As such, I've tried to help people in need, especially children and the elderly, I've tried to be environmentally responsible, and I've tried to make a contribution to each community I've been a part of.

Now that I'm bringing a child into the world, everything feels different, like everything I've done isn't enough. It's still globally encompassing, but more personal somehow. I evaluate the-world-as-it-is and I find myself despairing over the-world-as-it-will-be when my son comes of age. I feel frustrated and angry that we've been such poor custodians of this planet, and that so many people feel justified in ignoring the cumulative consequences of our actions. The dominant ethos of America appears to be one grounded in Greed and Apocalyptic Vision:  God set Man in dominion over the world, so exploit it for all it's worth. Then God will take care of what is left -- with Fire. 

But does the command in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it really give humanity license to recklessly exploit the planet? I think not. Genesis Chapter 2 describes God's creation of the garden of Eden, and His placement of Man in the Garden to dress it and to keep it (Genesis 2:15). What does "dress it and keep it" mean? Cultivate it and care for it. God put Man into the Garden of Eden to be it's caretaker, it's master gardener.

Now, After Adam and Eve's fall from Grace, God was pretty upset. He basically said cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life (Genesis 3:17). This would seem to set mankind up in an adversarial role with our environment. No longer would the ground readily sustain us, we'd have to work hard to find and grow food -- we'd have to work harder at subduing the planet. But what people seem to forget is that if God initially gave us dominion over the earth, the earth is still His. Even after granting Adam and Eve stewardship of the earth, even as he created the Garden of Eden for Adam to care for, He retained ultimate authority and ownership -- as demonstrated by His choice to curse it so we'd have to work hard in order to survive. (Jeremiah 27:5 I by my great power and outstretched arm made the earth, land and animals that are on the earth. And I can give them to whom I please.)

I can't help but feel that this was a test of sorts, a God-given opportunity for mankind to prove ourselves worthy of the role he'd given us as sovereigns and caretakers of the earth. I can't help but feel that we are once again failing in our charge.

The Bible tells us that even as humanity slipped into sin and depravity, and so lost our connection with God and Creation that God felt it necessary to wipe the works of Man from the face of the earth, God found one man, Noah, and charged him with building an ark to save not only those who kept faith with God, but also the creatures of the earth. We'd slipped so far from our sacred beginnings that God wanted to cleanse the earth of our taint, but not of His Creations. Once again, he reminded us of our responsibility as stewards of this planet. Even so, we continue to fail in those responsibilities, and have for thousands of years:
Leviticus 25:23-24. The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land. 

Jeremiah 2:7. I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and you made my inheritance detestable.

Luke 16:2,10,13. And He called him and said to him, "What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous in much. You cannot serve both God and mammon. 

James 5:5. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
When public figures like politicians and ministers say that catastrophic global climate change can't happen no matter what Man does because The Bible says the world will always be here -- they miss an important point. The Bible doesn't say Man will always be in the world, nor does it say that our way of life will always be sustained.  We've gotten so caught up in serving up heaping helpings of the earth's resources that we've lost sight of he fact that the world doesn't exist to serve us. God created Man to serve as caretakers of Creation, to love it and take joy it as God Himself does.

So I'd like to ask all the Christians out there, and indeed, all people who believe that the world was created by God, to think before they snicker or roll their eyes at those darned environmentalists who warn of the dire consequences of our current way of living on the earth. They could be the Noah's of our era, and if we ignore them, who is to say that they aren't prophesying the destruction of the world by fire (2 Peter 3:7. But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men)?

And if we willfully ignore their warnings because of inconvenience or political or ideological differences, and continue to be poor stewards of the earth, what world are we leaving to our children, and to the creatures of this planet, and how will God judge us when that time comes?

I feel it is time for those who consider themselves righteous or godly or God's Chosen to embrace the mantle of environmental stewardship. It is time for everyone to love what God has created, to dress it and to keep it as God charged us to do, and to stop wasting time on judging others when we should be loving them as Jesus also charged us to do. I think that we should unite to protect and preserve this planet all of us live on, because, really, if we fail in this, who can be smugly assured of their place in Heaven if everything does go to hell?

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