Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

A Matter of Environmental Responsibility

Steven Meyer


February 27, 2009

The new Obama administration has promised to bring fundamental change to the way Washington carries out the work of government. Although the early signs are decidedly mixed, it is much too early to tell whether the “politics of change” will become a permanent part of the American experience.

Christians can honestly and understandably differ on all sorts of issues the administration has promised to address. But there are some issues where it is difficult to understand not only the disagreement among Christians but also the heightened level of animus they produce. Chief among these issues is the need to address environmental degradation.

On this issue there is an unfathomable and sad rejection of responsibility by the so-called Christian right that has morphed into a bewilderingly vicious backlash against “environmentalism.” Even a casual perusal of rightwing Christian websites and literature reveals a strong condemnation of environmentalism. Some go so far as to equate environmentalism with fascism. Some rightwing sites denounce it as unChristian and others attack it as a dangerous, leftist, New Age substitute for God, a form of idolatry.

Certainly if concern for the environment replaces devotion to God, it becomes idolatry and there are some people who do revere the earth and its ecosystem as a goddess. Normally, these devotees can be tagged as animists or nature worshippers, but they are few in number and seldom found in churches. To the contrary, those Christians who are concerned with the environment are overwhelmingly driven by a biblically inspired obligation of stewardship. They are concerned with the growing scientific evidence of environmental change and human involvement in that change. Stewardship for them is a melding of faith and science that leads to the recognition that their responsibility in God’s creation is an awesome, seamless, sacred trust.

The Christian right’s attack arises from two interrelated problems. The first is a hyper-pietism that surpasses personal religious responsibility to pull Christians into a sort of hermetically sealed isolation, cutting them off from a broader sense of responsibility. Although pietism began as a well-intended movement in seventeenth-century Germany to draw the individual Christian closer to God, all too often it has had the opposite effect.

The second problem is the Christian right’s mistrust of and disdain for science. This antipathy to science, born in the Middle Ages, is not new in the church. Both Copernicus and Galileo, for example, were persecuted by the church for advocating—correctly, it turns out—the heliocentric theory of the universe. Today, too many Christians still cannot see the value of science in explaining the beauty and intricacy of God’s creation as well as the damage we are doing to it. Instead, they fear science, arguing falsely that it is inconsistent with God’s Word.

The modern Christian now has the opportunity and responsibility to engage in good stewardship. This is part of taking all human responsibilities seriously, of honoring God who calls us to account for our actions in the socio-political arena as well as in our personal lives. With respect to the environment, we need to reject the isolation and negativism that create entropy and keep us from learning and acting. If the new administration’s promise for change is real, Christians have a grand opportunity to engage in forming and executing practical, on-the-ground policies that will help reverse the kinds of climate change and other environmental degradations for which humans are responsible. When God gave human creatures—the image of God, male and female—dominion over the earth, it was not a license for exploitation but a call to responsibility.

—Steven E. Meyer
   National Defense University
   (The views expressed here are the author’s alone)

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”