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12 June 2010

A Christian Environmentalism?

As I was driving across the country last week on my way to Nevada, I passed through several parts of the country where there were no NPR stations. As a result, I ended up listening to country music or Christian/Conservative talk radio - out of a sense of curiosity. I was particularly interested to hear the commentary on the Gulf oil spill and its ecological, social, economic, and political repercussions. Most of what I heard was condemning the Obama administration for failing to deal with the spill quickly. Then, when the administration pointed out that they had been there from the beginning, the commentators turned it around and claimed that it was a clear example of how the government doesn't make things better. I wondered when I heard that what exactly they think the spill would have looked like if the government hadn't been there? So most of what I heard was not very encouraging.

However, while passing through Utah, I was listening to Chris Fabry Live, and he had a segment on the oil spill as well. He referred to an editorial in Christianity Today titled "Judgement in the Gulf: Woes and Blessings of the Oil Spill" by Mark Galli. Before continuing on, go read the essay and maybe listen to the show.

Now, I'm not going to say that this is a perfect piece of environmental literature. There are a lot of things that I don't agree with (e.g. the part about how only the Lord can destroy the Earth, the part about how He will destroy the Earth, and the fact that Galli and Fabry continually use the word "Dominion" to express our relationship with nature). However, I do find some encouraging things in the statement and in the show. There is a recognition in the essay that our way of life is harmful to the Earth, and that we need to change. This is a far cry from the Bush era doctrine that the world will be destroyed soon and all of God's children will be raptured, so we should get as much as we can from it while we're here. It was also clear in the radio show, though not so apparent in the essay itself, that the idea is not that God caused the oil spill to punish us for our sins (i.e. gay marriage, abortion, etc. - the usual conservative Christian fare), but that our way of life is harmful to the planet and we are feeling the consequences of that way of life in the oil spill.

I also found this section interesting:
Woe to you, O environmentalists, who lose sleep over shrimp that will vanish and do not remember the eleven created in my image who died in the explosion, who wax eloquent about the suffering salamander and are blind to the plight of those who suffer most when my earth suffers.
Of course environmentalists do care a great deal about the people who have been killed or otherwise harmed by the spill, and it is precisely this concern for human lives that drives us to protect the environment. But this is, like it or not, how we are viewed by a large portion of the population. Clearly, we could do a better job of showing that environmental problems are human problems.

All in all I think what this essay and the program represent is not the kind of environmentalism I practice or endorse. But it reveals the potential for an environmentalism that conservative Christians might be able to relate to. There were a lot of positive calls on the radio program, and that is encouraging. Perhaps this oil spill has a silver sheen after all.

Addendum 6/13/2010: I'm listening now to Speaking of Faith on NPR. Krista Tippett is speaking with Ellen Davis on her new project of examining the bible from an agrarian/environmentalist perspective. It's not in the same vein as the article mentioned above, but another view of Christianity and environmentalism.


Josh said...

Reminds me of my drive to work. The local NPR station actually fades out into static as I get further away from home and is replaced by a weird Christian station. I find it very symbolic of the (sometimes seemingly intentional) information void that exists in some parts of the country.
On a more positive note, I was expecting to go into work and have to ignore a bunch of idiotic ramble about how the environmentalists are whiners and that industry/profit is more important than any silly oil spill, but everyone there is actually very depressed about the spill. I'm not sure if it's because Obama is president and they feel it's his fault and thus are allowed to be upset over it, but that's not really important. The important thing is that I was wrong and they actually do care.
Now let's see if we actually hold BP responsible for the full liability of the spill, or if the oil company lackeys continue to block legislation to raise the liability cap

Jeremy Trombley said...

That's good to hear, Josh. I do think people care about the spill, whether it's because of the economic impacts to the region, the corruption of government agencies, the harm done to wildlife, or the harm done to ecosystems. It concerns me, though, that the media is focusing on blaming the Obama administration. What do they expect from him? He can get as angry as he likes, but it won't make the spill any better. Instead of worrying about what Obama is doing, we should be worried about what BP is doing. Instead of expecting Obama to get angry, we should get angry ourselves and demand that BP do something or pay the consequences.

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