ears are blasted daily by the drumbeat of environmental forewarnings. The seas are rising. The glaciers are melting. Don't drive -- take the bus. Recycle. Turn off the lights. Adjust that thermostat. Save the polar bears! Reduce your carbon footprint!
Nothing against carbon, or ecologists, or polar bears, but while society focuses on reducing carbon footprints, why aren't more folks out there creating footprints for God? Who is marching through the pain and the rain and the snow to rekindle faith that God will intercede in broken lives, and will help repair the world's environmental problems if we just put one foot in front of the other in a march towards Christian truth?
Why have we been waiting for inspiration as to what we should do in this troubled world? Are not seeing that global warming and rising sea levels are sending us warning that we need to trust God's message and His love? On the other hand, do Christians really care about the environmental issues, and if not, aren't they shunning the God who made Heaven and Earth? Are the children in our communities walking around looking at text messages instead of getting the message that God wants us to move to his music and march to his drumbeat -- and to save the planet He has created for us?
Moreover, how many Christians are addressing these questions (especially environmental questions) in their daily lives -- or even on the Sabbath when they are asked by God to take a day away from work and pleasure and devote time to His word? These questions and others cause an investigative Christian writer to want to examine the potential theological issues revolving around the environment and ecology.
Eco-Evangelist Craig Sorley's Story
Craig Sorley was a student at a Christian college in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1989 when his life was suddenly thrown a curve, but he was very fortunate to get a second chance. A large tumor was discovered in his brain, but through a successful surgery it was removed and he was set free from his possible demise. While he was getting his health and strength back, Sorley sensed "a very clear call" to try and discover that Christians were doing to try and resolve the environmental problems around the world. He says it was "one of the most defining moments in my life" in terms of his relationship with Jesus Christ. He was aware that environmentalists and Evangelicals were miles apart in their collective views of ecology and the great threats that global climate change was creating.
Sorley also was acutely aware that many "greens" (environmentalists, conservationists, and progressive scientists in the field of ecology and biology) were turned off by the conservative Christian belief in creationism (as opposed to the starkly different view of science on evolution). However, Sorley never had a doubt that he could bridge the gap between Evangelicals and environmentalists by placing emphasis not on the past, but on the future, and the need to save the planet.
He organized seminars in East Africa, which included Kenyan Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai and Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi; the group he organized is called "Care of Creation Kenya," and his passion is to use the Holy Bible to make a strong case for the environment. God delighted in his creation (Genesis 1:31) and so He put a man in his garden "to work it and take care of it" (Genesis, 2:15), Sorley explains in a Time magazine article (Faris, 2008).
In fact Jesus found more "glory" in the outstanding wonders of nature than He did in the constructions of mankind (Matthew 6:28-29), according to Sorley's approach. Sorley has always believed in this part of his life that conservative evangelicals are far more receptive to an environmental message when it is shared with them using "the language they appreciate the most… the language of the Bible" (Faris, Time Magazine).
Would it please God to know that environmental activists -- with a very compelling story to tell based on the best science research regarding climate change -- and conservative Christians were united behind a movement to save the planet? Does God work his wonders by infusing the brains and the consciousness of bright people from all walks of life with the powerful message that believing in Him requires action to prove one's sincerity? Is action needed now to make the world a safer, healthier place for all God's children?
All of these questions have "yes" for an answer.
And is there any doubt that the rising seas, the melting glaciers, the warmer temperatures, the more violent hurricanes and tornados, and the changing patters of wildlife migration are all linked to climate change? This question should be answered with a resounding "no."
Sorley has published an outstanding peer-reviewed essay in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research titled "Christ, Creation Stewardship, and Missions: How Discipleship into a Biblical Worldview on Environmental Stewardship Can Transform People and Their Land." He mentions that forests are dwindling in Kijabe, Africa, and countless communities are facing serious environmental degradation. These conditions, Sorley says, are unprecedented in human history.
Moreover, Sorley is talking about the devastating effects of environmental despoliation in Africa. He begins with the enormous problem of deforestation (stripping forests of all their trees so people can have firewood for heat and cooking, and for building houses). He also is cognizant of overgrazing, erosion, the loss of biodiversity, a climate that is becoming warmer and dryer -- and in Africa the difficulty that people have in obtaining consistent supplies of food and water is an unresolved problem with enormously negative implications for society.
More disturbing than even those issues is the "speed at which these changes are taking place," he writes. The government of Kenya predicts that within the next thirty years, a whopping 55% of all the forest and woodland in Kenya will be gone forever. There is a fast-growing population and with that population explosion comes the demand for wood, hence the disappearance of forests in Kenya. The problem is isn't just that the trees are disappearing in Kenya, and elsewhere in the world; the real issue is also that farmers are watching their soil being eroded and the consequences of that erosion is that harvests are in decline.
Sorley insists that the deeper problem in Kenya is the fact that the "hearts and minds of the people (and of societies) are corrupted by sin" which leaves people with a shortage of moral and spiritual conviction regarding the need to be good stewards. The group the Sorley works with in Kenya has a habit of asking Christian farmers, "What does your faith in Jesus Christ mean for your way of life as a farmer?"
Most often, the answer is, "I have never considered such a question before…" or "I don't know what my Christian faith means for farming. They also tell Sorley that their pastor has never once preached a sermon about agriculture, or of the environment. There is a deeply rooted, absolutely critical Christian motivation to do right by our land and our trees and our water sources, Sorely continues. And he urges Evangelicals, along with all other Christians -- and for that matter, all in the world that believe in God -- to accept that the climate is changing must faster than scientists predicted just 5 years ago, and that the world "will die from lack of soil and pure water long before it will from lack of antibiotics or surgical skill" (Sorley, 138).
For believers in Christ, Sorley has some questions, and each one opens up the possibility of further theological reflection:
1) "If Jesus Christ intends to change people into his likeness, how should that transformation be lived out when it comes to environmental and agricultural stewardship?" How would a Christ-likeness be demonstrated in the life of a farmer, or a businessperson, or a fisherman, or a pastor? This is a wonderful question because it opens up the idea that Christ came to earth to change the way people lived and to save them from their own sins, but isn't it sinful in a broader context not to care about the health of the very planet we live on? Is it not a sin to neglect the soil, the trees, the wildlife, the sources of water and the sources of food?
2) If missionaries are truly out there witnessing for Christ and his Gospel, doesn't it make sense for them to show a strong commitment to creation stewardship? This is another pertinent point, because while bringing a box of Bibles to an African country is a positive thing, and preaching the Gospel to those who are not Christians is also positive; but if the water the new converts are drinking is unsafe, and the trees are all gone and the fields are being blown away by the effects of erosion -- and the wildlife is being poached and killed -- how will God view those…