Time for Lent: Environment


(system) #1

Environmentalism did not begin with Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis in 1972. It didn’t start with the founding of Green Peace in 1971 or the celebration of Earth Day in 1970. Its commencement preceded the publication of Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 and even John Muir’s efforts to establish the Sierra Club in 1892.

In actuality, care for creation has its origins in a proclamation that had few observers and no national press: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (NIV, Genesis 2:15, emphasis mine).[1] One could even argue that environmentalism had started a couple days earlier when God first declared creation good.

Theologians such as Jo Ann Davidson[2] and Matt Krick[3] have articulated a theology of ecology, so rather than read the Bible at length here, I am going to focus on reading culture. Three Christian voices are representative of very different views of the state-of-the-world and the proper human response, views that I have heard expressed by Adventists, though usually in less extreme language.

First, Ann Coulter tells us that nothing is wrong and any effort aimed at ecological conservation is misguided. “The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet – It's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars – that's the Biblical view.”[4]

Second, James Dobson's son, Ryan, represents a more commonly accepted view. He believes that managing and subduing the earth are Christian responsibilities, yet at the same time he seems to minimize both the environmental problems and the role of human activity in these issues. “I don't know how anybody can live with a philosophy that says he himself is the world's problem. That's what moral relativists believe about man's impact on Mother Earth.”[5] Honestly, I’m not sure how one can look at pollution, aquatic dead zones, specie extinctions rates, animal habitat loss, desertification, and other issues and not see direct human responsibility.

Third, Matthew Sleeth shares an alternative perspective in Serve God, Save the Planet.[6] As a physician managing an ER, he began to see connections between environmental degradation and his patients’ ailments. Increasing rates of illnesses such as cancer and asthma prompted him to begin researching these correlations.

Rather than minimize the problem and society's role, Sleeth's research eventually led him to leave his medical practice that he believed merely treated symptoms. Instead, he began a ministry aimed at working on the root of the problem—modern ways of living that pollute our air and water.[7] While some environmental advocates such as Al Gore are criticized for not walking their talk, the Sleeth family has radically changed lifestyles in line with their developing awareness.[8]

Which of these three voices best express your current attitudes and beliefs? What do you see as benefits and dangers of each? Have you moved in one direction or another along this continuum? How do you determine acceptable levels of environmental degradation (e.g., second hand smoke, smog, chemicals in water, nuclear waste, etc.)? What lifestyle choices would you consider changing and which ones are not open to consideration?

Two fundamentals of the Seventh-day Adventist faith that position us well to embrace the more radical, sustainable and healthy lifestyle that the Sleeth family exemplifies—Sabbath and the health message.[9] Sabbath provides a weekly opportunity to thank God for our created world, and one way to demonstrate gratitude is to take care of the gift we've been given. Additionally, with a history of commitment to personal health, we are especially equipped to embrace ways of living that promote the health of others. As Leroy Barber of Mission Year emphasizes, “The environment has to be taken care of because people need to be taken care of.”[10]

One example of this connection is the food we consume. Eating organically grown food may not dramatically increase our intake of phytochemicals or antioxidants, but it means migrant laborers can work in fields free of pesticides and herbicides. A friend of mine works for a government-funded agency that teaches workers in conventionally farmed fields the dangers of coming in contact with their children when arriving home covered in these chemicals. As we purchase organic foods (and clothing), farmers and corporations are encouraged to switch to less harmful methods of production. Clearly, sustainable living not only includes limiting our carbon footprint (controversial as this may be), but also minimizing our chemical and resource footprints.

As you take time for lent today, leisurely walk through your neighborhood for an hour. Observe the many sights, sounds and smells. Look for signs of life you may not have noticed before. Intentionally search for connections between what you observe and the well-being of the residents, especially in land, air and water. Thank God for at least one piece of creation you discover (or re-discover). When you get home, select one additional action from the following list—10 Tips from Adventists for the Environment. [11]

[1] For more commentary on this verse, see my presentation at the bottom of this blog post: http://sdaenvironmentalism.wordpress.com/2009/09/19/lakeview-sda-church-....

[2] http://www.adventistreview.org/article.php?id=2030

[3] http://www.marshill.org/pdf/theologyOfEcology.pdf. Krick also speaks in the sermon series, God is Green.

[4] http://townhall.com/columnists/AnnCoulter/2000/10/12/oil_good;_democrats...

[5] Ryan Dobson, Be Intolerant: Because Some Things are Just Stupid (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 42-43.

[6] J. Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007). See also http://matthewsleethmd.com/About.html.

[7] Learn more about this ministry, Blessed Earth, at http://www.blessedearth.org/?home and http://twitter.com/blessedearth. Other positive Christian ministries include Arocha, Restoring Eden, Creation Care and Renewal.

[8] All three members of the family have now written on the topic—It’s Easy Being Green and Go Green, Save Green.

[9] For more on Adventism and the environment, read the church’s statements listed at the top of this post: http://sdaenvironmentalism.wordpress.com/faith/.

[10] Jamie Moffett, The Ordinary Radicals: A Conspiracy of Faith on the Margins of Empire, DVD, Documentary, 2008.

[11] For more practical ideas, consider the following: Dan Haseltine, “Clean Water,” in The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World (Orlando, FL: Relevant Books, 2006), 1-15; Tony Campolo and Gordon Aeschliman, Everybody Wants to Change the World: Practical ideas for Social Justice (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2006), 47-71; Jeffrey Hollender and Linda Catling, How to Make the World a Better Place: 116 Ways You Can Make a Difference (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1995), 83-156; Mike Yankoski and Danae Yankoski, eds., Zealous Love: A Practical Guide to Social Justice (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 51-75, 155-179; Peter Illyn, “The Environment,” in The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World (Orlando, FL: Relevant Books, 2006), 155-169.

Art: Jackson Pollock, Circle, c. 1938-40 Oil on composition board Museum of Modern Art


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2211