On March 15, millions of students in 1,500 cities worldwide marched to protest political inaction on climate change. Four days later, Gwinnett County residents voted down the MARTA referendum that could help curb our region’s carbon emissions. The dichotomy of these events gave me pause.
I think it’s safe to say we all want to breathe clean air and drink clean water, but when it gets down to brass tacks — we’re stuck. And the environmental issues keep growing larger. Why is that?
Let’s consider two imaginary people from these events. First, a college student, whose demographic largely supports environmental initiatives; the other an evangelical Christian, a religious tradition that dwarfs all others in Gwinnett and frequently rejects environmental issues. Please know, I am a college professor who attends an evangelical church, so I realize not all students are environmentalists. Also, there are probably many Gwinnett evangelicals that voted in favor of the MARTA referendum because they care about creation among other issues. However, for the sake of making a point, try to put yourself in these two pairs of shoes:
You’re a college student headed to class. You’re planning to attend the climate march later today. As you start walking across the quad, you approach the “Designated Public Forum” zone. There they are again. It’s that group from the mega-church nearby. They’re handing out ocean-polluting water bottles and tree-consuming pamphlets and displaying posters of their “mission trips” that send people to the far corners of the world on carbon-fueled airliners. You heard their senior pastor has a private jet. You think, “If they cared so much about the poor, they’d lower their carbon footprint.”
So, what do you do? You walk by quickly trying not to catch their eye and overhear, “They’re all so deep in sin. I wish they would listen…”
It’s been a long day of witnessing. You’re tired but happy that you planted seeds of faith. You and your friends pack up and head toward your cars. As you near the parking lot, you chuckle. There they are again. They’re holding their protest signs with pictures of drowning polar bears and shouting, “Climate change is causing global suffering! We must act now!” You think, “They sure didn’t seem to care about the suffering when we told them about our mission trips earlier today.”
So, what do you do? You pick up the pace toward your SUVs and hear, “It’s gas guzzlers like this who are to blame!”
In other words, I believe both “sides” feel judged and angry about that judgement. And most importantly, both really want to make a difference in the world. So, how do we move forward? Here are two possible ideas.
To all frustrated environmentalists:
I get it. “Frustrated” is an understatement. You’ve worked so hard. You have made progress, but not nearly enough to curb the massive tide of problems. So you’re angry and looking for someone to blame. I understand why it might be Christians, and specifically evangelicals. Their (or I should say ‘our’) numbers are massive with powerful political influence, and they consistently resist environmental topics.
However, anger doesn’t work. Rudeness and judgement have the opposite effect. Throughout history large-scale change always started from a place of love and peace. Look at Gandhi, MLK, or even Jesus! I know it sounds very “kumbaya,” but it’s true!
And honestly, I believe anger is partially why we’re stuck in the first place. Judgment and criticism causes us to pull back and resist. And let’s face it — much of the environmental message feels judgmental and bossy.
It’s not working all that well. So why not try something new?
Earth Day is fast approaching. Perhaps this year you could wear green and visit an eco-hesitant mega-church. You could write a respectful note about why you are there and put it in the offering plate. Wouldn’t it be something if churches were flooded with loving green on Earth Day? I have a feeling it’ll make a big impression.
Next, to all eco-hesitant Christians:
You have done so much good in the world. You love the least so deeply. But you hesitate on issues facing God’s creation. Perhaps it’s because you don’t touch any part of the liberal agenda. Or perhaps your pastors teach misinterpretations of certain Scriptures and claim God tells us to indulge in creation’s resources, even though that contradicts God’s Word on careful stewardship, loving our neighbor and self-control.
Either way, remember this: our love walk as the body of Christ is incomplete and sometimes downright hollow if we do not include creation care. Yes, we serve the poor, feed the hungry and donate to worthy causes. That’s all important. But what about the impact of the way we live our lives?
The world watches us on this. They see us drive downtown in our big SUVs and then escape to the suburbs while those left behind breathe our mess. We throw all our trash “away” without thinking of those who live by the landfills. Our businesses pollute the rivers while those that depend on it for food say, “I can’t worry about eating fish that’ll give me cancer 20 years from now when I need to eat today.”
Is that loving our neighbor? When we live environmentally careless lives, we are essentially “passing by” when the most vulnerable suffer in a ditch we helped create.
So even if you cringe at the thought of letting “the other team” win a political point, remember: If we hurt others by the way we live our lives, then how well are we representing him? Team Jesus should trump any political team. So even if you don’t care about creation, I challenge you to view this coming Earth Day in light of serving the poor. Pollute unto others as you would have them pollute unto you.
Catherine Linsky has a doctorate in science education and is the author of “Keep It Good: Understanding Creation Care through Parables.” She is a resident of Suwanee and an education professor at the University of North Georgia.