Just this last week, just after entering office, President Donald J. Trump made some sweeping executive orders, not the least controversial being a clamp-down on the EPA communications. This sent shock-waves through an ever growing public concern over climate change. Badlands national park issued some alarming statistics on their twitter account and then deleted them.
I am a free market, limited government, economic personalist kind of guy. Nevertheless, I sit here now in a suburb of Providence Rhode Island nestled in the midst of the Blackstone River Valley, once the heart of the industrial revolution. A few miles away is the historic Slater Mill, the first one.
The hulking copses of these mills pepper the banks of the Blackstone and other rivers of the valley. Many sit empty (or turned to condos) but ominously still bearing their remaining waste pipes where chemical toxins were flagrantly dumped directly into the greatest water treasure of the region.
Signs warning of the dangers of eating the fish of the Blackstone due to the high levels of mercury and other toxins. on top of this right now we are experiencing record breaking highs this winter in the region. A lot of data is showing that the climate is changing—for the warmer.
God created this world, cares about it, and we have a responsibility to care for it too. @toddjmurphy
What Does Theology Have to Say?
According to the Christian faith, God created this world, cares about it, and we have a responsibility to care for it too. Sadly the Church has often often seemed profoundly indifferent to environmental issues.
However, the opening pages of the Bible, regardless of your view of how “true” the creation stories are, it speaks a lot of truth about man’s relationship to the environment. In these stories, God is creator of the environment and man a guest in it. He is also to participate in its care
The environment is not man’s; it is God’s and an artist never likes witnessing one’s work be destroyed.
The story is literally that God made an environment in which mankind could live, love, have a lot of children, tons of produce, and ultimately flourish. The story about creation is about abundance—abundant life. The text says he put humankind, both female and male in a garden to tend and keep it (Genesis 2:15).
Why? God cares about it. God made man not as master, but as steward in the Master’s house. The environment is not man’s; it is God’s and an artist never likes witnessing one’s work be destroyed.
Self Control & Self Stewardship
One of the core teachings of the Christian faith is self-control. Another way to say that is “self-government.” The Apostle Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification… that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the call to restrain our own desires as the path to love our neighbor. The pollution of the Blackstone river I mentioned above is an example of the acute lack of self government. According the the Bible, failure to limit self is the soil where injustice and oppression grow.
The 20th century saw a radical leap in technology. However we have seen it leveraged for bitter ends. We know how to kill people and the environment better than ever. During my years in seminary I had a friend whose wife had cancer due to the fallout from Chernobyl that wafted across the Black Sea poisoning her village—a poster boy example of technological lack of care and self control.
Our social and environmental ethics have not kept pace with our technological hubris @toddjmurphy
Our social ethics have not kept pace with our technological hubris; we have become a danger to ourselves. Just because we can produce more and profit more, does does not always make it right. Have we considered the ethics of choosing not to profit sometimes for the sake of human wellness?
Justice and Symbiosis
The Bible always seems to put justice for human beings before the environment. But there really is ultimately no putting one before the other. The relationship between humans and the environment is symbiotic—if you poison the one, you poison the other. Killing the environment leads to human suffering. But both flourish together.
A New and Better Earth
Most life narratives (religions or not) envision a better world, not worse. The Christian narrative has historically believed in the ultimate renewal of the earth, a time when God will bring justice, hope, salvation, and lasting peace on earth. Even though the Gospel has taught that it is ultimately up to God, humankind was still created as a steward. Christians express a story of world-renewal in the imitation of Christ; If God will renew the earth someday, Christians have a role in that end now. If Jesus will reward a cup of water in his name, then drilling wells in Africa may be a kingdom priority. (Mark 9:41)
In the parable of the talents God grants stewardship to several servants. Regardless of the final outcomes, each are called to do their duty. Only one buries his talent and fails to steward it; for that he is shamed. The environment is God’s and whether we acknowledge him or not, he wants justice for both the environment and man. So as an allegedly “Christian nation,” we might ask, have we perhaps earned the title “unprofitable servant” for how we have stewarded the environment? (Matthew 25:14–30)
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Some Considerations for Trump
What should a president do?
Well I am not expert. I think it is important to communicate appreciation for all those people who work at the EPA and other agencies. Appreciation goes a long way. Many are crusaders, even if there are some bad apples and in need of major reform. They work hard for a small government salaries because they care about this nation and this world. I think that counts for something “American.”
We have the most robust scientific community in the world. James Conca has written a great article about how not only is our scientific community the envy of the World, but both it and our military are deeply concerned about climate change which could make it a “multiplier” in global conflict.
The new Administration needs to access the hard data, sift critically, and take it seriously. Why? Because it matters—not only socially and economically. Every idle word matters to God (Matthew 12:36). Even the leader of the free world is a tenant in the vineyard and therefore answers to the master of the Vineyard, just as the rest of us.