Almost 25 years ago I started the short-lived Christian Nature Federation. One of the first things that happened to this ultra-conservative in the process of giving CNF its content was a compulsion to publicly confess what I came to realize was serious failure on the part of the conservative evangelical community. What follows is the first part of that confession:
My Confession for the Church:
Nearly every social institution has in some way made its voice heard on the world’s environmental crises. One voice curiously quiet has been the voice of institutional Christianity: the church. I feel it is the silence of shame.
Right along with the rest of the “delinquents,” most of us Christians have joined in the plunder of the creation (the word delinquent meaning “a person who neglects to do what obligation requires”). Now as we gaze over the resulting degradation and the grief it’s causing, we are ever so slowly realizing that we owe the world an apology—and God a humble confession. We have failed both, and if we are not ashamed, I think we should be.
God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:26-28).
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).
There are many things we ought to confess: First, we have neglected our responsibility before God. Knowing the creation-care mandate in Genesis (2:15) that clearly declares we are stewards of our Master’s property, we have nonetheless accepted the falsehood that we are the lords of the earth. Some blame the Scripture that tells us we are to have dominion over the earth as the cause of all the damage (1:26-30), but the Bible is clear from Genesis to Revelation that mankind’s dominion is under God’s dominion—and in God’s domain. He expects us to be wise users, developers, and investors of the earth’s bounty, but somewhere along the line we stopped using and started consuming the earth.
Second, we have forgotten our position before God. It was not an arrogant psalmist who said that mankind is positioned only a little lower than angels yet above the remainder of creation (Psalm 8). It was a humble acknowledgment that while there is glory in such an exalted position, it carries with it great responsibility both upward toward the Creator and downward toward the creation.
Christian farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry tells us that “one cannot escape the human condition except sinfully, by pride or by degradation.” In other words, to gaze upward and think ourselves divine is sinful pride; to gaze downward and think ourselves to be no more than animals results in sinful degradation. One is the error common to the New Age Movement; the other is the error common to secular naturalism. While most Christians may not have fallen into either error, to neglect the responsibilities inherent to our God-ordained “in-between” position is to bid Godspeed to people who erroneously consider themselves to be either gods or animals.
Third, we have readily accepted the economists’ folly that nature is only for the direct benefit of mankind. We seem to have forgotten what the apostle John declared in the last book of the Bible: “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and it is for your pleasure they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11 KJV). Unless we’re arrogant enough to believe that only what pleases man pleases God, we’d better think again about how we tread upon God’s hallowed ground. Dare we see all forests as timber, all prairies as crop land, all tundras as impediments to reaching oil deposits, and all lesser creatures as food or objects for our sporting pleasure?
Fourth, we should confess that, like most of mankind, we have confused our needs with our wants. In His ever-practical Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed to the birds and lilies and declared that just as their physical needs are met each day by the natural systems God created, so will our needs be met (Matthew 4: 26-34). That this pledge can be construed to promise everything found in our garages, closets, and cupboards today demonstrates how far we have strayed from God’s best intentions for us. Since we seem to be blind to it, perhaps only God knows how far we have collectively gone beyond our needs and how much our chasing after frivolous wants has damaged the earth and diminished us as a church.