This post is a continuation of an earlier one where I shared a chart from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The chart showed that white evangelicals are the religious group with the smallest percentage of people who believe that human activity is causing the Earth to warm. Now that it’s Earth Week, I want to comment more about the categories of responses I hear from evangelicals against protecting Creation.
The first argument I mentioned I like to call ‘God’s Carbon Footprint’. It involves Jesus’ imminent return to judge the Earth and destroy it with fire. So our current carbon footprint is barely noticeable compared to the one God will leave during the terrible end times. We in the U.S. are most familiar with this eschatology because of the Left Behind series, but it’s also very prominent (and spreading) in the global South.
The interesting thing about this belief system (and why it is so popular?) is that, on the one hand, it gives oppressed people hope that their suffering on this Earth will end any day. And on the other hand, it gives wealthy countries like ours license to pillage the Earth’s resources and keep others in poverty. Rep. John Shimkus’ recent statements that only God can destroy the Earth probably fit into this category, with the additional point that the very idea of anthropogenic climate change is an attack on God’s sovereignty. It is an excuse to be completely apathetic about or outright opposed to the MDGs. (The MDGs are a set of goals to address the world’s biggest problems – not a Miller product).
N.T. Wright calls this belief ‘more mythical than biblical’. He adds, ‘It is an attempt to make sense of some bits of the New Testament. It was always the literature of the dispossessed … it’s now become the literature of the rich masses in parts of America.’ His recent writings on the afterlife have challenged popular beliefs that he says have strayed from the biblical text. When we die, according to Wright, there is a period of time in which we are ‘with Christ’ in a holding pattern, and then we will be physically raised to live on a reconciled, physical new Creation. Where we will be is even better than an ethereal, spiritual realm called Heaven. Here is a relevant quote:
If you really believe that what happens at death is that you leave behind the world of space, time and matter, you are never going to be bothered with it again, you’re never going to have a physical body again and that ultimately God is going to throw this whole world on the rubbish heap somewhere, then what’s the fuss to work for justice in the present?’ he said. ‘What’s the fuss about AIDS, what’s the problem about global debt, you know these are trivial and irrelevant. What matters is whether you’re going to heaven tomorrow or next week.
A brief response to the ‘God’s Carbon Footprint’ argument:
I know how difficult patience can be when there are people say hateful things about Christians who are concerned about global warming, or any of the MDGs, but I want to offer something brief in response.
I don’t think abandoning dispensational theology is necessary to embrace the privilege of partnering with God for the reconciliation of the Earth and its inhabitants. When the Thessalonians didn’t see the point of doing anything until Jesus returns, they received a stern warning. Maybe today’s Thessalonians need a similar warning?
As Andrew pointed out in a comment on the first post, there are a number of groups of evangelicals who believe this is an issue that deserves to be addressed, including the EEN, Deep Green Conversation, Flourish, Restoring Eden, and the recent Southern Baptist statement. There are probably people in these groups who have a similar eschatology and still see the importance of this work.
Maybe some readers have more to add about how to respond to this argument against creation care. This is a deep divide among evangelicals. Might it even be the biggest barrier to working together to solve the climate crisis? It deserves more attention than I can give in this post.
I’ll also have a post about the ‘Worshiping Creation’ argument and finishing up on Earth Day with the ‘Distraction’ argument.