In recent times an idea has sprung up that the environmental movement is at odds with the Church. On the one side are hippy tree huggers and on the other are pious churchgoers. But like the “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” in Narnia, there’s actually a rich history of Christian creation care. Crucially, it’s being rediscovered by today’s generation of Christians with transformative potential for both the Church and God’s world.
For all of the success of the secular environmental movement, they’ve so far not managed to solve our environmental crisis. Despite increasingly clear scientific warnings and the ever more convincing economic argument, they’ve not created the required political will for action. Green groups recognise they need help. The UK Environment Agency asked 25 leading environmental leaders the one thing needed to save the planet and second on the list, closely behind energy efficiency, was a plea to world faiths to get involved.
Had they known their Church history, the environmental leaders would have known that the Church has actually been at the forefront of creation care for centuries and actually helped birth the environmental movement. The father of the reformation Martin Luther understood the value of creation when he wrote: “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and the clouds and stars.” Clergyman Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley founded the National Trust in 1895 and both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien promoted the merits of ‘eating local’ long before the environmental movement caught on.
The biblical basis for creation care is clear, but sometimes the text is so familiar that we skip over it. In his book, Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace, British theologian Noel Moules highlights the righteousness of Noah, God’s biodiversity champion, Daniel unharmed in the Lions’ den and Jesus himself who was “with the wild animals” in the wilderness. He writes: “In the gospels Jesus walks on water, commands the wind and waves and rides a donkey. He illustrates his teaching using seeds, flowers, trees, birds and the rain. His spirituality is constantly expressed using the elemental images of earth, wind, fire and water. He declares that if people are silenced in their celebrations even the stones cry out their praises to God.”
Pastor and author Tony Campolo has said that it’s time the Church reclaimed its God-given call to tend and keep creation: “We have allowed the new age movement to highjack the environmental movement and make it their own. The result is the minute we start talking about the environment evangelicals begin to say, ‘wait a minute, you sound like a new ager’. The fact that new age people have committed themselves to something that really belongs to the Church doesn’t mean that the Church should not be involved in this.”
Wonderfully, it’s clear that the Church is responding to this call. Polling published this month by the Evangelical Alliance has found that 96 per cent of UK evangelicals believe human beings have a God-given responsibility to take better care of the environment and 77 per cent are at least somewhat concerned or taking action against carbon emissions and global warming. History has shown that the Church can be a potent force for social change and when it moves it does so powerfully.
Ultimately it will be the threads generation that will be affected the most by the damage humans are doing to creation. It’s true that we’re already seeing the impacts now – especially in poor countries with rising sea levels in Bangladesh and rising temperatures in parts of Africa – as well as at home with the floods which ravaged the north of England this winter. However, our parents and grandparents will escape most of the hardship so it is up to us to act.
One practical thing we can do as Christians and churches is to switch to clean energy suppliers. Tearfund and Christian Aid have just launched a new campaign called the Big Church Switch to make this simple but important action as easy as possible. (It can even save you money). Although only just launched, already more than 200 churches have signed up and it’s generated column inches in the Daily Telegraph, New Statesman and even gone as far as the Washington Post.
And this is the other important part of the equation. By resuming our place as champions of God’s creation, the Church can be a powerful witness to the world. What better act of love for both God and our neighbours than to take better care of our common home and encourage others to do so. As the late evangelist Rob Frost said: “When Christians take the earth seriously, people take the gospel seriously.”
And we may well find that the hemp wearing environmentalist has more in common with our Christian worldview than we thought. Environmentalists believe in a beautiful world (creation) that has been ruined by human greed (sin). It’s possible that they have an equally acute awareness of the failings of the human condition as Jesus followers.
I’ll leave the final words to James Merritt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest protestant body in the United States. He has said this: “It’s real simple. One of two things is true. Either I own this world therefore I can do with it how I please. Or I don’t. Well, the Bible has already got that issue settled. I don’t have a title deed to anything. What is true about my money, my time, my talents, even my family, even my very life is true of this world. We’re owners of nothing and stewards of everything.”
For more information about the Big Church Switch visit www.bigchurchswitch.org.uk.
To read more about the Evangelical Alliance’s latest research, and to learn more about how we can all become ethical consumers, read the latest idea magazine here.