“A bunch of snolly-gusters.” That’s what Harry Truman called Republicans in 1952. A tried and true tactic in political campaigns, name-calling and insults add to the drama leading up to an election. As the popularity of a particular candidate increases, so does the number of attacks. Take Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, for example. His opponents have labeled him a “coward,” a “zealot,” and a “fake.”
Such remarks are typical of the rough-and-tumble political arena, but here’s one I was not expecting: “not very Christian.”
What warrants such a criticism of the former senator, once recognized by Time magazine as one of America’s top 25 influential evangelicals (in their words, "[Santorum] may be a Catholic, but he's the darling of Protestant Evangelicals")? Perhaps I could understand an attack on Santorum’s faith, had he engaged in an affair, embezzled money, or indulged in any other act mentioned in Dante’s Inferno. But that’s not the case. Instead, in a recent Huffington Post article, Scott Stenholm criticized the candidate for this “wildly un-Christian” action: not believing in climate change.
A few years ago, one could easily have ignored Stenholm’s critique. But now the debate among Christians on this topic is more intense, as many, like Santorum, view climate change as a political agenda that “gives more power to the government,” while others, like Assistant Bishop David Atkinson, view climate change as “the most significant moral question facing us today.”
Such division raises the question: How should Christians view and care for the earth?
Desiring to answer this question, several Christian climate change activists and organizations have published treatises, manifestos, and creeds, using Scripture to support their view. One such organization, Operation Noah, challenges Christians to repent of their “polluting habits,” to love their neighbor by reducing “consumption of energy,” and to help the poor by seeking a “sustainable economy."
While I applaud their effort to defend their view with Scripture, I find the argument lacking. Indeed, Adam was called to care for the earth, a creation declared “good” by its Creator. But that’s only half the story.
Nature changed after Adam’s disobedience. The ground was cursed and began to produce thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:17-18). As Adam strove for dominion over the earth, it is clear that the earth would not always cooperate. The book of Romans supports this: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). In short, while God’s creation remains good, it’s under a curse, waiting for its restoration, a work God has promised to accomplish.
In a real sense, Christians who work to restore God’s creation by recycling, conserving energy, and reusing items are participating in God’s plan to renew and restore the earth. Perhaps the real battle does not revolve around the temperature of the earth, or even whether humans should be active on behalf of the earth, but rather focuses on human activity and just how effective it is. To what extent are we humans responsible for the fate of the earth?
Heralds of climate change imply that we are culpable, bringing drought, floods, and thunderstorms on ourselves. Anthony Oliver-Smith, a member of a United Nations-affiliated group focusing on climate change, stated, "Humans are deeply implicated in the environmental changes that make life impossible in certain circumstances. To call Hurricane Katrina a natural disaster is a bit of misnomer.” He added, "The damage would not have been nearly as bad had it not been for a whole host of human interventions."
Herein lies the major difference between the two sides regarding climate change. One group believes the fate of the earth relies solely on human actions. On the contrary, the other believes that while human actions have an effect, the earth’s destiny is in the hands of another.
This Being, the Creator of earth, explained His sovereignty and control over nature, to a man who questioned it. The man was named Job and the conversation is recorded in the book by his name:
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? (Job 38:22-38)
Regardless of anyone’s political agenda, what is lacking in the climate change debate among Christians is an understanding of God’s sovereignty in all things. Perhaps the more “wildly un-Christian” act is to deny that God is in control of nature.
That does not mean that we Christians live in denial, rejecting reason. Floods and fire, death and destruction exist, and we grieve when we see the effects of these on the earth. It is right for us to desire an end to them. Instead of calling Christians to believe in climate change (or not), let us continue to take care of the earth to the best of our ability, all the while reminding each other that the fate of the world, the fate of us all, is in God’s hands. Let us continue to hope in God’s promise and wait for the day when He will make all things new.
Ashley Chandler, a graduate of Columbia International University and St. John's College, reads and writes while residing on the island known as Manhattan.
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