Posts Tagged ‘evangelicals’

What do Haitians think about God and the Earthquake?

January 13, 2011

I asked Dr. Gerald Murray, an anthropologist and an expert on Haiti, and a Catholic, to write a blog post for Q Ideas about the religious response of people in Haiti to the earthquake a year ago. I know several American Christians who found their faith in the goodness of God rocked by the tragedy last January 12. He writes about the reasons Haitian Christians did not experience a similar crisis of faith. Maybe their view of God, who controls the universe and sends things we consider good and bad, is more accurate than the benign grandfather we imagine in the West.

Read for yourself.

The New Religion of Environmentalism

January 14, 2010

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship academic institution, is one of America’s leading and most respected Christian intellectuals on matters of faith, culture, and politics. It’s interesting, then, that Mohler turned to a Buddhist scholar for insight into the modern environmental movement. He was inspired by Buddhist Stephen Asma’s article from the Chronicle of Higher Education to write about the religious nature of environmentalism.

I often hear the claim that environmentalism is a kind of new religion, usually from folks who are trying to disparage the movement.

I think it’s partly right. The human bent toward legalism, finger-pointing, self-righteousness and meddling finds its expression in various forms of fundamentalism, whether in churches, mosques, or environmental circles. Part of our sin nature is a desire to find some weapon to wield over others whom we deem less worthy than ourselves.

If you don’t believe there are environmental fundamentalists, try throwing way an aluminum can at a Sierra Club event. Or talking about the joys of Southern barbecue, or the happiness that comes with having three kids (or two, or more than none) in certain environmental circles. There can be a little venom in those green fangs. It can feel like a religion, with all its rules and finger-pointing.

But if our “critique” of environmentalism stops with its own finger-pointing and doesn’t provide a springboard for salty encounters with the world, we are missing a huge opportunity. It’s not enough to claim that environmentalism seems like a religion. We have to provide some answers for what to do about that.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to offer a new religion, or a new set of standards, or a new ethic. He came to offer himself–to us, and for us. Through his death on the cross, he offers us a restored relationship, first with our Creator, but also with our fellow man, and with the rest of Creation.

Thoughtful environmentalists are often racked by guilt, but so are non-environmentalists, who realize that in almost every dimension of life they don’t live up to their own standards, much less the standards of a holy and righteous God. Christians should be bold in proclaiming that the answers to today’s crises, whether political, social, moral, or environmental, are not found in Law but in Grace.

It’s no surprise that folks outside the church who perceive a crisis would want to find religious answers to it. The shame is that most Christians don’t even have a vocabulary for talking about the environment in Christian terms. Letting a Biblical worldview infuse our consciousness would allow us to cultivate conversations about how God’s grace operates in every sphere of life.

(1) God’s common grace operates to reveal his awesome power and divine nature through the created order (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19). Why do we fail to use this gracious revelation in our communications with environmentalists? I think part of the reason is that we Christans have failed to allow ourselves to encounter the incredible witness of Creation–we’re committed indoorsmen. Environmentalists may know more of the awesome nature of God than Christians do in this regard. If we aren’t humble enough to admit this, we won’t be very good at pointing people to Jesus.

(2) God’s common grace provides for our needs through the operation of the earth’s ecosystems. We may mouth the words about the rain falling on the just and the unjust, and the sun rising on the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45), but we too often leave rigorous learning about the operation and management of the planet to secular scientists and secular environmentalists. Because so few churches teach about this, we find ourselves unable to provide answers to secularists who understand something of how the world works, and want to offer thanks to someone or some thing. This is a travesty.

(3) God’s common grace restrains evil in the world, often through the hand of civil governments (Romans 13). Yet it is environmentalists who often have a better diagnosis of evil in the world, of how misuse and mistreatment of creation affects innocent people through pollution or wasteful resource use. They don’t usually find support in the church, especially in the evangelical church. Rather, they too often find Christians denying the very possibility of environmental problems through unsound prooftexting. And they find an anti-government, anti-regulatory streak that verges on rejecting the role of civil governments in the restraint of evil.

(4) Finally, and most to the point, God’s common grace operates through the human conscience, convicting the world of sin. Paul writes, “they [the Gentiles] show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15; NASB). Isn’t this guilty conscience what Asma and Mohler are writing about?

It’s one thing for a Buddhist to complain about the operation of the conscience, but it is quite another for one of America’s best living theologians to seem to lament the operation of the conscience in non-Christians.

If people are convicted about their waste, their poor stewardship, their ignorance of the side-effects of their actions, shouldn’t we praise God for his grace by which this occurs, and point people to the answer offered by Jesus’ life and death on the cross? Awareness of sin is something we can share with the rest of the world; the disorder wreaked on the world by human ignorance is perceptible even to those outside the faith, and we can use this as common ground to communicate the gospel and to work for the common good.

God’s special grace, redeeming, sanctifying, and glorifying those who put their trust in Jesus, is the ultimate answer to today’s environmental crises. But we do a disservice to God, and to those he died to save, if we don’t use people’s awareness of creation and the disorder they find in it and in their own lives, to communicate the whole gospel story.

Stuck in the Middle on Climate

September 18, 2008

It’s exhausting to be in the middle of highly polarized debates. Part of me wants to be a bridge-builder, a reconciler, a voice of reason. Another part wants to be “prophetic” and to sit in judgment of both extremes. Yet another part tells me I need to be a better listener, which is hard with all the shouting going on.

That’s where I find myself in the climate debate. Far off on one side I see a few secular, elitist—even extreme—environmentalists who have a not-so-latent misanthropy for the world’s poor. This is the worldview that sees population as the fundamental environmental problem. It doesn’t bother them that poorly-designed climate policy might impose onerous burdens on the world’s poor. As an evangelical Christian, I don’t want any part of that.


Conservative solutions to global warming

April 23, 2008

My colleague Alexei Laushkin alerted me to a Slate interview with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Gingrich is a small government conservative, and he’s not afraid of science, so he understands the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming. He’s not in favor of mandatory caps on carbon dioxide. As an economist, I disagree: I think some sort of policy to give a price to carbon pollution is necessary to get us where we need to be on greenhouse gas pollution.

But a price on carbon is not sufficient–there need to be positive policies in place to stimulate the right kind of investment, and that’s where Gingrich’s perspective is especially helpful. He talks about introducing policies that will allow the entrepreneurial free market system put its energies into finding technological innovations that will create the new energy economy. He discusses them at length in his book "Contract with the Earth". 

Gingrich would pay for these incentives with tax dollars–essentially diverting wealth from every taxpayer into the pockets of corporations to incentivize the necessary inventions. I think either a cap-and-trade system with auctioned permits or a carbon tax are better public policy, and the revenues from those policies could accomplish what Gingrich proposes.

Check out the left/right ad in which Gingrich appears with Nancy Pelosi to promote climate solutions. They disagree on the policies, but agree on the science and the urgency behind solving anthropogenic global warming. 

An Environmentalism for Us All

March 31, 2008
What Rebecca Solnit is arguing in her excellent Orion Magazine article this month is that environmentalists have become the caricature the right paints of them. They often really are a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.
And, Solnit adds: they hate country music, without actually knowing country music. [To a southerner like me, that's a lot more unforgiveable than a penchant for four-dollar cups of coffee.] Liberal elites don't much like poor white people, or their music.
Solnit isn't addressing issues of faith, but I know many folks who have often felt similarly despised by the left for their evangelical beliefs.
Such elite, exclusivist attitudes have weakened the environmental movement. It might even be time to get beyond the idea of an "environmental" movement and to think more broadly about family, economics, class, race, simplicity, and justice than the title "environmental" allows.
Spend some time with the article–it's free on the Orion Magazine website, but I'll tell you, there is no more valuable use of forest resources than the print version of Orion, and this issue is still on the bookstore shelves. You have permission to buy the dead-tree version, just keep it or pass it on.

New evangelicals and creation care

January 18, 2008

I spoke this morning at a press conference in South Carolina, on the front steps of the Statehouse, about the emerging voice for creation care among evangelicals. Here is a draft of those remarks:

I’m concerned that young people and people of faith don’t get disconnected from the political process just because they often fail to see their values reflected in that process. Younger evangelicals in particular are often frustrated with what they see as partisan bickering and deadlock, and they are equally frustrated with what the media portrays as a narrow evangelical political agenda. Evangelicals dislike being pigeonholed as single-issue voters in any political party’s back pocket. They would prefer that candidates reflect their values rather than the other way around.