August 8, 2006

Guest Commentary by Joseph Phelps: If you love God, then love the environment

Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” on global warming is yet another excellent reminder of the importance of reading from a Green Bible. The Green Bible is actually the same scriptures we read in churches and synagogues every week, no matter the color of its cover. It is simply allowing the “green” focus, or care for the earth, to emerge alongside the many divine messages of the sacred text so vital to our well being as a human family.The Bible reminds us that nature is a sacred part of the Creator’s work, to be utilized with care and reverence. We are to practice restraint in our consumption, according the Law of Hebrew scripture. We are to guard nature — no obliteration of species, no destruction for short-term gain, no immediate gratification theology.It’s all in there, from Genesis through the New Testament. We’ve read the passages before, but apparently weren’t tuned into them. It didn’t occur to us that Earth-care would be in the Bible. Isn’t Earth-care a kind of new-age, liberalish idea?No, it’s not.The world can no longer tolerate the false divide between religion and science, or between the spiritual and the physical. It’s time for thinking people of faith to speak up and act right. Religious people must critique our own practices as institutions and as families to find ways to live more simply and carefully. We must learn to live in such a way that people in other parts of the world may also live. We must lovingly but firmly question erroneous statements on environmentalism like the one that came from the Southern Baptist Convention’s latest annual meeting. In a resolution, the SBC spoke of the need to be good stewards of creation, but pulled its punches by touting the superiority of humans  over other animals or plants, the priority of ownership and property rights, and the importance of unrestricted economic development. The SBC resolution also tarred environmental concerns as a wedge issue that threatens to distract Christians from their focus on membership recruitment. The reality is that the places around the world where churches send missionaries to tell and embody the story of God’s love are the very places where desecrating the Earth through unfettered capitalism causes the worst human suffering.The church must welcome objective science and scholarship to be our partners in discerning how we can best care for God’s creation. The religious community should be the first to challenge the conclusions of questionable science, as the SBC says. But the SBC’s concern about a political agenda based on disputed scientific claims should lead the church to scrutinize first the scientists hired by profit-driven corporations, rather than independent scientists trusted by environmental groups.People of faith are called to practice the command from the Hebrew Law, repeated by Jesus, to “love your neighbors as you love yourself.” Jesus understood that the concept of neighbor goes beyond the person on the other side of the fence. Neighbors also include those across town or across the country. Neighbors include all of God’s people, not only those living in 2006, but also those who will live in 2106 and beyond. Neighbors also include other animals, plants and ecosystems. That is, the environment is our neighbor. Love your neighbor.Essential to the life of faith is the posture of humility. We are reminded again and again in the Green Bible of our role as stewards of God’s gifts, and as pilgrims in a journey that began before our arrival, and which will continue long after we are gone. In humility is reverence. And in reverence is the realization of the Psalmist that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” Joseph Phelps is Pastor of Highland Baptist Church, and on the Board of Directors of Baptist Center for Ethics (www.ethicsdaily.com). Contact him at jphelps@hbclouky.org