Religion and environmentalism
February 17, 2005
I received a call from Paul Alongi earlier this week asking for an interview with Bob Jones III or Stephen Jones. He wanted them to comment on the "growing interest of evangelicals in environmentalism." Of course, my first thought was, "Why the Joneses?" Their focus is education and theology - not environmentalism. I informed him that this was not something about which they would feel knowledgeable enough to comment.
Then I pick up the paper this morning and read, "Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University, turned down an interview through a spokesman. His son, Stephen Jones, who will take over the university after his father retires in May, did the same."
What on earth does this have to do with the story? If they were somehow involved in this, it would make sense. However, they have no connection with the Jeremiah Project or any other pro or anti-environmental causes. This paragraph should never have appeared in the piece.
Why didn't Paul ask for the recycling coordinator at BJU or the student volunteer group that participates in river cleanups or one of the BJU political science professors? I would certainly think they would be more knowledgeable than the Joneses.
Some other observations from this piece:
I wonder if most reporters really know the definitions of words such as evangelical. More and more I find reporters think it is more of a political movement than a theological one. Just recently, Time Magazine listed their top 25 evangelicals. The criterion for the list was not so much their influence in Christianity, but their influence in motivating evangelicals politically. Because the focus was political a couple of very good conservative political figures made the list, but they were Catholic – which by definition cannot be evangelical.
Another thing that jumped out at me was the mischaracterization of dispensationalism. Alongi writes, “A minority of evangelicals believe in 'dispensationalism,' which says they don't have to worry about environmental matters because Jesus will return to Earth for a battle with Satan on Judgment Day, Green said.”
First, it is VERY debatable that dispensationalists make up a minority of evangelicals. Most all Southern Baptist churches (one of the largest evangelical denominations) hold to a dispensational view of eschatology. Second, “they don't have to worry about environmental matters” is a false statement. What dispensationalism teaches is that mankind cannot bring about a perfect world – only God can the return the world to its perfect state (The focus here is not even on the physical earth, but the culture of mankind). However, that does not mean that Christians should not be good stewards of the earth. It was one of the original mandates God gave to mankind.
It is true that evangelicals should not view the earth as something to be worshipped or the source of our life and “energy.” It is also true that evangelicals should consider the souls of men more important than the environment. However, the two are not mutually exclusive, as the above statement seems to insinuate.
This does open a debate within the Church. What should be the main purpose of the Churches existence? Should the primary focus be on the temporal or the eternal? Do we incorporate the eternal into the activities we take part in on this temporal earth? Or do we focus on the temporal simply for the sake of the temporal?
My personal belief is that it is the Churches responsibility to focus on the eternal. This teaching of loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself should then drive the individual Christian to a great feeling of responsibility for those around him. It is the responsibility of the individual to be a good steward of the earth God created. Environmental concern is a good thing – so long as it does not become a distraction away from the eternal. We are to be stewards of the earth – the earth is not to be the steward of us. There in lies the greatest difference between the evangelical and the religious environmentalist.