Christians and the Environment
Editor’s Note: Though some evangelical Christians have joined the crusade to save the planet’s environment, many conservative fundamentalists continue to defend the oil and coal industries – and some even look forward to the looming chaos of an ecological Armageddon as progress toward Judgment Day.
In this guest essay, retired Baptist minister Howard Bess argues that Christians as a group must resist chaos in the world’s environment, just as individual Christians are best served by reducing chaos in their personal lives:
With few exceptions Christians are keeping their mouths shut about the impending disaster that we and our world face. Collectively, we have created a life-style that cannot be sustained on the globe on which we live.
Can we admit the chaos that we have created? Can we repent of our ways and make the changes that are demanded? Is this a religious issue about which Christians must speak to the whole world?
Underlying Jewish, Muslim and Christian theologies is a discontent with chaos. In all three traditions, chaos is contrary to the will of God. In this understanding, there is a clear connection between chaos and sin.
Over the years in my role as pastor, I clearly knew that working successfully with people always meant addressing the chaos of their lives. As a pastor I encouraged people to 1) stabilize their living situation, 2) clean up their personal relationships, and 3) find a clear purpose for their lives.
In chaos, life cannot be meaningful. Working to diminish chaos and helping people to orderly living are essential parts of Christian ministry. To our horror, we have found ourselves on the side of chaos rather than order.
Because of the way we are living, we are pushing our world toward utter chaos. Our life style, if not changed soon, will kill billions of people, bring illnesses to the masses, and change the nature of human life permanently.
We human beings have many ways of creating chaos, but the chaos of which I write comes from one terrible habit: We are addicted to the burning of fossil fuels. The chaos that we are creating comes from the burning of oil products, coal and natural gas.
The problem with the burning of fossil fuels is that when burnt, they all release carbon into the atmosphere. When released into the air, carbon quickly units with oxygen forming carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is a very stable compound and at normal temperatures is a gas that readily takes its place in our atmosphere. From the atmosphere it continues in its distribution. Over 50 percent of the carbon dioxide generated by the burning of fossil fuels finds its way into the ocean.
Carbon dioxide in normal amounts is a necessary part of our atmosphere. It is necessary for the growing of all healthy plant life. In excessive amounts carbon dioxide is producing global warming and making vast areas of the world deserts.
In normal amounts carbon dioxide is a healthy part of the biology of the ocean waters. In excessive amounts, it causes the oceans to become acidic. Acidic oceans produce acidic rainfall that poisons every part of the world.
Scientists have calculated the limits of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in the oceans, that can be called normal and healthy. The numbers are constantly being monitored. The numbers are rising. The numbers have gone well past the calculated safe limits.
Chaos is at our door. The chaos is of our own making.
Do Christians dare speak the truth about the world that has been gifted to us all? Do we have a responsibility to live our lives differently and make our contribution to overcoming the chaos that we are producing?
As a religious person, I do not hesitate to use the word evil. The burning of fossil fuel has become a major evil in our world that is causing the world and all of life to fall into chaos. My temptation is to call every oil company and every coal producer evil. That would be unfair.
But I am willing to say that every oil company, every coal producer, every power company that uses coal or gas, every railroad that hauls coal, every trucking company, every person who drives a car, every person who uses natural gas to heat their home, every government agency and government employee that issues a mining or drilling permit, every clergy person who does not speak up, is a participant in the chaos that is developing and getting worse.
Dare Christians speak the truth?
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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