I write this from Icheon, Korea. Monsoon rains are sweeping through; winds blow. The rain stopped briefly, and a cuckoo started singing. I thought of the dove in Noah’s ark.
What a beautiful world! Then I thought:
It’s time for Christians to tell the truth about creation. And this means telling the truth about climate change. No more prevarications or obfuscations. We are conscience-bound to tell it like it is.
For three decades the evidence has been piling up that the earth—our home, and a key part of God’s good creation—is in trouble. This is due mainly to the failure of Christians, and humans generally, to practice God’s creation mandate to care for the earth, to tend the garden (Gen. 2:15).
Add up two centuries of company smokestacks and chemical pollutants; over a century of greenhouse gases from cars, truck, trains, and airplanes; plus pesticides, over-fishing, destruction of forests, species depletion, and the destruction from wars, and what do you get? An over-burdened planetary ecosystem that is inching ever closer to collapse. Climatologists warn of tipping points that could throw the earth’s whole weather and climate system into irreversible chaos.
The church faces two main problems here. First, Christians in the U.S. have been heavily influenced by the billions of dollars being spent by the fossil fuel industry and others to deny or downplay the seriousness of the problem. It’s obscene.
Second, Christians have not paid enough attention to biblical teachings about God’s concern for the earth and the covenant relationship he has established between himself, humankind, and the nonhuman creation.
What We Know
When it comes to the earth and its climate, there is much we still don’t know. But here is what we do now know for sure:
1. Earth’s climate is changing more today than it has for thousands of years.
2. Normal weather patterns have become seriously disrupted, leading to severe “weather events” like floods, droughts, fires, windstorms, and hurricanes of unprecedented intensity and destruction. In India and other places, seasonal rains now come too early or too late for agriculture to proceed normally. The United States and in fact the whole globe is increasingly experiencing violent and unpredictable weather events (tornadoes, floods, droughts) that are causing an unprecedented amount of damage in dollars and in human lives. In many countries, the water table is dropping dangerously.
3. Human beings are contributing to increased climate change, primarily through multiple forms of pollution. The greatest contributor is the by-products of burning fossil fuels, but there are others.
4. Multiple millions of dollars are being spent in a media campaign to convince the public that global warming is a hoax. Or else, if climate change is real, human action has not caused it.
5. Millions more are being spent on pervasive and perverse media campaigns to sell the myth that energy from coal or natural gas is “clean” or beneficial to the environment.
6. In the United States, the current political polarization has virtually silenced most serious discussion of climate change.
7. Recent evidence suggests however that Americans are just beginning to connect the dots between extreme, violent weather events and the larger picture of climate change. This could be positive.
Though many questions and controversies exist around global warming, there is now no doubt about these seven points.
So let’s start telling the truth about creation. This is not a partisan political matter; it is a conscience and discipleship matter. Increasingly, it is a survival matter.
As Christians, we must do three things:
1. Study, understand, and obey the biblical teachings about creation care. More generally, develop a biblical doctrine and understanding of creation in God’s plan.
2. Be skeptical about what we hear in the media concerning these matters, checking the source. Who pays for the propaganda? What is their agenda? Follow the money.
3. Make creation care an essential component of our understanding of salvation and our practice of discipleship.
Let’s not be hesitant or timid in facing this key issue of faith and discipleship. Let us tell the truth about God’s good creation and the threats it faces today. Let us be truthful and prophetic, rather than closed-minded and reactionary.
Last year I taught a three-week course in church and mission at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) in Bangalore, India. I had students from all over India, and a few from Burma.
I was surprised how many students started telling me about environmental problems in their home areas. Some wanted to focus on such issues in their papers. One student from the north said the monsoon rains were coming at the wrong time, upsetting their farming. Another said pollution was a growing problem. A student from Burma said the expansion of industrial forestry and destruction of ancient forests was making people poor and driving them from their lands.
Creation care is not a theory. It is not abstract. It is discipleship. It is life.
Let’s start telling the truth for God’s sake, and for people’s sake, and for creation’s sake.