Is the Church Responsible for the Environmental Crisis?

 by Bill Tuck

Earth bannerWe need to ask some questions about the whole problem with the environment, pollution and ecology. The first question is this– do churches and Christians have any responsibility for the crises in which we find ourselves today? There are some scientists who are saying, “Oh yes, Churches and Christians are largely responsible for this crisis.” Lynn White and other scientists are expounding that attitude. They point to the passage in Genesis which says, “Man is supposed to subdue the earth” and note that we have subdued it to the point of devastation. These scientists believe that Christians are responsible because of the philosophy and theology taken from Genesis, of subduing the earth. Are we responsible? Well, yes and no.
The Prodigal Way of Humanity
[ene_ptp]What then is the nature of our responsibility? Humankind has been like the prodigal son. We have taken all the blessings God has given us and we have wasted them in riotous living, sometimes in excessive living. We have received the bounty of God’s creation and we have exploited and sometimes ruined it. I wish I could stand in this pulpit to¬day and tell you that all of our rivers and streams are pure, and that our air is pure, and the water we drink is fine. But no person can truthfully tell you that today. Many of the trees on the mountaintops of North Carolina are dying because of pollution. It is a serious problem. Just a few years ago, we couldn’t eat oysters taken from our own coast because of the refuse and waste that had been dumped into our waters making them so impure. Even the ocean itself was polluted. We still have factories that spew impurities into our water and into our air today.
Did you know that there are some cities where the air is so thick with pollution that when you breathe the air it is the equivalent of smoking thirty-eight cigarettes a day? I am convinced that one of the reasons we have such a rise in cancer is because the water we drink and the air we breathe and the foods we eat are polluted. Much of life is filled with the problems of living with pollution. You and I, as citizens have to work hard to overcome these abuses of our land, air and water.
Suppose someone told you that you have a bank account with enough money in it to take care of you all your life, if you don’t overspend. If you spend carefully and wisely, you will always have enough in your account. You don’t know the exact amount in your account and you are never going to be told that. But you do know that if you just spend wisely you will always have enough. You would be very careful wouldn’t you?
Our environment is that way. We can’t keep on abusing and destroying rainforests and other parts of the natural world without bringing devastation upon ourselves and our world. Some view environmentalists as “coo-coos” and pretend that we do not have a serious problem. But, it is serious! We have to realize that our children and grandchildren and others may not be able to live in our world unless we take care of it.
Caretakers of Our Planet
As Christian people we have a responsibility. What is that responsibility? Our responsibility is to be stewards and caretakers of God’s universe. The Genesis story doesn’t tell us that we are to devour the earth or we can do anything we want with nature. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to take care of it. They were to be caretakers and “to tend the earth.” We are to work with nature and learn how to live in harmony with creation. All of God’s creation is our home. And it is a beautiful home. We have got to learn how to live in harmony with God’s creation and do the very best thing we can to care for it and make it a place that is beautiful and productive. One of our responsibilities as Christians is to do those things which can make this earth the very best place where we can live. It is our home—our only home—and we have to take care of it by conserving its resources and productivity. The scientist, Teilhard deChardin, reminded us that, “The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we will not perish, is to build the earth.” We are all responsible for our planet. We can’t pass the responsibility to others.
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