Is God Green?

Bill Moyers on America
Films for the Humanities & Sciences (2006)
60 minutes

The issue of the environment has clearly appeared on the radar screen of evangelical Christians over the past eight years. Is this a good thing or a not so good thing? A debate now rages among high-profiled evangelical leaders, most of whom know little or nothing about science. At the same time ordinary Christians are paying more attention to the environment than ever before, or so it seems to me.

This is the subject of a recent Bill Moyers’ documentary presentation called: Is God Green? It was produced in 2006, right in the middle of the fierce back-and-forth debate of two sides in the evangelical world. Moyers suggests that millions of Christians are now “green.” (I think his way of determining this sizable number is questionable, as I will soon show.) These Christians, he does show quite effectively, have taken on the care of the environment as a moral and biblical obligation. In the film he features a very interesting Vineyard Church in Boise, Idaho, that is very engaged in environmental issues and as a result is acting on their beliefs and also seeing non-Christians pay attention to their witness as a result. Such Christians believe, even more controversially, that it is their duty to do something about global warming. Included in this rising concern is the desire to preserve the loss of animal species and to clean up our air, food and water.

My wife and I have clearly noticed an increased interest in these subjects among our peers over the last five years. We have made some changes and I expect we will make more. 

Moyers shows how this rising emphasis among evangelicals on the environment is also opposed by Christians who stress that the imminence of the End Times and the Rapture make such stewardship unnecessary at best.
Along with this type of approach the much more common response of evangelical leaders to this rising green interest is to suggest that younger evangelicals are being captured by the liberal left and the Democratic Party.

Moyers traveled around the country interviewing evangelicals on both sides of this debate. Included on the film are the usual critics such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson. At the end of the film Robertson is quoted in a way that shows his views might be changing after all. Rich_cizik
The two primary evangelical leaders featured on the film are Richard Cizik (left), the Vice President for Governmental Affairs for NAE, and Calvin Beisner (right), a very conservative Reformed theologian and a professor at Knox Seminary in Florida.

First, why do I question Moyers on his use of numbers about the evangelicals who are really interested in this issue? He makes the faulty assumption that Cizik speaks for millions because of his title and position with NAE. He clearly does not speak for so many people because of his position. NAE speaks for so few evangelicals that it is, in my judgment, irrelevant to the discussion in the end. Cizik speaks for himself and less than a 100 other leaders who signed a document a few years ago. And he does this eloquently and with humility and grace. He does represent a growing movement for sure but no one can talk yet about how large it really is at the end of the day.

On the other hand Beisner speaks for some evangelicals as well, but one has to doubt that most evangelicals have never even heard of him, much less read his considerable work on the environment. In this video, whether you agree with him or not, Rich Cizik comes across as the reasonable, compassionate, and more caring person of the two. Beisner, sadly, fits some of the expected stereotypes of conservative Reformed arguments on such issues. For example, he rightly defends divine sovereignty but it comes across as clumsy and matter-of-fact. Moyers is appalled at his argument that God may actually be causing all of this. (Beisner rightly says God “sent” (decreed is the theological word here) Hurricane Katrina but it all sounds like fatalism to the ordinary viewer. While Reformed Christians rightly have a high view of divine providence they should believe just as fervently that humans can wreak havoc on the earth in ways that God does not (directly) “cause,” at least in the usual sense of the word “cause.” Beisner fails to adequately distinguish, in other words, between what God ordains and what man is responsible for causing because of his sin and moral foolishness. His Calvinism is so high that it leaves you breathless and gasping for some measure of balance.

Further, Beisner speaks of global warming with a note of considerable disdain and then proceeds to suggest that if God is actually causing global warming then we should do little or nothing about it. This response borders on a kind of macro-fatalism that is quite alarming to me, a Reformed Christian. Don’t take my word on this, view the video and see for yourself. Beisner’s certitude about his position was far more entrenched than was Cizik’s, though both men clearly seem to be quite sure of their conclusions, and thus their actions, in this debate.

I find myself somewhere between these two polarizing positions. Cizik makes a good case for the facts but the devil is in the details. That climate change is taking place is obvious. Why it is taking place is not so obvious. What to do about it is problematic but careful planning is needed. Yes, there is climate fear and hysteria that rises to the level of idolatry. What else is new? This is no excuse for sitting this discussion out by mocking one side of the other. Christians, of all people, ought to cultivate a posture that is willing to listen and learn, especially when it will impact future generations of people on the planet.

One thing I am sure of—the next president of the United States will take this subject far more seriously than our present president. Both Obama and McCain are openly committed to this discussion and to finding actual ways to improve the environment. McCain, for example, fancies his position as much like that of his hero Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps America’s greatest environmental president. Obama is automatically committed as a Democrat. So this election will give us two serious candidates who both think we should do more.

I have spoken previously of global warming hysteria, built on bad science and pandering politicians. This leads to bad policies and radically unacceptable responses. But isn’t it time that Christians stop using terms like “environmental nut balls” and began to engage this dialog seriously? Calvin Beisner seem to argue that the creation mandate (Genesis 1:27) allows us to destroy species, to take from the earth without seeking to replenish it and to destroy open lands and natural beauty. I would welcome a healthy debate about his use of this Genesis text, so commonly used by Reformed Christians for almost every cause under the sun.

It seems clear to me that Genesis 1:28 is saying that humankind (male and female) has been given a divine benediction to flourish, to fill the earth with their own kind (i.e., to have children), and to exercise careful dominion over the rest of the created order. God_and_globe
We are not the lords of the earth, but the stewards. Our dominion comes from God and we must use it for his glory, not simply for our gain and profit. As earth’s stewards we are to care for the whole earth and this must include every living thing. Idolatrous environmentalism and human dominion over the whole earth that uses it and does not seek to restore it are not the only options on the table! Indeed, Genesis 1:28 requires us to pay careful attention to the earth, something forgotten long ago by evangelicals who think everything is for them to use before we get taken out when the Lord returns. This response is, quite frankly, heretical. It is neither life affirming nor truly Christian, but life denying. I fully expect more and more Christians will become interested in the environment in the years ahead. If Cizik is wrong in some of the details, and I think he is, then he is right about the bigger concern and has thus done us a favor by helping to awaken us to important concerns. Younger Christians know this instinctively and are more willing to listen to it since they do not associate God’s creation with a political party or a particular ideology that has grown out of a bad theology.

I realize Bill Moyers is despised by many conservatives in my generation. My response is: “So what.” This is no reason to refuse to view such a presentation. I found this documentary well worth the time I spent viewing it. In fact, I think I will watch it again. 

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  1. GLW Johnson June 9, 2008 at 6:47 am

    It is a crying shame Moyers did not interview you instead of Cal Beisner. Then we could all sleep better at night.

  2. jls June 9, 2008 at 9:10 am

    People of conscience instinctively respond to the environmentalist message because it carries an element of real truth–that we have a duty to be good stewards of the natural resources God has given. But along with this truth, the modern environmentalist movement carries with it so many other ideas that are truly out of whack. For example: the idea that people are alien to the environment and the world would be better off without us. Genesis 1:28 teaches that man was made to manage God’s earth, and that God’s earth was made to be managed by man. A world without people is like a truck without a driver.
    Managing the earth is an unbelievably huge and complex task, certainly too big for us humans to manage on our own. We only do it with God’s help and blessing. Environmental problems, like other problems, ultimately stem from our broken relationships with God, both individually and collectively. The gospel of salvation must be at the core of any truly Christian response to environmental problems. Otherwise, we will make matters worse.
    Morever, without a healthy economy and steady growth, we simply won’t have the resources to manage the environment well. The great strength of the U.S. economy over the last 25 years is what made it possible for us to better stewards of our natural resources. But if people are struggling just to survive, environmental concerns are quickly put aside. Efforts to clean up the environment at the expense of the economy are destined to fail.
    What deeply concerns me right now is the incredible hubris of politicians who think they can regulate these problems away. Case in point: Last week’s attempt by Senate leaders to push through this idea of cap-and-trade. Do they really think they can re-engineer the U.S. economy and save the environment in one fell swoop? Or are they just responding to special-interest groups and attempting to just “do something” to secure their own bids for re-election? Another case in point: In Obama’s victory speech last week, he indicated that his administration would stop the oceans from rising. Talk about audacity! It seems to me that, unless our presidential candidates (both of them) and other national leaders start showing some humility with respect to these issues, they will only make matters worse.

  3. Gene Redlin June 9, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Man managing the environment globally is like the all the citzens of Hawaii trying to manage the Volcano on the Big Island, Pele.
    Everyone could take a gallon of water and throw it in the caldera, nothing will happen. A little steam with no net effect.
    We do not grasp our insignificance in the grand scheme of things. We are a ton of peanuts in a million acre forest. Significant only in our relative absence.
    Only the arrogant believe for a moment they have more impact than flea does on a herd of buffalo.
    This whole argument has more to do with man’s ego than science. In a soft way radical green environmentalism is witchcraft.
    Well known Christian author and writer Derek Prince defines witchcraft as the
    works of the flesh according to Galatians 5:20. He says that witchcraft always has the
    attributes of:
    Satan entices people through these desires. (James 1:14).but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
    That sounds a lot like what I see in the whole manipulation of the masses we see in modern environmentalism today. Cap and trade was the same. The whole global warming fiasco is the least important issue on the table today.
    This view from the Wall Street Journal last Saturday:

  4. Steve Scott June 9, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Quite often we are offered two extremes to choose from as if one of them is right. I think Christians must realize that although the current earth won’t be here forever, it will be around a lot longer than the dominant eschatological view supposes. Abaondoning the “no use polishing brass on a sinking ship” mentality is key. With so many Christians believing that Satan controls the earth, and that as bad as things are now that we’ll be outta here soon so that the Antichrist can start a global nulear war that almost destroys the earth before the kingdom arrives, it’s no wonder so many don’t care about God’s creation.
    We must also strongly resist the environmentalism that gives power to politicians and government programs to legislate people’s lives into hardship, just because they say something is so. We must also recognize the religious aspects of much of environmentalism. We must be willing to preach to secularists and environmentalists that there is only one savior of the planet: Jesus, and that the revealing of the sons of God is what the cursed creation is waiting for.
    Some good friends of mine are organic farmers who use little known energy fields and non-traditional farming methods, the same ones the hippies use. Often, they are dismissed by conservatives as practicing some kind of new age witchcraft. Discovering and using real aspects of God’s creation without FDA or other government approval is also needed. We’re Christians. Our heavenly father owns the earth and we’re commanded to take dominion over it. Let’s obey and do it.

  5. bridgman June 10, 2008 at 8:43 am

    That agenda can just as easily define a witch TRIAL. Whoops, gotta go… his Satanic Majesty has decreed that I take out the recycling!

  6. Gene Redlin June 12, 2008 at 7:26 am

    I wasn’t going to respond to Brideman but I have been troubled by the idea that we do what’s apparently right (like recycling) for the wrong reasons or in response to inducement coming from an evil influence.
    If Brideman decides he wants to recycle, turn off the lights, drive a Hybrid, compost or a hundred other things and is not doing so in response to guilt or being compelled by law it’s fine with me. I do the same.
    The Religion of Radical Environmentalism is not that innocuous. It’s purpose is to control your life’s decisions, tax you into oblivion and regulate your life (and thermostat).
    I’m astounded by the lack of discernment by people like Bridesman to just march off the end of the cliff and make fun of the manipulation of a whole population in the name of a false religion and a false god called Gaia and feel smug about the whole thing.
    I want to live responsibly, I want to treat the environment well. In that regard I do all the things I believe are beneficial. Where I draw the line is when some nanny state decides for me what I will or will not do.
    Like Ethanol, Wind Power. How did that work out?
    Doing good for the wrong reason is false religion. Only what is done for Christ will last. We will all stand before the Bema Seat judgement and our works will be examined. I want mine to stand.I will be compelled by the love of God to do good. In the religion of Islam it’s a bit different. Doing good gets you “Chits”. http://www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/hadeeth/riyad/00/chap013.htm
    Not much different from Radical Environmentalism. So, Bridesman, just walk on down to the edge of the cliff and when they say Jump, you go ahead first. I think I’m going to see if I can find a way of Escape.
    This kind of thinking comes from spiritual blindness. Radical environmentalism is at it’s core pagan and a form of witchcraft bent on controlling others (and you). Of course we can all go la la la la la and hope it goes away. It won’t.
    Show some discernment, it’s a gift you should seek after. 1 Corinthians 12:31

  7. Adam S June 13, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Gene your comments seem to be more based around your view of government than about the environment. If your concern about recycling is that we shouldn’t be forced to do it I would assume that you have a similar complaint about seat belts or building codes. I agree that government should not be overly intrusive. But there is a role for the government in making rules that allow people to be safe and as free as possible.
    What I find interesting (and this is not directed at Gene) is that many people that view government as a way to ban things like gay marriage, abortion, etc., are offended that others view government as a way to encourage recycling, renewable energy, etc.

  8. patjohnson June 14, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    I really agree with jls’ comments above.
    Here is an article that a friend sent me about the environmental “Catch-22” regarding the ozone layer. Basically it describes the climate change that scientists fear if the ozone layer’s hole is made smaller (due to the significant role that winds play in regulating climate.) Although this article is simplifying a VERY complex phenomena, it goes to show how interrelated and complicated these issues are.

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