We’re obviously in the midst of a “green” movement — but so what? I listen to the ongoing debate about “global warming” and it gives me a headache. The fate of the planet has been turned into a political playground, where “experts” on each side wastes an incredible amount of time and energy trying to disprove the other side’s argument. Waste of time and energy? You bet, because all the rhetoric and game playing completely misses the point. Let me illustrate with a (made up) parable:
A couple decide they want to summer in Europe, so they hire a house-sitter to care for their home in their absence. Generously, they fill the house with fine foods, wine, nice stereo and video equipment, expensive decorations, make sure the swimming pool will be kept clean, that the sportscar is tuned up and ready to go, and tell the house-sitter to make herself at home and enjoy all the fruits of the household. A pair of her friends find out what a sweet deal she has so they invite themselves over, and one suggests it might be a perfect time for a massive party. The other isn’t so sure. The first friend wants to eat all the food, drink all the wine, crank up the stereo, and get as wild as possible while the good times can last. The second friend thinks it might be a little irresponsible to take advantage of the generosity of the householders — especially behind their backs. The house-sitter reminds both of them that nothing has ever been said about a party. Her job is to be a caretaker, and to make sure that everything is in good shape when the householders return. Her two friends ignore her and go on arguing about the party.
The whole environmental issue really isn’t about whether the world will end tomorrow or years from now, it isn’t about using everything up or leaving something behind, and it isn’t about being right and proving everyone else is wrong. The entire “green” issue has to do with responsibility, integrity, and faithful stewardship. Christians of both the liberal and the conservative stripe agree that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof,” so we’re already admitting that this isn’t our planet to screw up. How much pollution is too much, how many species driven to extinction, how many degrees humankind is pumping up the temp — these should be non-issues for Christians. How much trash is okay to dump out our car window? How much poison is an acceptable amount to put in someone else’s water? How many child laborers in how many foreign sweat shops are too many? These are unbelievable questions.
And the issue isn’t about behavior modification either. There is a great term — “greenwashing” — that means we are merely dabbing on a superficial coat of “green” paint rather than dealing with any root problems. (Think “whitewashing”… only green…) Driving cars that do less damage, buying coffee and chocolate that cheats fewer people, eating toxic fast food that has fewer “trans fats,” are not really “transforming the world” for the better. Don’t get me wrong. These things are fine, and helpful, and good, but they aren’t getting at the root of the matter. Recycling has become a widely popular practice, but amounts going into landfills keeps rising — including over 70% of what we send off to “recycling centers” nationwide. Energy saving lightbulbs are one of the new pop fads, but they only “do less damage,” they don’t do good. When it comes to envisioning a truly green movement, the application of our UM “three simple rules” is helpful.
Do No Harm — all our efforts to do less damage are great, but this becomes a justice issue when viewed on a global level. It’s great for the country that consumes the greatest percentage of the world’s good to decide everyone should voluntarily do with less. How nice of us. Buying hybrid cars is a step in the right direction, except 80% of them are purchased by solo drivers — those who consume a huge amount of fuel but have three empty seats in their car everywhere they go. Fast food consumption in this country is measured in raw tonnage — in a world where 1 billion people go hungry every day. Foregoing the “Super Size” option is not really being socially responsible or a good steward of the planets resources. In addition to doing less harm, we need to:
Do Good— Cleaning up the water is different than dirtying it less. Planting trees is different than cutting fewer down. Growing organic foods is different than trucking in foods from halfway across the country. Walking or riding a bicycle (or even carpooling) is different than getting better mileage with fewer emissions. Communities, corporations, and congregations are strategizing ways to do creative, constructive, and collaborative projects to make things better. These practices in combination lay a good foundation upon which to:
Stay In Love With God’s Creation — Ignorance is no excuse. Love of God demands love of neighbor and self. Knowing the impact of what we do, what we buy, what we waste, and what we own is the least we should do. Global justice, equity, compassion, and care are minimums, not maximums in the demand department. How our clothes are made, our food grown, our products manufactured, etc., should not be magical mysteries of which we have no greater concern than whether we can get what we want when we want it. In our global community, peace, justice, mercy, fairness, kindness, care, love, generosity (and on and on) will not happen by accident, and they will not happen if we equivocate on what it means to do what is right. Global environmental stewardship isn’t a political issue — it’s spiritual.
If our ultimate concern is to “transform the world,” we need to preach economic justice as well as friendly fair play. We need to teach environmental care as well as putting a pledge in the plate to pay the pastor. We need to expand our vision of healing to all the world, not just those we like best or hear about on the evening news. Whether or not we take care of the planet should never be part of our conversation in the church — it isn’t an option. God has entrusted an amazing planet into our care, and God is critically interested to see how faithful and trustworthy we are with God’s stuff.