Christianity, Conservatism, and Climate Change: Confessions of an Evangelical Environmentalist

Okay, I have a confession to make: I am, theologically-, politically-, and environmentally-speaking, an odd duck. I’m a Christian school teacher. I love the Bible, love the Gospel, and love Jesus. I have a degree in theology. I tend to vote Republican. Oh, and I have solar panels on my roof, have switched over most of my light bulbs to LEDs, and drive an electric car.

Do those last three things seem out of place? Conservative, evangelical, and environmentalist aren’t usually adjectives that describe the same person. But why is that? Why should stewardship of creation’s resources, committed to our care by the Creator, be incongruous with a biblical worldview? Why should reducing our country’s dependence on increasingly expensive, politically unstable, environmentally destructive fossil fuels be fundamentally opposed to conservative principles?

A few clarifications right off the bat, because I can practically hear the howls of conservative derision. First, the theological clarifications: my commitment to “creation care” (or whatever clever euphemisms for environmentalism that believers use) is overshadowed by more urgent biblical mandates, most especially evangelism and missions. My primary purpose (and your primary purpose) in this life is to glorify God by spreading the joy of knowing Jesus to the ends of the earth. My evangelical commitments to the gospel, the authority of Scripture, the centrality of the local church, and the necessity of evangelism all outweigh my commitment to creation care. So please don’t tar and feather me as a theological liberal.

Second, the political clarifications: I consider myself a conservative. I voted for Mitt Romney. But why my conservative political views should somehow lead me to ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change is a mystery to me. Conservatism is supposed to be a philosophy rooted in truth and in the conservation of the good, and in stewarding and passing on the blessings of freedom and prosperity to the next generation. Frankly, robust environmental policies make more sense in a conservative worldview than they do in a liberal one.

How can something that simultaneously reduces dependence on politically unstable foreign oil, supports American industry, keeps American dollars in the American economy, and cleans our air and water possibly be a bad thing? I suspect that conservative opposition to renewable energy is more of a knee-jerk reaction against Obama than the articulation of any sort of intelligent policy.

My commitment to practical, pragmatic environmental principles stems from three areas of conviction: Scriptural, political, and financial. For the purpose of this blog post, I’ll just state them now and defend them later.

Scriptural: I can’t reconcile God’s command to subdue and steward the earth with the slash-and-burn mentality of many of my conservative friends. If God’s creation is good, and although fallen and broken will one day be redeemed and made new by Jesus, doesn’t our careful and compassionate care for creation point towards our hope in Christ’s final, greater redemption? In the same way that loving your enemy points toward Christ and His cross where He loved us while we were yet sinners, stewardship of creation’s resources points towards the eschatological hope of Revelation 21:5 when He who is seated on the throne will make all things new. In both cases, our actions are grounded in and are intended to mirror the redeeming activity of God in Christ.

Political: I have trouble thinking of sufficiently negative adjectives to describe how I feel about Republican opposition to renewable energy. Short-sighted, ignorant, self-serving, and blind are all words that come to mind. Too harsh? Then I apologize. But I think that technologically and perhaps politically, we are at a tipping point where the proper investments in renewable energy now will pay huge dividends in the future. I am thrilled by President Obama’s commitment to renewable energy, and I think that the billions invested in the last four years are some of the best money the country has ever spent. I wish that the political will existed in Washington to make renewable energy a higher priority. Forget health care, immigration, or gun control. If we made renewable energy the Apollo Project of our generation, imagine the transformative effects that it could have (How cool would it be if we committed ourselves to complete renewable energy independence by 2025?!). I wish that Republicans would get out of the way so that our country could lead on this issue.

Financial: All of my commitments to environmentalism would be purely theoretical if I couldn’t afford them. But the exciting thing is that, thanks in large part to federal investments over the last four years, environmentalism doesn’t just make sense scripturally or politically; it also makes sense financially. I have solar panels on my roof and save close to 50% on my monthly power bills. Programs exist now to install solar panels for $0 down with an immediate reduction in utility bills. Umm… that’s what we call a “no-brainer.” As for the LED lights in my house, I’m in the process of changing out 75-watt incandescent bulbs for 12-watt LED bulbs as they burn out. Even though LEDs cost about $15 per bulb now, that price has come down by more than 50% in the last year, they have a lifespan of about 20 years, and use a fifth of the power of a normal bulb. Each LED bulb I install is projected to save me between $100-$150 over the lifespan of the bulb. And finally, my electric car was primarily a financial decision. I am leasing a 2012 Nissan Leaf for $249/month, and I used to spend over $300/month on gasoline alone. Factoring in the increased insurance and cost of charging, I figure that I’m still saving money- and I get to drive a brand-new, zero-emissions, high-tech, super-fun electric car. That’s also a no-brainer.

 

Well, that’s the beginnings of the confessions of this evangelical environmentalist. I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts, and suggestions. I plan to further defend my Scriptural reasoning at a later date, so if you see any holes in my thinking, let me know.

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