Few things are more infuriating than being told that your problems aren’t problems. I imagine many of us have experienced the frustration of sharing a concern with a friend only for that person to dismiss it as not serious, not a big deal, not a problem. This approach rarely produces feelings of bonhomie in either person nor does it address the concern itself. However, this is too often the response of Christians to environmental problems.
“We have twelve years to save the planet,” politicians warn. “We must act to avoid catastrophe.” When hearing these claims many Christians dismiss them out of hand, as if the Noahic covenant was referring to rising sea levels. Many have been hearing doomsday proclamations for years, and can now tune them out into apocalyptic white noise. Environmentalism is something for Democrats and liberals, anyway.
Some Christians also question the methods used to come up with these warnings. Methods to determine atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as ice core sampling, are often closely associated with methods used to determine the age of the earth. If Christians question the results of one test, they often dismiss the results of the other. But believing in a young earth doesn’t exempt you from caring about it. Many of the signs of environmental catastrophe are easily observed within the last 100 years. The species extinction rate has grown exponentially, with dozens of species disappearing every day. These plants and animals, created by God at the beginning of time, are now gone forever. That’s a tragedy and one that should cause Christians not only to grieve but also to act.
Acting to protect the planet is also simply part of engaging the world around us. American culture today, particularly that of younger generations, is deeply concerned with the environment. Shrugging off the serious problems going on in creation is not just disrespectful to the Creator. It also hamstrings our efforts to reach those who don’t know Christ. If issues that they care about deeply aren’t even acknowledged in the church, it’s unlikely that they’ll listen to what we have to say about a carpenter 2,000 years ago. Confessional Lutherans are lagging behind here and people are taking notice. What do we, as a church body, do to care for our world? Do we pray for it? Do we participate in cleanup days; do we plant trees? Are there even recycling bins in our churches?
If the Church wants to stay relevant, then yes, it must take a bolder stance on caring for the earth. But relevancy alone isn’t a valid reason to act – that could lead us down all sorts of slippery slopes. We should act because we are charged as stewards of the earth to take care of it, to cultivate the land and to enjoy the beautiful creation. In the words of the 2010 LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, “We need to think of our care in terms of nurturing, ‘making room’ for all of our fellow creatures so that creation flourishes and can be what God intended it to be.” (Together With All Creatures, p.103) We should also act because we love our neighbors, and when a neighbor that you love tells you something they’re worried about, you don’t shrug it off.
When the world tells us that the planet is in danger, our response as Christians shouldn’t be, “No, we don’t worry about that.” It should be “Yes, and here’s what we’re doing about it.” Here’s how we switched from Styrofoam to reusable plates at our potlucks. Here’s how we stopped handing out bottled water at VBS. Here’s how we adopted a section of highway. Here’s how we as laypeople support local farmers, carpool, limit the meat we eat. Here’s how we care too.