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The Christian case for environmentalism

Good FridayEarth DayEcosystemsEaster

The world's two billion Christians have just completed Holy Week, celebrating the final days, death and resurrection of Jesus. This year, the global celebration of Earth Day coincided with Good Friday, giving many of us an additional perspective on this sacred and ancient commemoration.

Good Friday, marking Jesus' crucifixion, is a challenging day in many ways. The original Good Friday was a day of grief and confusion for Jesus' friends and followers. Today, Christian rituals reflect that grief, even though Jesus' sacrifice is central to the broader Easter story of salvation and hope.

Earth Day is also a mixture of hope and sadness. The environment continues to remind us of the consequences of the selfish and short-sighted actions we often take against God's creation. Air and water pollution, deforestation and many other reminders threaten our own well being and the well being of other animals' habitats and survival. But Earth Day is also a community celebration of our planetary home and our commitment to caring better for it.

In recent years, Christians from across the theological and political spectrum have begun to give more serious consideration to our collective impact on the gift of God's creation. A creation care movement has given a voice to many younger Christians who believe that responsible stewardship is about far more than simply exercising dominion over the earth and maximizing the exploitation of its resources. In The United Methodist Church, through our God's Renewed Creation project, many congregations and individual members are addressing a set of interrelated threats to creation: endemic poverty and disease, widespread environmental degradation, and the proliferation of weapons and violence. This broadly ecumenical concern for creation is a cause for hope.

Unfortunately, there are other voices distorting the intentions and efforts of environmentally-minded Christians. Some religious leaders and political commentators have attacked the environmental movement, equating environmentalism with paganism and earth-worship. Others go even further, suggesting that the "Green Dragon" of environmentalism is actively anti-Christian, anathema to the Gospel of Christ. These criticisms will further delay collaborative efforts to care for creation and create greater risks for our fragile environment.

We also see these distortions of faith and reality reflected in the views and actions of too many elected officials, many of whom are in a dangerous state of denial about the scientific consensus on the threats posed by climate change. Some explain their opposition to changing our consumption habits as concern for the poor, who they say would be disproportionately hurt if new regulations resulted in higher energy prices. But the scientific consensus is overwhelming that it is precisely the world's most poor and vulnerable individuals and nations who will be most adversely affected by climate change and its impact on everything from agriculture to rising sea levels and regional resource-related conflicts.

The crucifixion and resurrection remind Christians of the full range of human possibility. We see fear and self-centeredness and betrayal, but also courage and self-sacrifice and redemption. We learn that God's grace allows us to overcome our despair and doubt. Indeed, our faith really begins after Easter, when the good news begins to spread and believers are challenged to take it to the far ends of the earth. Let us demonstrate our love for God, for creation, and for our fellow human beings by facing up to our huge and immensely complicated challenges and acting as if we believe that we are both recipients of God's grace and stewards of God's creation.

John R. Schol is Bishop of The United Methodist Church Baltimore-Washington Conference. More information about God's Renewed Creation can be found at http://www.hopeandaction.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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