By Julia Polese
Reverend Jim Ball wrote an article on Huffington Post lauding the “over 50,000 pro-life Christians [who] are supporting the EPA’s efforts to overcome global warming.” The organization Ball works for, the Evangelical Environmental Network, ran TV spots in “key states – Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri and in D.C.” featuring doe-eyed children and frightening scenes of “extreme weather.” Constituents are urged to call their senators and voice their support for God’s instrument of justice on Earth: the Environmental Protection Agency.
While stewardship of the Earth is a biblical imperative – some of God’s first words to Adam and Eve outlined their place in the order of Creation – theologically, these ads are just plain lazy. “Jesus taught us to care for the least of these,” the voiceover says, “and today, this means working to overcome climate change.” Rev. Ball also writes in the article that “Christians are seeing that climate action is part of Christ’s lordship in our lives, even in the midst of hardship and opposition.” Is it, though? Political activism of this sort recalls more secular furrowed-browism than the historic Christianity. It comes complete with its own conceptions of sin (carbon emission), gospel (Clean Air Act), evangelism (“Call your Senator!”) and judgment day (when the Arctic Cap melts).
Additionally, the slacktivism and letter-sending this campaign encourages does not seem to do much for the “least of these.” Instead of outsourcing our stewardship to a governmental agency with a giant footprint, having divinely granted dominion over every living thing perhaps means developing a broader personal understanding of limits. “Putting a price on carbon” – a resolution proposed by the “80 senior evangelical leaders” who called for broader climate change regulation in 2006 – is a purely corporate solution with limited global success and it does not incentivize the Church to develop stewardship or care for the poor. With regards to limits, Wendell Berry writes this in his essay “Faustian Economics”:
Every cultural and religious tradition that I know about, while fully acknowledging our animal nature, defines us specifically as humans—that is, as animals (if the word still applies) capable of living not only within natural limits but also within cultural limits, self-imposed. As earthly creatures, we live, because we must, within natural limits, which we may describe by such names as “earth” or “ecosystem” or “watershed” or “place.” But as humans, we may elect to respond to this necessary placement by the self-restraints implied in neighborliness, stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, care, kindness, friendship, loyalty, and love.
Writing to the EPA doesn’t instill much self-restraint, but instead fleeting self-deception about what is true virtue.
Furthermore, the cynic in me looks at these key states and counts the days until Tuesday, November 6th. Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have always been hotly contested on Election Day and, in light of yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling about the Affordable Care Act, the Senate and presidential races will be key in upholding the new health care tax. Appropriating “pro-life” language could help the Left add more pro-lifers to their ranks, a task that has proven difficult in recent years. Even more problematic about using “pro-life” coupled with concern about climate change is the strange bedfellows it makes. Malthusian panic about overpopulation is frequently not far behind this kind of “climate action” and this secular apocalypticism has no place in a pro-life worldview.
The Church’s job is to teach its members how to love God and to love their neighbor. It seems it could both be more efficient and more “green” to love the least of those around them directly instead of relying on the EPA to do it for them.