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What’s really behind creation care?

August 20, 2007, 2:50 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

This post on creation care is also up on The Huffington Post. I wrote it after listening to “God is Green,” Mars Hill Church‘s five-part July sermon series. Go to the Huffington Post entry if you want to listen to the audio clips from the sermons.

Wednesday’s Washington Post featured an article about evangelical Christians’ growing concern with global warming and, more generally, environmentalism. The article explained the development mostly in terms of political maneuvering amongst leaders, mainly “a years-long international campaign by British bishops and leaders of major U.S. environmental groups to bridge a long-standing divide between global-warming activists and American evangelicals.”

But there’s more to evangelicals’ commitment to environmental stewardship, also known as creation care, than power-brokering elites. It’s rooted in a deep sense of duty to live up to God’s mandate to live in proper relation to the earth. In one installment of the recent “God is green” sermon series at Mars Hill Church, an evangelical megachurch in a converted shopping mall outside Grand Rapids, Mich., Pastor Rob Bell said:

We aren’t treating the earth well, would you agree? This grieves the heart of God…we produce more and more and more, and we’re doing it in such a way that earth simply can’t sustain it. And I would argue we do not first and foremost care for the earth because of the latest scientific studies — which verify that we are destroying the earth — or because of the latest fad. We do it because God said to.

Listen to his description of the mandate for proper relations with the earth; his voice teeters on the trembling, and you can almost see him concentrating on keeping his eyes dry.

But did God really say so? Over the course of the July “God is Green” series, which is available online as an MP3, Bell and other Mars Hill speakers preach from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Job, 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Matthew, Luke, John, Ephesians, Romans and Revelations. (Note to the unchurched: that’s about 1/5 of the Bible.) And they’re not just poaching a spare verse here and there. In the first installment, Matt Krick notes that:

No less than eight times in Genesis chapter 9 God says ‘My covenant is with you and all creation, my covenant is with you and all creatures, my covenant is with you and all the earth.’ God is clearly stating his concern and his love for his creation that He created good – to sustain it, to see it thrive, to see it flourish. This is the heart of God for creation, and we see the heart of God continue through the entire biblical narrative.

Listen to his explanation of God’s vision of our proper relation to the earth, even though it only scratches the surface of creation care’s theological underpinnings.

I first learned about creation care in a 2004 sermon series at Kairos, a Christian community for young adults in northern Virginia. This wasn’t some hippie granola church; I shared pews not only with fellow liberals, but with Heritage Foundation staffers fresh from their stints with the Coalition Provisional Authority. The specific details have faded, but I remember hearing that the earth is a sacred trust rather than a resource to be exploited. In other words, creation care is not just a platform, it’s an orientation. While pundits concerned themselves with the Kyoto protocols, Clear Skies, and Healthy Forests, we were reexamining the very way in which we conceived of the planet.

At Mars Hill, which draws upwards of 10,000 people to its Sunday services in conservative western Michigan, you could hear uncharacteristically liberal-sounding messages about working against “systems of exploitation” and even a hint of what a conservative opportunist would call class warfare: “If somebody actually wants to argue with you that we’re not doing some terrible things to our earth, this is somebody whose wealth and ignorance have simply isolated them from how serious it is.”

They even reject the sanctity of private property. Citing Leviticus 25:23-4 — “the land must not be sold permanently because you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land” – Bell calls man’s claim of total dominion over the land a symptom of our “deep sinful bend of entitlement, in which we start to believe that what belongs to God belongs to us.”

An encouraging feature of the four-plus hours of God is Green was the repeated confession of our failure to honor God’s covenant with humankind and creation. We flout the notion of sustainability; we fail to live simply; we are addicted to exploitation; we don’t sacrifice.

The most inspiring part of any good sermon is the call to action. In the final moments of the final installment of God is Green, Bell leads his thousands-strong congregation in a fervent, applause-interrupted prayer that Christians will no longer lag behind others who better model sustainable living, that they will heed God’s call to go green. The only excerpt I will take from it is to say “amen.” Please listen to the three-minute prayer.

While conflict over global warming and environmentalism exists within the diverse community of American Christians, it’s important to note that the argument is no mere political concern. The theological energy behind creation care and “going green” ensures that what we’re talking about is no mere squabble, but a movement.

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