Yesterday, the supposedly Pro-Life Party™ committed one of the most egregiously anti-life acts in living memory.
To be sure, planet earth will not shrivel up and die tomorrow, but by pulling out of the Paris Accord, Donald Trump and the party that pushed him to do so, made it clear that they couldn’t care less about the future of life on this planet – either its quality or even its possibility.
It was an astounding act of ignorance by an administration that seems to go out of its way each and every day to stun the world with its never-ending wellspring of gross ineptitude.
And despite their fervent belief in a creator God, conservative evangelicals – by and large – have no problem supporting the Trump administration’s denial of climate change.
But how could this be? How could Christians who adamantly believe that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and who also believe emphatically in the authority of scripture not heed the Bible’s command – particularly in Genesis – to care for God’s creation?
The answer to that inconsistency lies in a combination of bad theology and the wayward leadership of politicians in priest’s clothing who lead their flocks astray through sanctified political rhetoric.
The bad theology is two-fold. It begins with a perverse interpretation of Genesis and ends with an destructively zero sum reading of Revelation.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God’s first command to mankind includes the now infamous charge to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” In the hands of politicians in priest’s clothing like Albert Mohler, for example (though he is among many, many others), this call to creation care is paid lip service, but in the next breath is contorted into a justification for exploiting the planet and its natural resources however we see fit because humans can’t possibly be the problem since God gave us the earth to do with it as we see fit and by exploiting the planet we’re just doing what God put us here to do in the first place. And if there’s ever an environmental problem that needs to be solved? Well, according to Mohler, the free market will solve it.
Ignorance, it would seem, is not simply bliss. It’s holy.
Unfortunately for climate change denying Christians, that this sort of ideology is nothing more than conservative economic theory dressed up in biblical language makes it a serious perversion of scripture. That many Christians take it as gospel means now more than ever we need good biblical scholarship, the kind that doesn’t hijack the bible for political purposes but instead reveals the simple truth that the Hebrew verb ????? (r?dâ) which is translated in English Bibles as “have dominion,” “must be understood in terms of care-giving, even nurturing, not exploitation. As the image of God, human beings should relate to the nonhuman as God relates to them.”
How we treat the environment, therefore, is a testimony to what we believe about the nature of God. We cannot claim that God is a loving, selfless, and caring God if we who are made in God’s image and entrusted with the care of God’s creation exploit and destroy that creation for our own selfish ends.
Sadly, however, the bad theology doesn’t stop in Genesis.
On the other end of the bad biblical theology spectrum is the matter of eschatology, that is the theology of last things. According to the 21st chapter of Revelation, there will come a day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth for the old earth and the old heaven will have passed away. Far too many Christians treat this promise of renewal as a justification for not caring for creation now. After all, they argue, if God is going to simply create a new earth one day, what does it matter what we do with this one? Aside from this sentiment being an altogether awful interpretation of Revelation, it’s terrible biblical logic.
Revelation 21 also says that on the day there is a new heaven and a new earth, there will be no more suffering or death. Does that mean we should stop practicing medicine and trying to alleviate suffering in there here and now. Of course not. Why? Two reasons: 1) we’re called by God to care for the sick and 2) the apocryphal promises of scripture are not a Get-Out-Of-Responsiblity-Free Card, but rather an invitation to live out the coming kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
The type zero sum theology that says “it doesn’t matter now because in the end…” is not Christian theology. Christian theology and therefore the Christian life is every bit as concerned with how we live in the here and now as it is how we will live then and nowhere in scripture are we led to believe that what will happen then absolves us of living responsibly now.
If anything, the Bible – and Jesus in particular – is emphatic that opposite is true.
How we live now directly affects how we will live – or not live – then.
Which is why climate change denial is more than just a political issue for Christians, it’s a theological one.
In particular, it’s a matter of sin.
First, the scientific community is just about as close to a consensus as the scientific community gets when it comes to climate change and the role humans play in it. The planet is getting warmer and human activity has a major role to play in the changing of our climate. Anthropogenic climate change may be “just a theory,” but it’s a theory in the way that gravity is “just a theory.”
Climate change is real and the overwhelming source of its denial is not based on scientific data or sound alternative theory, but blind partisanship, a compulsion to reject something simply because the other side supports it. Which is why climate change denial and the perpetuation of climate change as a hoax or liberal conspiracy is not just a difference of opinion, it’s bearing false witness.
Secondly, upon creating the world, God made one thing clear to humanity: we are charged with caring for it. Creation is our responsibility, as the imagio dei we have been entrusted with its safety and well being just as we trust God to care for us. To neglect that responsibility or worse, to refuse to do so on ostensibly religious grounds is not just a rejection of a divine call, it’s a blasphemous declaration about the nature of God.
Finally, the effects of global warming are not simply an inevitable future consequence of our actions, they’re a present reality for many, many people around the world. From unprecedented drought and catastrophic storms to rising sea levels that are already driving people from their homes, the first ripples of climate change have already arrived. We may not experience the full brunt of those effects living in the American heartland, but by denying the reality of anthropogenic climate change and compelling our leaders not to act, we damn our neighbors around the world who are already suffering today and we curse our children who will suffer the consequences of our decisions tomorrow.
As humans, we have a responsibility to care for the planet we live on because we have no habitable alternative.
As Christians, this responsibility is magnified because we believe that as creatures made in the image of God, creation care is a divine calling.
To ignore that call or, worse, to warp it to our own selfish ends is not just ignorant or irresponsible.