However, I would like to point out that because I was taught to think for myself, there were many, many times throughout my childhood and adolescence in Evangelical churches, that I found myself differing wildly from things my "elders" were teaching. In particular, I encountered a lot of teaching from Christian leaders that conflated Christian doctrines with conservative politics. This did not make sense to me then and it does not make sense to me now. In 2003 and 2004, when my activities in the anti-War movement were called into question by church leaders who said they "feared for my soul," I parted company, with a heavy heart, from the Evangelical wing of Christianity. I came back to an Evangelical church and tried again in the years 2008-2011, but found that my uniqueness and my occasional voice of dissent was still unwelcome, and liable to make me the target of ridiculous rumors. I am now happily a part of the American Episcopal Church, which is made up of progressive people who value the same things I value: environmentalism, social justice, and peace. I feel blessed to have gone on the journey I went on, including the painful moments of rejection and even character assassination in conservative churches, because it made me who I am today. And I am now someone who has an insider's feel for the false teaching prevalent throughout the Christian right, on such issues as the environment.
For a long time I have been considering making a detailed study of Evangelical attitudes toward environmentalism. I know from personal experience that there is a strong degree of negativity in Evangelical churches toward environmentalism. In 2011 when I was preparing to move to San Diego, California and work for my favorite non-profit, Greenpeace, I was told by one church leader that I shouldn't bother, because God was going to destroy the Planet anyway, and the time I was investing trying to save the Planet could be better spent trying to win sinners to Jesus. I honestly felt disgusted and appalled by such thinking. I am an environmentalist because I believe that the Earth is God's creation and that humans are God's gardeners, charged with stewardship over every other species. I am an environmentalist because Nature has long been my sanctuary, my place of prayer, and a place of revelation. Peruse my writings on this very blog and you will see that my experiences in the Woods and Deserts and Gardens of this World have been the strongest affirmation to my Christianity. Therefore, I found it ridiculous, and still found it ridiculous, that the faith of Jesus should cause anyone to care less about our forests, our oceans, our climate, and our Arctic. The law of Christian love should mean that we care more.
Recently I began reading the book A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship With Nature by James William Gibson. The scope of the book is wide, but in the eighth chapter "The Right Wing War on the Land," the author gets into the exact issue that is in the dead center of my own heart: the attitudes of Evangelical Christians toward environmentalism. So thoroughly did the author treat the subject, that I came away from reading the chapter feeling like I did not need to replicate his research. I needed only to highlight the relevant passages from this chapter and share it on this blog, and anyone who reads it will be exposed to a thorough and accurate portrayal of how the Evangelical right has SLAUGHTERED the intents of Scripture and produced a twisted theology of exploitation and destruction in place of God's mandate for us to care for the environment. In the next several paragraphs that follow, you will be reading the words of James William Gibson from A Reenchanted World, chapter 8. At the end of the long section of quotations, expect further commentary from me, which rebuilds the Christian imperative to care for Creation.
From James William Gibson:
"As the twenty-first century began... the environmental movement came under deliberate, organized attack from the Christian right...
"strikingly, the backlash [against environmentalism] from the business world was dwarfed by the negative reaction from the nation's evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant leadership: figures such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye, and James Dobson. Along with many other conservative Christian theologians, scholars, and preachers, they saw the enchantment of nature as a dangerous threat both to their faith and to political and economic doctrines they derived from fundamentalist theology...
"Environmentalism, they argue, goes against God's laws of dominion as laid out in the Bible; worshipping nature is idolatry and therefore a form of Satanism. Moreover, according to some readings of the Book of Revelation, all true Christians, both dead and alive, will physically ascend into heaven during the Rapture; the fallen Christians who are left behind will fight the Antichrist. Then, after seven years of Tribulations, Christ will battle the Antichrist and eventually defeat him, destroying the planet and creating a new Earth. Various interpretations of the prophecy differ in their details, but the point is clear: If the Lord is going to destroy the old Earth and replace it with a new one, then there is no need for an environmental movement. On the contrary, it's a deadly distraction from the urgent need to accept Jesus Christ as one's personal savior and convert to Christianity before the Rapture...
"Evangelical writer Frank Peretti made the bestseller lists with his 1989 novel Piercing the Darkness, in which a host of demons invade a small town to wreak havoc and capture unsuspecting souls. When not doing the devil's work, the demons relax at the Summit Institute for Humanistic Studies, where they take pleasure in attending seminars such as "Ecology: The Merging of Earth and Spirit." One of the presenters (modeled on folk singer John Denver) plays a guitar before reading his paper; the celebrity-filled audience sings along. Peretti describes the scene: 'The demons among them were enjoying it as well. Such worship and attention as they were now receiving was like getting a good back rub, and they even twitched and squirmed with delight at every bar of the song's carefully shaded double meanings.'
That same year Samantha Smith, another evangelical author, attended a Los Angeles conference on the 'New U.S. Agenda for Environment and Development in the 1990s.' The conference attendees included John Denver, CNN magnate Ted Turner, former president Jimmy Carter, former astronaut John Glenn, and U.S. senators Al Gore, Tim Wirth, and Mark Hatfield. To her dismay, a Native American spiritual leader named Little Crow made prayers to Mother Earth, Grandfather Spirit, and the Four Directions, declaring the conference a 'sacred place.' Smith decried the attendees who 'gave reverence to the demonic spirit called Mother Earth,' and later wrote a book to expose the environmental movement's pagan agenda. According to Smith, it was God alone who was sacred; and 'like it or not, when the earth has served His purpose, He will destroy it (2 Peter 3:10) and will create a new Heaven and a new earth...
"Pat Robertson, the famous evangelical television talk-show host, wrote three bestselling books in the early 1990s - The New Millenium (1990), The New World Order (1991), and The Secret Kingdom (1992) - which articulated many fundamentalist ideas about the environment. In the first, he explains that it was President Ronald Reagan's secretary of the interior, Donald Hodel, who first alerted him to the religious dangers of the environmental movement: 'Hodel told me that I would never understand the wilderness movement until I recognized that to these people, these activists, the wilderness is an object of worship. It is something they worship as an ideal.' In his more compassionate moments, Robertson saw the activists as 'people desperately searching for something to fill the void in their own souls... and they are reaching out to nature as God.' But he made clear that he thought they were wrong. 'What happens in the wilderness may be important to nature and the natural processes of the earth, but it certainly is not holy.'...
"Indeed, wrote Robertson, in treating parts of the Earth as sacred, environmentalists committed the sin of idolatry, violating several important Biblical injunctions. In The Secret Kingdom Robertson says that while he was thinking about these very issues, God spoke to him in a conversational voice, telling him to open his Bible: 'Look at Genesis and you will see.' Robertson reports that his eyes fell upon this passage in Genesis 1:26-27 (his emphasis): 'And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man.' Robertson believes that God had instructed him to stress man's authority over the Earth - 'He wants him to rule the way he was created to rule... God gave man a sweeping and total mandate of dominion over this planet and everything in it.'
"To Robertson and many other evangelical thinkers, the notion that humans are made in God's image means that any doctrine stressing equality and kinship between humans and animals is a sin. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is denounced both because it is 'godless' and because it teaches that humans are biologically related to other mammals. Enchantment's goal of creating and affirming totemic relationships with animals similarly violates evangelicals' strict boundaries. Robertson argues that such 'naturalistic and animist' tendencies are linked to older pagan worship, and that 'in each of these pagan religions there was always a seed of Satanic root.'
In The New World Order Robertson offered a dramatic response to the ideas of international cooperation for preserving the environment, laying out a scenario in which something similar to Gore's 'global Marshall plan' for the planet came to pass. There would be an internationally ratified 'Law of the Sea' to regulate maritime commerce, preventing ships from dumping waste into oceans and controlling fishing to stop species depletion; and a 'Law of the Land and Forest' to stop deforestation, especially in the tropics. A 'Law of the Skies' would control ozone-depleting chemicals and other air pollution: 'No one would be allowed to pollute the air that the people of the world, its plants, and its animal life must breathe.' A 'Law of Energy Conservation,' meanwhile, would regulate automobile fuel mileage, and 'develop electric automobiles, alternate power sources, and safe, cheap nuclear power.' And a 'Law of Industry and Agriculture' would establish worldwide standards for guaranteed minimum wages, health benefits, and product safety.
"Would this environmental New World Order be a utopia? In Robertson's view, just the opposite. To him, the quest to restore ecological balance and sustainable development is merely a ruse, a distraction for the masses, masking a sinister plot. The creation of world treaties would require a single world currency, administered by a world bank. A huge bureaucracy would inevitably develop to apply all the new regulations. The new international government would require a worldwide Internal Revenue Service, along with a United Nations army authorized to shoot American citizens for tax crimes - or for other violations, such as possession of firearms. (In Robertson's assessment, 'With the government as god, the major crimes in society involve breaking government regulations.') These nefarious developments are all part of a Satanic plan: 'Satan knows that world government must soon be prepared for the man whom he is preparing to receive his particular empowerment and authority.' The New World Order, ostensibly focused on saving the Earth, is actually a stage for the coming of the Antichrist.
"Robertson's vivid portrayal of a demonic, omnipotent world government certainly helped influence evangelicals' opinions about environmental treaties. But it was theologian Tim LaHaye who was responsible for the Christian right's most widely read and influential assault on the culture of enchantment. LaHaye, who served on Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority board of directors and was quite well known in evangelical circles, promulgated beliefs about the connection between environmentalism and the devil that were even more extreme than those of Pat Robertson. In one book, LaHaye argues that the entire surface of the planet and its atmosphere is the 'abode of Satan.' In another, he approvingly quotes a fellow dispensationalist scholar, Joseph Lam, who asserts that 'the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet and Nepal gave Lucifer the high ground he adores (Isaiah 14:13-14). In a 1999 work called Are We Living in the End Times?, LaHaye and fellow evangelist Jerry Jenkins pointed to dangerous warning signs: 'These days paganism is widespread not only in backward countries but also in America. Have you noticed the increasing worship of the mother goddess Gaia?...It is quite possible that we are on the verge of seeing a merging of the feminist movement, liberal Christianity (with its penchant for feminizing the scriptures), and mother goddess worship.' To LaHaye and Jenkins, any movement that saw the Earth as a whole, or particular landscapes, as sacred was guilty of spreading Satan's influence. As Dr. Henry Morris, a right-wing theologian cited by LaHaye, declared, worship of 'the spirits of trees and other natural objects... is in reality worship of demons.'
"Starting in 1995, LaHaye paired up with Jenkins to produce a twelve-volume series of novels called Left Behind, which used fundamentalist theological ideas to create a terrifying fictional world. The series is the story of a group of people who find Jesus Christ only after the Rapture has occurred and the Antichrist is rising to take control of a United Nations-dominated new world order. The heroes form a paramilitary commando group to fight the Antichrist and his many minions, and ultimately to challenge Satan. The paramilitary novel was already a familiar vehicle for conservative authors; since the late 1960s dozens of such fictional series had featured heroes fighting outside the system to defeat drug dealers, terrorists, and communists. LaHaye and Jenkins reframed the genre using evangelical doctrines. Left Behind made its way not only into Christian retail outlets, but also into mainstream bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and even into big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target. By 2003, sales of books from the series had exceeded fifty million copies.
"The Left Behind books attack the culture of enchantment on a number of levels. The Antichrist's official religion, called Great Enigma Mystery Babylon One-World Faith, is a reenchantment-like ecumenical mix. The head of this church addresses his audience with a benediction: 'I confer upon this gathering the blessing of the universal father and mother and animal deities who lovingly guide us on our path to true spirituality.' The post-Rapture Earth is a hell, a place where 'fallen,' imperfect Christians suffer endless and hideous torments. Early in the Tribulations, massive earthquakes turn the sky black with volcanic ash, 'burning up a third of all the earth's trees and all its grasses.' Something like a giant meteorite crashes into the ocean, turning one-third of all ocean life into blood. Another poisonous meteorite contaminates one-third of the Earth's rivers and springs, making them toxic. Millions of locustlike creatures strike with venom so strong that people's bodies burn for 'five long months.' Midway through the Tribulations, half of the world's population has died terrible deaths.
"'And then,' LaHaye and Jenkins write, 'it gets worse.' During the second half of the Tribulations, God's wrath is 'poured out in full strength.' A plague of 'foul and loathsome' sores torments those who worship the Antichrist. God kills every animal in the oceans, and 'dead sea creatures rise to the surface, spreading their corruption to the four winds.' Angry that the Antichrist has killed many of those who converted to Christianity after the Rapture, God turns the world's springs, rivers, and lakes into blood. Afterward, He increases the sun's power, to bake and torture the survivors.
"The message of the Left Behind series echoes that of Pat Robertson and other evangelicals. Humans cannot save the Earth - 'Jesus Christ is the only one who has been given authority to bring such a kingdom into being,' writes LaHaye. The Earth is Satan's home, and all animals and plants are connected to his demons. It makes sense, then, that true Christians should long for personal salvation and hope to be swept away in the Rapture, lifted to heaven where God resides. After that, according to LaHaye, God 'will destroy this earth that is so marred and cursed by Satan's evil. He will include the atmospheric heaven to guarantee that all semblance of evil has been cleared away...
"In turn, many conservative thinkers, even those not known for their religious devotion, began to spout theology to justify unrestrained taking of the Earth's resources. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter quipped, 'God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'"
In the above passages, it should first be noted that the Christian leaders whose works were quoted - Samantha Smith, Pat Robertson, and Tim LaHaye - are themselves woefully uneducated about the very subject they pretend to be experts on: the Bible! Take, for example, Samantha Smith's strong objection to a Native American speaking to Mother Earth. She goes so far as to say that Mother Earth is a 'demonic spirit.' How would she respond, then, to the following passage from the book of Job?
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
9 Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.
Consider Pat Robertson's treatment of the word "Dominion" in Genesis 1:26-27. He argues that since God gave man "Dominion" over the Planet, that must mean that God gave man a "sweeping and total mandate" over the Planet and everything in it. But how is the idea of "dominion" applied elsewhere in Scripture? When God sets up a king, for example, in the Old Testament, he gives that king "dominion" over a nation. But does He expect that king to rule unkindly? Does he expect the king to take unnecessary life? No. In fact, God expects the highest level of responsibility and care from those he has placed in authority. If humans are placed in authority over the Planet, as the Bible does indeed teach that they are, then God will surely expect them to have exercised that authority with Love and restraint! When King David took the wife of a man whom he had deliberately conspired to have killed in battle, the Lord sent a prophet to reprove him for abusing his power (2 Samuel 12). David's last words were:
4 And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
Like the tender grass springing out of the earth,
By clear shining after rain.’ (2 Samuel 23:3-4)