Why caring for the environment should have made the 10 “pro-life” ethics list

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In the past few days I have been deeply overwhelmed with the response I have received to my previous article “10 things you can’t do and still call yourself pro-life“. I have long wanted to spark a discussion in Christian circles as to what a holistic pro-life ethic should look like, and never imagined that my blog post on the subject would reach so many people and actually spark the very discussion I had hoped.

Many who have responded to the article have offered other items which they feel should be added to the list- so many of them being things I wholeheartedly agree with and embrace. The one that has hit me the most, however is the suggestion that creation care/environmental stewardship make our growing list. Looking back, I wish that I had included this in the original ten items, because this is absolutely an issue that must be part of a Christian’s pro-life system of ethics.

One of my frustrations with far too much of American Christianty is that it comes across as lacking concern for long-term environmental issues, choosing to attempt to resist or debunk theories such as climate change rather than embracing underlying principles of creation care which should always be part of Christian ethic. These principles of creation care and environmental stewardship should be especially present in a Christian ethic which professes to be “in favor of” life.

“Pro-life” must also mean “pro-environment”. Here’s why:

1. Caring for the environment was the first and primary responsibility God assigned to humanity.

In theology, we often refer to this as the “original” or “cultural mandate”, stemming from God’s command to Adam in Genesis 1:28 to multiply and govern creation.

This mandate God has issued to us, requires that we carefully and responsibly manage the earth and all of its resources in such a way that pushes creation forward with new beauty and justice instead of with mismanagement.  Poorly managing the environment results in creation going backwards (the opposite of being fruitful and multiplying), and creates injustice for earth’s inhabitants- which doesn’t demonstrate that one values life.

For those of us who desire to develop an ethic which is truly “in favor of life”, we must realize this all starts back at the beginning- at the command God gave us in the garden when life began and one of the primary purposes (caring for creation) was revealed. It means we must realize that the proper management of creation is directly linked to the life of her inhabitants.

Driving whole species to extinction because of over-harvesting, decimating entire ecosystems in the name of profit and human progress, and negligent (often deliberate) polluting, is not being faithful to the cultural mandate God charged us with. These behaviors which are destructive to the life of the planet, are inconsistent with a worldview which favors life.

We have no indication in scripture that this mandate has ever been listed, and in fact the Bible ends with a warning that judgement is coming to those who do not care for the environment (Rev. 11:18). It begins with a decree to manage creation, and ends with judgement for those who didn’t follow the mandate.

This should place caring for the environment, not just at the core of a pro-life ethic, but should place it at the core of Christian ethic.

2. Caring for the environment shows we actually value the life of others in the here-and-now.

It’s interesting that the command is to govern, or manage, creation- this goes far beyond simply picking up litter on the sidewalk. This means that we must properly manage creation by ensuring a just management and distribution of the earth’s resources.

The fact that the earth produces enough food to feed everyone, yet 852 million people live in hunger, should be unacceptable to us. With rich countries being overfed (as I wrote about here), and poor countries underfed, we see an appalling lack of distributive justice of these basic resources.

The same goes for clean water; drinking contaminated water is one of the leading causes of death in the world, is estimated to make up 80% of the total disease burden and millions of deaths simply because the water has been contaminated by sewage.

Meanwhile, in developed countries, we have no problem taking 20 minute showers and using on average 630 gallons of water to produce a single hamburger.

While issues of hunger and thirst are admittedly complex, if we are professing to be pro-life, we must also be passionate about addressing the issues of hunger and thirst which disproportionately affect poor countries. (If you want to get involved, please visit my friends at Thirst Relief International, where $5 can save a life by providing clean drinking water.)

3. Caring for the environment shows we actually value the life that will come in future.

Caring and proper management of the environment shows that we’re not simply thinking of ourselves, but also placing value in future generations. In a profit at all cost culture, we find ourselves willing to deplete or destroy the environment in ways that might not impact us directly, but will certainly impact future generations.

Ecosystems are intricately linked, and when one is damaged or destroyed it begins a chain reaction which can impact many, many others. And, while in many cases the environment is resilient and can recover, it may take multiple generations to do so- leaving those who come after us to deal with the harmful long-term impacts of our choices.

4. Caring for creation shows that like God, we love the whole of created life instead of just the human species.

When I exegete passages in the New Testament, I find that God is not only pro-life for humanity, but pro-life for all of creation.  Many of us who grew up in church achieved our first scripture memorization with John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.”

For some reason, I spent more than 20 years misunderstanding that verse. Every time I read “For God so loved the world” I thought in my mind, “For God so loved humanity“, which fails to express the fulness of the statement. One of the beauties of biblical Greek is that it is a very, very precise language often giving an author multiple options to express meaning and nuance. Had John 3:16 simply been referring to humanity, there would have been a very specific way to express that. Instead, however, we find the use of “κόσμον” which literally translates as “cosmos”. Cosmos, or universe, includes everything that God created- not just human beings.

For God so loved the entire universe…

For God so loved every single thing he created…

Further in the New Testament, we see Paul make a similar statement in 1 Col 1:20:

“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (emphasis mine)

When we put this together, we see that God not only loved everything in all of creation, but that everything in all of creation (not just human beings) is being reconciled to God.

If we want to be imitators of God and love the way God loves, we must love the whole of creation as God loves it and participate in the divine reconciliation of not just human beings, but the reconciliation of every last thing God created.

Caring for the environment must be part of any holistic pro-life ethic, because it demonstrates our acceptance of God’s commission for humanity, demonstrates we care about life in the here and now, demonstrates we care about the lives of future generations, and because it shows we are developing a heart like God: one that loves the fullness of creation.

 

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image by John Kasawa, freedigitalphotos.net

About Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey, is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is currently a 3rd year Doctor of Missiology student (a subset of practical theology) at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore. He is also a contributor for Time, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. Ben is also co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • http://www.whatsthemotivation.wordpress.com Don Coldwell

    “Poorly managing the environment results in creation going backwards (the opposite of being fruitful and multiplying), and creates injustice for earth’s inhabitants- which doesn’t demonstrate that one values life.”

    Creation is going backwards due to sin, not our management. Yes, it is our responsibility to be stewards of what God has created and we are to do that with the goal of glorifying God not simply to have more pandas.

    Yes, as a planet, we are not doing well at taking care of what we have. This is however becoming more difficult as time goes on. If I drive a Prius, I get the head nod and applause of some folks. Then, I turn around to see how China is raping the earth to make these batteries for the Prius…and I’m doing more harm than good.

    So which one glorifies God?

  • Russell Miller

    Considering many of the comments I’ve seen on various Facebook pages that reposted your original essay calling it many names, I congratulate you on successfully stirring the pot, and hope that you do more of it. There are some details I might or might not quibble with, but I don’t understand how anyone could see your list and not agree with its overarching message. I guess it takes all kinds.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com Benjamin L. Corey

    Don,

    I agree. However, I would argue that our mismanagement IS sin. To simply say it’s going backwards because of sin, and not name the sin, causes us to be lulled into the mindset that we can’t change it– which we can.

    This mismanagement can be changed- that’s what we’re called to as ministers of reconciliation. And, we should be encouraged knowing that things will get better and better and that not even the gates of hell will be able to thwart this mission.

  • http://www.whatsthemotivation.wordpress.com Don Coldwell

    I agree, our mismanagement is sin. It will not however “get better” until it is restored by God Himself.

    Our direct action/lack of action shows the true nature of our hearts but does not prove or disprove our Christian standing. This topic specifically is something that I have grown in. I have moved from a stance that it’s all going to burn anyway, to understanding my responsibility to be a steward.

    I guess a follow up questions would be, does this apply to our bodies as well? I can’t be pro-life if I don’t work out, eat raw non processed foods etc? If not, how is that different from how we are to care for the earth?

    How about GMOs? Can I be pro-life if I am for the genetic modification of God created life that the planet/other nations in general have not deemed safe to humans? I guess I just wonder where the list of 10 stops.

    Once again, thank you for putting a voice to this. God is not honored by ignorant faith.

  • charley

    Don,

    Well done for driving an echo friendly-ish car. How about going one step beyond that and walking/cycling/using public transport where possible? (I don’t know where you live so don’t know how feasible that is all the time but there have got to be times you can do it) I’m from London, England and it utterly baffles me as to how many drive around here! We have good, clean, safe, 24 hour public transport I can easily get from one side of London to the other in an hour or less and you’d be hard pressed to drive it faster in most cases.

    God did set us in stewardship over the earth and the thing about being a steward is that means you get a lot of extra work to do because everything that happens is in someway ultimately your responsibility. And if someday we manage to meet god who is he going to consider the best steward for his creation? The person who did the bare minimum to keep things ticking over or the person who did everything they could (and some people won’t be able to do as much as others and that doesn’t make them bad stewards) to improve the world around them?

    So don’t just drive your Prius. if your worried about the ecological conditions the batteries are made in look at alternatives, put pressure on the manufacturers to improve the impact making the batteries has on the environment. Do what you can to make the world better don’t just settle for the easiest most mindless thing you could do to say you having a positive impact.

  • http://www.whatsthemotivation.wordpress.com Don Coldwell

    Charley,

    I think you misunderstand me. I am just trying to raise questions for clarification. The title of the initial post was a statement and this post was in reference to the earlier one. The statement has been made that if you don’t care for the environment you can’t be pro-life.

    i am trying to bring up a point that a definitive statement like that should be defensible but it is pretty subjective in this case. Who gets to decide which one is “caring fro the environment?”

    I don’t actually drive a Prius, it was an example of having two opposing options that can both fit the title of this post. Your comment of : “And if someday we manage to meet god who is he going to consider the best steward for his creation? The person who did the bare minimum to keep things ticking over or the person who did everything they could (and some people won’t be able to do as much as others and that doesn’t make them bad stewards) to improve the world around them?” is exactly the point I am making.

    I don’t think we can attach this statement. I don’t think we can attach some of the other 10 on the list as well. It seems to be a weak connection.

  • Russell Miller

    I think it all comes down to intention rather than effectiveness of action. If you’re doing everything you’re capable of doing at the moment and believe that’s all that’s possible, then you’re doing enough. God is merciful even to those who don’t drive Priuses. :P

  • gimpi1

    As an outsider, I find the “let it burn” notion that Don has stepped away from to be very problematic. The phrase “damaging your witness” comes to mind. Good on you, Don, for growing past it.

    When I see someone who doesn’t accept basic science, who seems to regard most knowledge acquired in the 20th century as some sort of ‘liberal conspiracy,’ who doesn’t seem to care about the future, and who is arrogant enough to be so totally sure of their beliefs as to be willing to risk all life on the planet on them, it’s a turn-off to say the least. And I’m not alone, I assure you. If you really want to spread your Good News, you might want to take that into consideration.

    If you want me to listen to your views on God, it helps to seem informed, coherent, a bit humble and kind. Ben, you pull that off well. Congratulations.

  • James

    I understand your point, and that it doesn’t depend solely on this one verse, but the semantic range of “kosmos” actually does allow Jesus (or John) to use it strictly in reference to humanity. And that seems to fit the context of Jn.3:16 better.


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