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

Why caring for the environment should have made the 10 “pro-life” ethics list June 24, 2013


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.



image by John Kasawa, freedigitalphotos.net

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