Monday, March 05, 2007

the greatest moral crisis of our age

Here is an article from Matthew...see this NY Times piece for the background.

Caring for Creation: The Greatest Moral Crisis of Our Age
J. Matthew Sleeth, MD

Jim Dobson is at it again. He and several conservative Christian groups sent a letter urging the National Association of Evangelicals to force its policy director in Washington to stop speaking out on global warming.

It’s time to stop this nonsense. As a physician, environmentalist, and evangelical Christian, I can state without reservation that global warming is real and that it is harming the least among us—our less fortunate global neighbors—disproportionately.

The Bible repeatedly commands us to demonstrate our love for the Creator by caring for His creation. We are further told to love our neighbor, particularly the least among us who are hurt most by our profligate use of resources, by stewarding God’s blessings wisely.

Until six years ago, I was director of an emergency room and chief of the medical staff of a beautiful hospital in New England. I had all the trappings of the American Dream—a big house in a postcard-perfect seaside village, two luxury cars, and lots of stuff. Then in one week’s time I admitted three women in their thirties with breast cancer, all to die. I decided that it was time to “stop running for the cure,” and to start looking for the cause.

A few months later, while on vacation, my wife asked me what I thought was the biggest problem facing the world today. I answered, “The earth is dying.” Then why we aren’t we doing something about it, she countered.

I thought I was. We had raised our children in cloth diapers, recycled religiously, and never driven anything more powerful than a four-cylinder car. But the Bible calls me to take the plank out of my own eye before I worry about the speck in my neighbor’s. So my family took an accounting and found that our energy usage was exactly average for America—which is unethically hoggish in global terms. Yes, compared to other physicians, my family was using less, but the Bible tells us to measure our lives against the example set by Jesus. When held against His humble life of service—Jesus never owned a home, had more than one cloak, or rode except on a borrowed colt, once—my consumerist lifestyle was indefensible.

Over the next year, my family embarked on a spiritual and environmental journey that resulted in us cutting back our electricity usage to one-tenth the national average and our fossil fuel use to one-third. We gave away half our possessions and moved into a house with the same footprint of our old garage. (Don’t feel too sorry for me; we had a big garage.) Along the way, my wife, two teenaged children, and I all were born again in a new and better life with God. I quit my job and began speaking, preaching, and writing full time about faith and the environment. Recently, my wife Nancy—who teaches at an evangelical Christian college—was talking to a young woman studying environmental science. Their family has owned the same 1400 acres in the Bible belt for a dozen generations, and they have always supported conservative politics. The young woman was being chided by her sister for investing so much of her energies in creation care. Like Dobson, her sister argued that other issues, like abortion and homosexuality, are more important. The college student replied that there will be no planet for any babies to be born on, or for any of these moral issues to be played out, if we do not start using our resources more wisely.

What this young woman was saying, and what many Christians are beginning to believe, is that caring for creation is the biggest moral crisis of our day. Like the slavery crisis of two centuries ago, we are importing cheap energy to support a lush lifestyle at the expense of our global neighbors, particularly those with fewer resources. And like the abolitionist movement, and the civil rights movement, we will need moral leadership from our faith communities if we have any hope of making significant change.

In January I was fortunate to speak at Wheaton College along with Sir John Houghton, the world’s preeminent climatologist, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and an evangelical Christian. He stated that China, India, and the emerging world are waiting to see what the United States will do about global warming. If we, with all our resources and wealth, are not willing to make some sacrifices, why should they? And Congress is waiting to see if the church will take on this issue. If their constituency, which is 85 percent Christian, doesn't care, why should they? And so, Sir John argues, the fate of the earth comes down to the evangelical Christian community in America. If we take on this issue, we will see a world-changing ripple effect. If not, there is little hope, especially for those inhabiting emerging nations.

Will humans survive global warming? The simple answer: Yes, but only those who can afford to. Rich countries will spend trillions of dollars adapting to the inevitable changes. People in poor countries will starve or migrate.

So what is the ethical response to global warming? As Christians, we—including Jim Dobson—should start by acknowledging our complicity. The vast majority of our resource consumption does nothing to glorify God. In fact, it does just the opposite.

As in any moral dilemma, evangelical Christians look to the Bible for wisdom. We are commanded to be the hands and feet of our Lord. In Christ’s most known sermon, given on a mountain, He tells us that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” We must set an example by the way we live our lives and steward limited resources. Are Americans of faith ready to put aside their squabbles and begin working together to solve the greatest moral issue of our day? Nothing less than the fate of God’s creation depends on our answer.

Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth is author of Serve God, Save the Planet, A Christian Call to Action, which is being released in softcover by Zondervan Publishing this month. For more information, see


dwain said...

This is astonishing.

billy said...

Matt joined us on our guys retreat a couple of weeks ago and it was really wonderful to have him. He nad Nancy bring such a fresh and imaginative voice to interpreting the scriptures in the light of our current struggle to find a more sane and sustainable rhythm of life on the earth. It has been a real honor and privilege to get to know them and watch their work unfold. Thanks for taking the time to post this article is certainly good news.....