Resisting the Poison Green Dragon?

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Some Christians in San Diego recently hosted a conference to protest what they see as pernicious environmentalist trends (conspiracies, even) to undermine the Christian faith and the general welfare of American society. The language and images employed throughout were strident, confrontational, and designed to alarm. The conference featured a keynote public lecture entitled “Resisting the Green Dragon: One-ist Environmentalism and its Noxious Influence on the Church.” We are dismayed that any Christians would take such a message seriously, and we’ll tell you why.

 

This blog is co-authored by Glen Scorgie and John Mustol.

 

On January 5, 2011, Dr. James Wanliss, professor of physics at Presbyterian College, Clinton, South Carolina, gave a lecture up the road from here in Escondido, California entitled “Resisting the Green Dragon.” His presentation appears to have been part of an ongoing media campaign by the same title, sponsored by the TruthXchange and the Cornwall Alliance. Its central claim is that we Christians should oppose and “resist” the “Green Dragon” (meaning “environmentalism” as they represent it). In their view, such environmentalism presents a serious threat to the Christian church, and must be resisted in its totality. (See video ad at http://www.resistingthegreendragon.com/.)

It is good that we Christians are waking up to the array of ecological problems that our world faces. For too long we have ignored these issues, viewing God’s creation as little more than a storehouse of resources for our use and a receptacle for our waste. As in many other areas of public concern, Christians have uncritically accepted the values our culture has handed to us: self-absorbed individualism, the pursuit of limitless wealth, greed, and unlimited consumption that are causing serious damage to God’s earth and his creatures. As Christians, who believe the earth and its creatures are created and owned by the God we love and to whom we are accountable, and as followers of Jesus who set an example of voluntary self-restraint for the sake of others, we ought to be leading the world in advocacy, ecological responsibility, material restraint, sustainable living, and respect for creation. The God of the Bible is green; unfortunately, most of his American followers are not.

Dr. Wanliss did not explain the term “one-ist” in his talk, but the truthXchange website says it is a kind of cosmic monism that sees all of nature as an undifferentiated unity, even a kind of pantheistic deity. Obviously such a worldview is, from a scriptural perspective, incorrect and heretical. That much is obvious. And without doubt there have been strains of monism and pantheism present within the environmental movement. But they represent only a minority of views. The environmental movement is broad, diverse, and complex. To characterize it as monistic (“one-ist”) in its entirety is inaccurate. Many of those whose consciences have been convicted by our abuse of the earth are open to “one-ism” and pantheism simply because we Christians have failed to offer any viable alternative religious or ethical framework for responsible ecological living. If Christians weren’t such a big part of the problem, this alien worldview might not be gaining ground among people who are genuinely concerned about the earth and its creatures.

But Dr. Wanliss and his fellows in the “Green Dragon” movement, have constructed a false picture of the environmental movement, and in so doing are encouraging us Christians to persist in our failure to bring our marvelous theological and ethical resources to bear on the ecological problems of the world. It is time for Christians to start caring for God’s world even if it requires some sacrifice to set an example.

 The intellectual leader of the “Green Dragon” campaign as well as of the Cornwall Alliance is Reformed theologian E. Calvin Beisner, who, through his advocacy of conservative values and liberal economics, has ingratiated himself with neo-conservatives, both Christian and secular – people who are inveterate opponents of ecological care. Influenced by secular-humanists such as Julian Simon, Beisner has spun the noble theological heritage of his namesake John Calvin into a theology that supports a kind of fatalism that says that we need not concern ourselves about the care of the earth, its creatures, and its ecosystems because God, and the “invisible hand” of liberal economics, will take care of everything, including us. Actually, Beisner’s ideas are not all bad, but his support of this “Green Dragon” campaign suggests a descent into a belief that environmentalism represents a conspiracy that is virtually entirely bad – a descent into a simplistic belief that any concern for the ecology of the planet is wrong and represents a threat to the church that should be rejected and resisted. Not only is this not true, it has the effect of perpetuating Christian ignorance and resistance to ecological consciousness and care.

Among the many misleading ideas presented in his lecture was the suggestion that ecological concern is in direct conflict with our duty to care for the poor of the world (Mark. 12:31). He claimed that environmentalists promote policies that are harmful to the poor. This is not true. Virtually all environmentalists express concern for the poor, and Christian environmentalists are especially mindful of this. Numerous environmental leaders have said that a major reason we must do something to fight global climate change is because the poor of the world may suffer its ill effects disproportionately. Moreover, a more accurate understanding of ecology shows that our survival depends on the integrity and health of the ecosphere in which we live. In principle, there is no “opposition” between ecological care and neighbor love; they are one and the same.

The best hope for the future of the Christian faith is a well-informed, sensible and discerning laity who will not be deceived by such propaganda. Sadly, by focusing their energies on “resisting the green dragon” Dr. Wanliss, Dr. Beisner, and their colleagues may be guilty of straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matt. 23:24).

We must not make the error of oversimplification as Dr. Wanliss has. He and others who are behind the “Green Dragon” movement are not all wrong. These issues are complex, and some of their ideas contribute to the discussion. There is much more that should be said, but we will have to leave it there. We welcome commentary.

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3 Responses to Resisting the Poison Green Dragon?

  1. John Mustol March 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    My thanks to Dave Harvey for his response. Your criticism regarding neo-conservatives is well taken. You are correct that our statement was too categorical. A more accurate expression would have been ” neo-conservatives . . . who tend to be opponents of ecological care.” Thanks for pointing this out.

    Regarding the views of scientist on anthropogenic climate change (ACC), a Stanford Univ. study found that “97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” William R. L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider, “Expert Credibility on Climate Change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 107, no. 27 (July 6, 2010): 12107-9, available at http://www.pnas.org . A study done by researchers at the Univ. of Illinois found that as scientists become more specialized in climate science, their agreement with the following two statements increases: (1) mean global temperatures are rising and (2) human activity is a significant contributer to changing these temperatures. Moreover, among climatologists and “active publishers in all topics of climate,” about 89% affirmed the two statements. Peter T. Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” January 20, 2009, American Geophysical Union, http://www.agu.org/journals/ABS/2009/2009EO030002.shtml , accessed 3/19/11. There are other studies that show similar results.

    Experts are cited by both sides on this issue. According to the above studies, those experts who are skeptical about climate change are in the minority. Truth, of course, is not necessarily found in the ballot box, but for laypeople like us, the scientific consensus that appears to exist ought to carry some weight. May I suggest a book by another expert: Sir John Houghton, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Houghton holds a Ph.D. in atmospheric physics from Oxford and has previously been co-chair of the IPCC; chair of Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution; director, UK Meteorological Office; professor of atmospheric physics, Oxford University; and many other things. Houghton is a committed evangelical Christian. It seems to me that we Christians ought to listen to Houghton, a brother in Christ who knows about this problem.

  2. Hedonese February 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Let’s hope that a biblical effort on creation care is not hijacked as a result of such misleading posturings… A Rocha is a ministry doing great practical works on this area.

    It’s tragic if evangelical Christians can detect pantheism a mile away but equally dangerous “self-absorbed individualism, the pursuit of limitless wealth, greed, and unlimited consumption that are causing serious damage to God’s earth and his creatures” go unnoticed…

  3. Dave Harvey February 23, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    I agree with your statement that Beisner has incorrectly painted with broad brushstrokes in depicting the environmentalist movement as universally monistic. It is, as you stated, broad, diverse and complex. In the same vein, I would challenge you to revise your own statement regarding neo-conservatives, which unfairly castigates them as “people who are inveterate opponents of ecological care.” This is simply not the case.

    A good chunk of my problem with the environmentalist movement stems from their inaccurate depiction of global climate change. This issue, spearheaded by Al Gore, has been repeatedly debunked by numerous well-known scientists, most notably Harold Lewis, the Emeritus Professor of Physics and former department chairman at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He recently came to prominence for his resignation from the American Physical Society (after 67 years of membership!) over this matter, and published a letter stating his reasons why. Sadly, it seems that this one issue has been taken up by many others and used to advance wrong agendas – all the while clamoring for funds to further their goals.

    However, I think that the Green Dragon “movement” is off-base for precisely the reasons you identify. It’s relatively easy to stand outside and snipe at those with whom you disagree. It’s another thing entirely to inject yourself into the situation and come up with alternative solutions. This is a worthwhile discussion, and I would like to see what solutions are offered up by the Christian community; separating ourselves from the issue is not a responsible choice.