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.