NEW ORLEANS (BP)–A sound Christian perspective for protecting the planet can be found in the pages of the Bible and, in part, in the pink blossoms of a plant on the island of Madagascar, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land told students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, spelled out the biblical basis for a theology of the environment evident throughout the Bible — from the Creation account through the New Testament. It is a theology of God’s divine ownership and man’s stewardship and responsibility for the planet, grounded in the Judeo-Christian ethic, Land said.
Land, in a lecture sponsored by the seminary’s Student Theological Fellowship on Aug. 28, spoke in conjunction with the “Introduction to Christian Ethics” course he is teaching at NOBTS this semester available to students on the main campus and in NOBTS extension centers via Compressed Interactive Video (CIV).
“In part, [secularists] have misunderstood Christian theology concerning the creation and the environment because too many Christians, in too many places, in too many ways, have misunderstood and misapplied the biblical teachings on the subject,” Land said.
“The creation belongs to God,” he said. “As stewards of His property, human beings are responsible to Him for developing and protecting His creation.”
Also, Land said, God clearly establishes man’s pre-eminence in the created order but also demands that all life be respected. In short order, Land laid out some practical application of a Christian environmental ethos.
“We have the right to use plants and animals for public good,” Land said. “We have the right to domesticate and raise cattle for human sustenance. We do not have the right to act in a cruel or cavalier manner toward any living thing.”
Land added: “We have the right to use, as painlessly as possible, animals in research to better human health. We do not have the right to abuse animals and cause them discomfort merely to develop cosmetics.”
Christ’s parable of the talents and other biblical passages offer the basis for conservation from a Christian perspective, Land said.
“These biblical passages further reveal that as stewards of God’s property we are responsible to develop, but not to desecrate or dissipate, God’s creation,” he said.
“We are required … to develop God’s creation and bring forth its fruit and increase for human benefit,” Land said. “The Lord’s Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) underscores the Genesis admonition to ‘dress’ the garden. There, the servant who buried his talent was severely castigated for his poor stewardship and lack of productivity with the resources entrusted to his care.”
It is also incumbent upon Christians to seek to preserve at least some of everything in creation, Land said.
“If we believe that God the Creator designed everything for a purpose, then it is for the Christian as an act of faith, stewardship and worship to seek the perpetuation and viability of at least some of everything in the created order until we can discern and discover what purpose God has for every living creature and plant.”
As an example, Land cited the rosy periwinkle, an endangered pink flower that blooms on Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island, located off the eastern coast of Africa.
Two drugs created from the rosy periwinkle have helped increase the survival rate for childhood leukemia from 10 to 95 percent as well as aiding in the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease, according to the Trust for Sustainable Living.
“This enormous benefit would have been lost if this endangered plant had been eradicated before its anti-cancer potential had been discovered,” Land said.
For secular environmentalists, Land offered some good news, and some bad news.
“The good news is that we repent of past insensitivity and neglect,” Land said. However, the “bad news” for secular environmentalists is that Christians approach the issue from a different perspective — one that affirms a distinctly Christian doctrine of creation. This different perspective or worldview will lead Christians to different conclusions and actions than those of secular environmentalists, Land said.
In comments after the lecture, Land responded to those in the environmental movement who place humanity on an equal or lower footing than animals. He pointed to a recent award given by the University of Texas to an environmentalist who argues that the world would be better off if 80 percent of the population — many of them poor — died.
“We believe that our slice of this pie is to stand up for responsible stewardship, but also to speak up for those poor people,” Land said. “We’re going to ask the question every time: ‘What is the human cost?'”
While the Obama administration has placed an emphasis on so-called “green” jobs, Land contends that one nation — Spain — has tried a similar initiative, leading to a current unemployment rate of approximately 15 percent.
The ERLC has argued for nuclear power plants as a means to meet the nation’s energy needs. In the Obama administration’s current energy bill, significantly more attention is devoted to light bulbs than to nuclear energy, Land said, contending that those who are truly serious about a responsible approach to the environment need to support nuclear power.
As with all other critical issues, the environmental ethic of individuals hinges on worldview, Land said. “What we think about who we are as human beings, and what our relationship is to the Creator and His creation, will ultimately determine how we deal with environmental issues.”
Much of Land’s lecture reflected a speech he delivered to the “God is Great, God is Green Conference” sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy in 2007. Land also is a frequent contributor to the Cornwall Alliance (www.cornwallalliance.org). According to the organization’s website, “The Cornwall Alliance is a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, and policy experts committed to bringing a balanced Biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” The Cornwall Alliance promotes discussion of a wide range of public policy issues including population, poverty, food, energy and endangered species.
The Southern Baptist Convention has not been silent on environmental issues. Since 1970, the SBC has passed seven resolutions that affirm the responsibility of Christians to be good stewards of the environment. Messengers at the 2007 annual meeting adopted a resolution urging caution on global warming, given conflicting scientific evidence. The resolution also supported policies that guarantee “an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economics, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce” carbon and other emissions.
Paul F. South is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.