Last week I finished reviewing the coverage of environmental issues in Christianity Today over the past forty years (for an article described in this post), and in Sunday school heard a discussion of Christ’s warning at the end of the Lord’s Prayer that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14) Forgiveness and evangelicals’ stance toward environmentalism don’t seem to have a great deal in common. I wonder if perhaps they should.
In the late 1960s, at the advent of the environmental movement, a famous article by Lynn White in Science magazine blamed Christianity for the perceived environmental crisis, claiming that the Christian doctrine of man’s dominion over nature was responsible for spoliation of the earth. Other environmentalists picked up the theme, some calling for a new pantheism. Judging from Christianity Today’s coverage, many evangelicals seem to have been sympathetic to environmentalism in those early years, but in the 1970s and 1980s the perception that environmentalism was anti-Christian contributed to the growing hostility to environmentalism.
Christ’s statement that those who forgive others will be forgiven has individuals in mind, of course, but I think he is also talking about the church, and its need to forgive corporately. (The “you” in the passage is plural in the Greek). I don’t mean to suggest that if we truly forgave the potshots at Christianity evangelicals would all become environmentalists. (Nor do I mean to suggest that evangelicals have only been sinned against, rather than sinning). Many might still conclude that, say, the costs of addressing climate change are too great and the prospects of success too small to justify major governmental initiatives. And some might question the value of taking steps in our own lives to reduce energy consumption or waste.
But I think that a conscious effort to forgive the baggage of the past might change the debate, at least a little. And given the insistence on the need to forgive (which I’d never noticed before is Christ’s single emphasis at the end of the prayer), surely it can’t hurt to look for opportunities to put forgiveness in action, both in the church and in the world.