Why: Active Creationism
by Nathan Brown
Making my unhurried way along the pedestrian mall in the afternoon sunshine—a newly purchased book under my arm—I was stopped by an environmental campaigner, seeking to sign me up to her organization’s campaign to “Save the Reef.” She fitted the image of a young environmental activist, complete with dreadlocks, piercings, an exotic accent and earnestness. I was interested in what she had to share, and we fell easily into an extended conversation.
Being from another part of the country and less familiar with the political issues in that state, I was interested in the details of their campaign. And as someone who has a long appreciation of the Great Barrier Reef as one of Australia’s world-renowned natural wonders but also simply as a vast region of natural beauty, I was ready to be sympathetic to her cause.
I expressed my strong support for her arguments. I have flown over the large coal ports that threaten the Queensland coastline and off-shore environment, and felt a chill on trying to count the massive freighters waiting their turn to take another load of coal to the dirty factories and power stations of the developing world. With increased maritime traffic, required dredging, coal dust pollution, and resultant changing climate, the wonder and beauty of the Greater Barrier Reef is at serious risk. But the woman made it difficult for me to act on what she was sharing. In her pitch, it was sign up to monthly donations—or not. I challenged her on this. What else could I do to support this important cause? Could I write to the state government? Could I tell the story or highlight the issue in some other way?
As she persisted, I changed tack, letting her know that I already support a number of worthy causes through regular donations and that, while I appreciated and encouraged what she was doing in raising awareness of these issues, I was not in a position to commit to a further monthly amount. She responded by questioning my priorities, and whether any of my other giving was more important than what she was urging. As we circled back to my repeated assurance that I supported her work, just not in a financial way, our conversational impasse was all the more frustrating for the agreement that we had on most of the significant issues we were discussing. Then I remembered something I had read about environmental activists, and thought I would test the theory.
As our conversation faltered amid the afternoon pedestrian traffic, I asked her directly, “Can I ask you why you are here on the street doing this? What is your motivation for working for this cause, this organization in this way?” She paused and her animation was stilled, no longer in the role or script of a street campaigner, but talking personally and seriously. “I am afraid,” she said. “I am afraid of what might happen to our world if we don’t treat it better; in my lifetime or in the lifetime of our children. We have already done so much damage to our planet. And I am afraid of what we are doing.” Quietly, I thanked her for her honesty and for her passion. Reflecting on her answer, my further response was that while we agreed on much related to the issues concerned, my motivation is hope. We parted amicably and I have reflected on that conversation a number of times since.
Yes, I believe taking action to conserve and protect our natural world is important. We should be using our voice, influence, choices, and actions to protect natural habitats, change our economies and practices in response to global warming, seek to prevent and reverse pollution, reduce waste, and so much more. But this is more motivated by theology than ecology.
From “God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good” (Gen. 1:31 ), to “Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water” (Rev. 14:7), and many places in between, the Bible is filled with God’s justifiable pride in the world He created, and His concern that we should honor Him by working with Him to care for it. Creationism is not so much about scientific argument as a call to celebrate and serve God’s good creation.
This commission and His promises of re-creation (see Rev. 21:5) give us hope to be His stewards of our world today, as agents of its Creator. As Christian environmentalist Peter Harris explained, “It’s not a Christian attempt to ‘save the planet.’ It’s a response to who God is.” This might well find us working alongside people with different motivations and worldviews. But when we follow the One who “is supreme over all creation” and “holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15, 17), our environmental activism and personal acts of creation stewardship are ways of enacting and sharing the hope we have.
Andy Crouch, “The Joyful Environmentalists,” Christianity Today, June, 2011, www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/joyfulenvironment.html. In this interview, Peter Harris references research indicating that environmental activists tend to be people with anxious personalities.
Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation.
“The Joyful Environmentalist.”