Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Would Jesus vote green?

I have been invited to give an evangelistic talk with this title at a restaurant next week. I have a few ideas about how I might approach it, but I'd love to hear any ideas that pop into people's heads. What angle(s) might I take? What might be the main point? How is it good news? I'm interpreting the title to be broadly raising the issue of Christianity and the environment, rather than being specifically about voting. In other words, I will be speaking about small 'g' green issues, rather than the Greens. I'll be working on the talk over the next few days. All suggestions welcome.

Here are the links to all the posts:
I. Introduction
II. What has Jerusalem to do with Athens the Amazon?
III. Five common emotional responses
IV. Scepticism
V. Scepticism (cont.)
VI. Sorrow
VII. Anger
VIII. Guilt
IX. Guilt (cont.)
X. Guilt (cont.)
XI. Fear
XII Fear (cont.)
XIII. Conclusion

UPDATE: Scotland goes to the polls soon. For an interesting Christian take on voting Green (not just green), see here.

UPDATE #2: I have now given the talk and will be posting the text as a series. The first post is here.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.


Anthony Douglas said...

The rogue element in me would want to ambush them, and argue that rather than delegating environmental responsibility to some politician, he'd be green himself first...

I know I've expressed similar cheekiness elsewhere, but thought it might be a good hook to move the audience from smugness ("I vote green already, I'm alright") to challenged ("Maybe this is about more than just externals"). An idea anyway. Even if I don't make you think (sob)!

byron smith said...

Yes, good idea, though I wasn't going to focus on the political/personal issue by taking the langugage of voting directly.

How widespread in popular (Sydney?) culture is the view that 'Christian beliefs about dominating the world are responsible for environmental disaster'?

Am I speaking more to the environmental sceptic or the greenie? Or should I aim at both?

Rachel said...

John Seed ( the first one to introduce me to the view of chrsitians and growth led missionary style development being the reason why we have current environmental disasters in his lectures on deep ecology and ecocentrism.

I'm not sure how widespread this view is.

have you checked out...

byron smith said...

Thanks Rachel, I'll chase those sites up now.

Looney said...

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money used to clean up the environment."

The reaction of Jesus would probably be surprising. Keep in mind that he truly knows peoples hearts, motives as well as all of the subtle consequences.

byron smith said...

The reaction of Jesus would probably be surprising.
Yes - to both sides. Do you think I should address both, or focus on one?

Meredith said...

Hey Byron,

is that fig the one in the graveyard at St Stephens Newtown? What a good looking tree...

And also, you might be interested in Lynn White's famous article (from the late 1960s) on 'the historical origins of our ecologial crisis' (or something like that. Historians generally consider it the article that started the whole debate about the historical relationship between western protestantism and environmental destruction. Its big-picture stuff, and has been challenged and qualified by many historians since, but its pretty interesting to read.

I also have a book called 'Captialism, Protestantism and Nature in America', which argues that environmentalism has also been informed by christianity. Haven't read it yet, but you can borrow it if you like.

byron smith said...

Meredith - Well done; I was going to offer points for the tree, but thought it would be too hard. I'll give you fifteen points for getting it right anyway!

Thanks for the tips - though since I need the talk written by Monday night, not sure I'll have time to incorporate all that information - I was also thinking that I wouldn't focus on the historical debate, which I feel is of interest to a fairly small minority (important though that debate is). Thus, while I'd love to think about those issues more, I don't think I'll be majoring on them in the talk.

Drew said...

I think you should aim at both crowds.

It's too easily a superficial issue (I'm hip, I'm green, I drive a green limosouine), OR inflated to too big an issue, (Do penance for your environmental sins, scum!).

Haha! Love Looney's comment.

byron smith said...

Drew - why is the latter response too big? Wouldn't a little more penance (confession and repentance, including changes in behaviour) be quite healthy?

Christopher said...

You could throw into the mix Jesus' "attack" on the plant kingdom (cursing the fig tree) and his "attack" on the animal kingdom (drowning pigs), but that could get confusing.

I think there is a general perception that Christianity with Capitalism are responsible for our present environmental situation. Some of the criticism is deserved.

Sam Charles Norton said...

To my mind one of the under-rated elements in Scripture that is relevant to this whole debate is the way in which environmental catastrophe is seen as the consequence of social injustice. Hosea 4 is my favourite text explaining this, but there are plenty of others. Which is why the creation groans with eager longing for the revealing of the children - ie righteousness will be received in the natural world as well. All creation will be blessed.

I go into this more in my talk on the Green Bible, but you've probably absorbed this stuff already knowing you....

anton said...

My feeling is that your audience is probably largely indifferent. Indifference has got to be the great sin of our materialistic, consumerist, middle class western lifestyles (thanks kierkegaard). So half the battle is would Jesus have voted at all, because we are all too ready to read our indifference back onto him.

But maybe that is my middle class, materialistic, consumerist and self centred upbringing being read back onto your audience.

Mister Tim said...

I think that the view that the Christian world-view was responsible for environmental mismanagement was academically popular - and probably still is. I don't think it is a populist view, but it is out there and some of your audience will likely know and hold to that view.

In general society, however, I think that capatlism/business is currently held more responsible for environmental mismanagement (e.g. we can't set greenhouse reduction targets as they will harm industry and cost jobs). Of course, nuclear testing (i.e. military reasons) are also a popular target. I think that now a lot of people realise that human selfishness or thoughtlessness (universal human sin?) also plays a part, e.g. over-use of plastic shopping bags, frivolous use of water, etc.

byron smith said...

Chris - hmmm... Though point taken about Christianity and capitalism (a mixed blessing/curse, like all Christian heresies).

Rev Sam - thanks for the reference and I'll be sure to check out your work.

Antman - do you think the indifferent would come to a talk on 'Would Jesus vote green?' or is it more likely to be the already converted?

Tim - yeah, I have similar hunches.

Thanks everyone for this feedback; it is all helpful.

byron smith said...

Thanks Rev Sam - I've had a look at your presentation now. I might steal a couple of ideas.

Anonymous said...

Please be sure to blog your remarks when done.

Looney said...

Byron, there are more than two sides. I live in the most environmentally conscious corner of America. We are also notorious for being the most "unaffordable" corner of America. That means multiple families living in a tiny, million dollar house and/or people driving 200+ miles per day to commute into the environmentally friendly Silicon Valley for work.

Rev. Sam suggested that social justice and environmentally friendly should be positively linked, but here in California they are invariably mutually exclusive.

byron smith said...

Looney - Yes, you're right. I'm simplifying. I was just thinking of one scale (amongst many), namely, the extent to which someone has come to see 'the environment' as a problem. There are many other variables.

My impression is that Jesus might tell us the problem is bigger than we think, and that the solution is quite radically beyond us, and yet we have more obligation/opportunity to care for our neighbour than we realise.

Drew said...

I meant it becomes too big because we make the environment into a god who must be appeased: We, once again, worship the creation.

byron smith said...

Yes, that would indeed be making it too big - or rather, perhaps not big enough. For to make of the environment a (false) god ends up giving it less honour, not more, because it perverts the honour that is offered to it into a negative.

Joanna said...

Firstly - a very belated comment to say how glad I was to hear the good news about your health. Your readers in Melbourne were praying and we do praise God for answering these prayers.
Secondly - more pertinent to this question - you might like to look at an article written by a mate of mine, on the current trendiness of environmental concern:

This article was published on both Online Opinion and Eureka Street and in both places it prompted a furious response the like of which astounded me! Most people in fact entirely misread the article! But as a fairly incisive critique of both 'faddish' environmentalism and capitalist selfishness I think it is deeply challenging. A close reading pays off!

byron smith said...

JoBloggs - thanks and thanks. Oh boy, did no one acually read the article? It was incredible how so many of the commentators seemed to think they knew what he would say once they worked out he was Christian. I don't buy the Kantian morality, but I appreciated the critique of a faddish embrace of environmentalism, which doesn't necessarily help at more than a surface level. The trick is moving beyond the fad.

Dave Barrie said...

Byron, below is a blurb I wrote a couple of days ago for the front of our church newsheet. Most of the ideas are taken from Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen's excelent book The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story

God’s Unfinished Project
In the opening chapter of Genesis we are told seven times that God looked at what he had made and saw that it was good. To say that it was good, however, is not the same as saying that it was finished. In fact one of the good things about God’s creation is the potential for development which he has built into it.

This potential is seen most clearly in God’s command to the man and woman, who have been made in God’s image, to “fill the Earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). As God’s image bearers they were to act as his vice regents on Earth, ruling over and developing the hidden potential in his handy work. From the beginning, God’s plan for humanity was that we should continue his unfinished project of creation, extending the blessings of Eden to every corner of the Earth.

Of course, not all development is in the right direction. The influence of sin throughout history, has often led us to shape our world and ourselves in ways that spoil rather than enhance the goodness of creation. Yet, despite the presence of sin, the mandate given to humanity in Genesis remains. Regardless of whether our work is in agriculture, engineering, politics, art, commerce, church or the home, we are all charged with developing the potential in God’s good creation, such that, our work reflects and enhances God's work. When this occurs, God’s image is most clearly seen in us.

Joanna said...

Glad you found it helpful, Byron - yes, I'm not so keen on Kant myself. But the response astounded me! If Scott had identified himself as a member of the Greens rather than a theologian (both of which he is!) I think people would have read the article entirely differently.

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron (and all),
nice talk heading!

I'm not sure how I'd handle the approach given it's an evangelistic talk, but hey... you could drop a peak oil reference in there along the lines of...

"...not only that, but because of human greed we are running out of oil as well — as the ABC's "Crude" will demonstrate at 8:30 the 24th May..."

Just complete the talk with a little subliminal advertising from the "mood movie projection" overhead, and you'll kill 2 birds with one stone. (Not the right analogy when talking green, but hey... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Saying as Byron touched on the subject of the Scottish Election, I thought I would give a brief update.

Interesting situation - apparently 100,000 votes were 'spoilt' beasue of a new voting system of single transferable vote (STV), and having to vote for 3 different people at the same time (1 firstpast the post, 1 proportioanl representtaion (both Scottish Parilament), and 1 STV(Local Council)). Also, a coputerised reader and counter didn't work! (read )

On top of that the Scottish National Party have made significant inroads - increasing the chances of Scotland being independent?! Hmmm...

Finally, onthe subject of Greens - there has only been one re-elected by the PR for the regional votes. However there are still 4 regions to come in (unilkey to get a Green from first past the post.)

Byron, also you might not get a chance to check this out before your talk, but would well recommend James Lovelock's Revenge of Gaia. Very interesting book - not from a hugely christian perspective - he sees the world as a self regulating system which we are messing with, but easily could be considered to be a God controlled system! He is a 'Green' but has been ostrisised for his powerful, strong and convincing arguments about nuclear power etc. Well worth a read.


PS- having just checked again since I wrote this Labour are now 5 seats ahead of SNP with 32 seats still up for grabs.

byron smith said...

Dave B - thanks and a nice blurb.

JoBloggs - yes, it would have been very interesting to see if that made a difference.

Dave L - of course I won't leave out Peak Oil!

Doug - thanks for the updates, I was listening to some of the results on the radio tonight.