Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ethics, Ecology, and Evangelicalism

In today's world ethics has been redefined from traditional morals about how you and I treat one another as human beings to how we treat the planet we live on. Everything is about going "green". My Boy Scout Council has set a goal to become a "green" council. We have a supplier that produces cups, plates, utensils, and trash bags out of biodegradable corn starch. They're really amazing, too, unless you have a corn intolerance. I'm not sure if enough of the corn would leach into food to become an issue, but I'm not willing to try it on my daughter who is very corn intolerant. But I love using the stuff myself. I also play guitar. And guitars are made of, well, wood, for the most part. And they're not just made of any old wood. Special woods are used, some from exotic places like Africa, India, or South America and Indonesia. My acoustic guitars are made by Walden (, and I love them. They are well made and affordable. Well, Walden has just announced a new "green" guitar in the name of ecological ethics--the Madera line. It's a beautiful instrument made of excellent woods from a variety of places. What's unique is not the wood itself but the suppliers. Apparently the suppliers for these woods are certified as participating in efforts to sustain the forests, presumably by replanting trees for the ones they harvest for guitar production. It's a great idea, and I applaud Walden for being involved in this. It will ensure that guitar players for generations to come will be able to buy and enjoy fine instruments crafted from the best woods.

Having said all of that, the question comes to mind, is ecology an ethical issue? If it is, how should believers respond to ecological issues?

First, I do believe that ecological issues are ethical issues. How we treat  the planet says something about how seriously we take our God-given stewardship of it (see Gen 1: 26--28). Secondly, believers should not respond to ecological issues in the same way as many others are responding. Much of the talk of ecological ethics today is rooted in the worship of "mother earth". Everything from questions about global warming (and there are a lot more questions now than answers in the wake of "Climategate") to whether I should burn charcoal in my grill to cook my deer steaks seems to be eco-ethical question these days (including whether I should have shot bambi to begin with).

How we treat the planet impacts how we treat each other. We do want to keep our planet in a healthy condition, because this is the only home we have until Christ returns. As believers you and I should demonstrate good and responsible uses of the natural resources we have. Every renewable resource should be maintained. If we drop a tree to make a guitar, another should be planted to replace it (foresters have a formula for how many trees should be planted--glad I don't have to keep up with that). We shouldn't pour paint thinner and other contaminants down storm drains or onto soil to contaminate ground water supplies. In short, we shouldn't just trash our planet. On the other hand, we shouldn't make everything here so "sacred" that we can't hunt or fish or harvest trees. We shouldn't worship the ground we walk on. God created all of this, and he will sustain it to the fulfillment of his purpose for human history, which will culminate in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. God is the one we should fear and worship. We should care for the earth because he has commanded it. Our exercise of ecological ethics should be an extension of our worship of God and appreciation of all the good things he has made. So take a stand for a Christian perspective on ecological issues and don't get caught up in the frenzy of an unbelieving world that makes ecology into a kind of religion in its own right.

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