By Rusty Pritchard
I suppose I knew it would happen. I had a pretty good talk prepared to open the Flourish conference. Then I saw who was there, and I rewrote it on the spot. Well, re-scribbled it, anyway. I think I kept most of the jokes. But I added a confession, and not an easy one.
As I looked around the room, I was awed at the attendance. Not at the numbers…we had about a quarter of what we’d hoped for a year ago. A first-time conference and a major recession combined to make sure we didn’t have an overpopulation problem.
No, I was awed at who was in the room. There were Southern Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, dispensationalists, reformed folks, hymn-singers and Christian rockers, young and old, Yankees and southerners and westerners. There were people who cared about creation for many different motives—because they had a God-given love for nature, or because they cared about the “least of these” who depend so directly on natural resources, or because they saw it as part of the ministry of “restoring all things.” But for me, the most significant combination was from across the political spectrum. People who in the past tended to see each other as opponents because they hold different positions on global warming were all in the same place, talking about something other than climate change.
That was an answer to prayer. And it made me want to confess.
What did I confess? I confessed that I had fallen into the trap of thinking about environmental issues primarily through the lens of politics. I confessed that I had felt justified in judging others because I felt judged (someone once said that my previous work on climate change policy was a “Satanic distraction from evangelism”). I confessed that I had started to measure a person’s moral worth by their willingness to see environmental policy issues that same way I see them. And I confessed that I had all-too-readily and recklessly adopted a “prophetic” tone on politics without first trying to be a reconciler.
The over-politicization of the church in the last 40 years has not given us a common culture of reconciliation. There are the twin dangers of (1) seeing everything as politics and then (2) walking into a conversation on the environment which we as the church have largely ignored. No wonder we have tended to take our talking points from the world around us, and to let our attitudes be shaped more by mainstream environmentalism (and anti-environmentalism), by Fox News or MSNBC, by Sean Hannity or Al Gore, rather than by Scripture and by our experience of caring for those around us.
The care of creation is important. Politics are important too. But we need a stronger center of gravity; we need to find again our firm, secure anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19). We must conduct ourselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” so that we “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27, NIV).
Unity requires patience, and it requires time spent together. The political systems of our day want people to find their immediate primary allegiance in structures of power and ideology, played out in arenas of government and policy. But I think we need to conduct our conversations about creation care primarily in the context of local ministry, in the midst of teaching ourselves to love God and love our neighbors. Conversations on the blogosphere and the web are secondary to forming strong relationships with the handful of others who can help us actually do something to care for creation. That’s why we chose “reviving lives and landscapes” as the tagline for FLOURISH. We think we can find common ground in actual creation care ministry and creative projects, and we believe that we’ll find agreement on politics farther downstream.
P.S. My boys (Angus, 9, and Ewan, 6) saw a Peregrine Falcon at a wetland very close to downtown Atlanta today. And they got a picture of it.
P.P.S. I’ll send a free copy of the 100% waterproof “Outdoor Bible” (outdoorbible.com) to the person who can give me the most convincing original attribution of the quote “Politics is downstream from culture.” Hint: it wasn’t Rick Warren. Answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include a mailing address and a phone number.