In December of last year I had a great back and forth on the topic of Christian dominionism with fellow green blogger Elsa at Greener Side.
A friend wrote recently asking about those posts and my take on dominionism specifically. After letting him know we were safely in the anti-dominionism camp, I said I thought there were more folks in progressive/secular circles that saw Christians as dominionists than Christians who actually bought into this trash.
I liked his response:
It sounds absolutely right to me that there’s a bigger need to quash dominionist thinking in non-Christian circles, and I think the research would agree, too. It’s similar to the common criticism of religion, especially of Christianity, that tags it as uniquely violent and warring (and then the crusades are invoked), when if you look at modern history, more people have died for secular causes in secular wars (and at the hands of atheists and despots) than from all the religious wars combined. It’s such an amazing play of jujitsu – and somehow the secular humanist intelligentsia have foisted this notion onto the minds of many folks, and much of academia perpetuates it, sometimes unknowingly. The forces set against the truth and against faith are not to be taken lightly…
For those of you new to the whole notion of destroying the earth to hasten Christ’s coming, I’ve reposted my note to Elsa below. Her links (and excellent blog) are still up too, including her follow up post.
[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]
[From The Evangelical Ecologist, December 2005]
Our fellow Carnival of the Green blogger Elsa recently attended a conference on a book called Divine Destruction. The book is aimed squarely at the negative impacts of "dominion theology" on the environment. She has a post up here with lots of links from all different perspectives on the subject, including a link to our earlier post about John Muir.
Anybody who’s been hanging around here the past year should know that dominion theology is not something we espouse. Quite the opposite – dominion doesn’t translate to dominance (other than to say God is sovereign) or destruction, but stewardship and responsibility. All of your emails and input over the past year also make me confident that anti-environmental theology is a fringe position in the Church. But from her post it’s apparent that there’s some confusion on the issue of looking forward to Christ’s return and being good stewards of the environment in the meantime.
I offered to chime in with a Christian environmentalist point of view when she put the post together, which she’s now invited me to do. I hope you’ll join me in dropping by and leaving your thoughts on how Christians have been portrayed in ecology, and how we ought to be thought of now. Before you do that, you might want to scan Joe Carter’s piece on dominion theology and other anti-Christian issues for some background.
Friends, let me say this is not a call to rally and gang up on Elsa! This is, instead, a great opportunity to share our faith and our yearning for Christian environmental stewardship with folks that are new to the idea.
UPDATE: Here’s what I sent her…
A lot has changed in Christian circles since the dominion movement (early 90’s). There was a big backlash against DM as your Wiki link notes, "Most mainline Christian denominations (and most Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists) reject Dominion Theology." Frankly, I’m 41 and my body will give out someday, but I’d be an idiot not exercise and eat well. They’re probably out there, but have yet to run into anybody who thinks polluting will hasten Christ’s return. On the contrary – the Bible (as most Christians interpret it) says when He comes back He should find us doing good stuff. DM is an interesting discussion, but in the interest of space I’d like to stick with where Christian ecology is today, and how we can work together.
What are they thinking? "Some fundamentalists link environmentalism with paganism, pantheism, and of course, terrorism." You’re spot on, and not just fundamentalists – I know scads of Christians both progressive and conservative that want to be "environmentally conscious" but avoid associating with groups that deny (or decry) their faith in Christ. I must say that Stephanie’s book isn’t much help here; she clearly marginalizes a large chunk of the people you and I in the environmental area need to influence. And it IS large – 8 out of 10 Americans call themselves Christian. A huge, untapped population of potential ecologists out there driving minivans and SUVs and running businesses. Really makes no sense for her to dis them, I think.
Admittedly the Church doesn’t have a perfect track record. But historically, folks like John Muir (whom you mentioned), St. Francis, Gregor Mendel, and others had a God-given gift for understanding and being concerned for the natural world around us. The average Joe/Jan Christian believes that God made the world and everything in it beautiful and perfect. He made people, and told them to subdue the earth and take care of it. Before I lose you, the Hebrew for "subdue" or "have dominion" is not "feel free to destroy it." (Somehow, I found myself saying this to my pre-teens this morning who are home all day during school break!) The phrase means "take responsibility for it." Implicit in this is that mankind is personally responsible to God for how we use it. A stewardship, not an ownership mentality.
Realizing the Church hasn’t always stepped up to the plate, it’s trying to now. The National Association of Evangelicals released "For the Health of the Nation," a call to Christians in America to get involved in a number of social issues, including the environment. I had chance to talk with NAE’s Rich Cizik and it was clear to me this was not about using ecology to push some sort of Christianizing social agenda, but rather to get folks out of their pews and join the rest of those concerned about the poor, the sick, and the environment. EEN and other groups might seem hokey to Greenerside readers, but the folks who have signed on have a great deal of credibility, and come from just about every Christian denomination. Mega churches like Vineyard in Boise and groups like Living Waters for the World are making a difference for public health and the environment.
One last thought on Christian influence: If you’ve seen The Passion or grown up in a church someplace, you’re probably familiar with the ideas of sin, God’s sending His son as a gift to "pay the price" for that sin because of His love for mankind, and being "born again" by accepting that gift personally. It’s certainly possible that a Christian friend might join you for a trash cleanup so he or she can have a chance to tell you about Jesus. It’s also fair to say that evangelicals are just as interested as other Americans in influencing what our country looks politically or morally. But more often than not, he or she are recycling or picking up trash as a response to the love and grace they have received from God’s heart; it’s a way of saying thanks for all we have been blessed with.
So – how can we work together (assuming you’d still want to)? I recommend:
– Keep blogging! The more we environmentalists from all walks of life, Christian and non, communicate on these issues, the more we’re going to be able to focus on the important planet stuff. "City Hippy" Al deserves a lot of credit for instance for encouraging all walks of eco-blogdom to participate in the Carnival of the Green.
– Focus on solutions rather than us/them stuff. My links page has both Christian and secular environmental orgs. We should all be contributing to the discussion on climate, pollution, regulations, habitat, etc, even though we might not always agree on outcomes. Again, I give a lot of credit to you, Elsa, for being willing to listen to a Christian environmental perspective. Conservatives haven’t always treated progressive eco’s with respect either, and I’m preaching to myself too here. That needs to change. Along those lines…
– Respect perspectives. Honestly, I can’t understand the rationale of somebody who wants to save a species when they don’t know whether natural selection has destined that species for extinction. If I think saving a habitat is important because God made it, and you think it’s important "just because" or for sustainability or some other reason, that’s cool. We can respect where each other’s coming from, and still preserve habitat.