Posts tagged with: stewardship

Blog author: jarmstrong
Friday, March 23, 2007
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I have tried to read everything that I can find the time to digest on the subject of global warming. I saw Al Gore’s award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and even had some nice things to say about it. I have always been put off by the use of terms like "environmental whackos" and "earthist nut balls" from the political right. There is, in my humble opinion, little doubt that the earth is getting warmer. What is in great doubt is almost everything else. How warm will the earth become and how soon? Why is it really warming? What can we do about this problem now? How fast should we respond? And will radical responses, the kind that Al Gore argued for this week in the House hearing room on Capitol Hill, make a real difference? Bottom line: Will these alarmist responses help or harm the overall state of things on the earth? I am presently a skeptic when it comes to proving most of the claims being made by the alarmists. Something inside of me wants to agree with the climatologists who have deep concerns, if for no other reason than to avoid association with the right wing craziness and the radical left.

But make no mistake about it, this issue is politicized in every possible way. Anyone who argues otherwise is asleep. Both sides have a horse in this race. And alarmism does sell right now. Just think about the conspiracy theories that run rampant throughout modern life. Al Gore spoke of the planet "having a fever and if your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘Well, I read a science-fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the blanket is flame retardant, you take action." That is about as alarmist as you can get it, so it seems to me. I am not sure if Gore is referring to Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear, when he refers to a science-fiction novel, but it is a best-seller that has had immense impact on many, including me. Before you blow it off please read it. Be sure to read the forty-plus pages of annotated notes and bibliography of books that Crichton read in order to write this book. It is a fun book, but it makes a serious point that I think Gore and his friends miss. (I actually wonder if the book makes them angry because it is so good.)

The press reports say that Al Gore was at his "most passionate" when describing global warming as a "moral imperative." Dennis Hastert (R.IL) offered agreement with Gore saying that human activity is to blame for the rise in temperature, as did some other Republicans. This crusade has taken on the tones of a moral crusade with many people becoming more and more alarmed. This includes a number of evangelicals who have signed unwise and misleading statements on the climate. I, for one, take the words "moral imperative"  very seriously. I think these words are being pressed into service in troubling ways that border on becoming vacuous if we are not truly careful.

In a column published yesterday by Hoover Institute scholar Thomas Sowell he says that we should not expect a lot of fair and open debate about climate change in the near future. Why? National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a debate in which people were polled before and after the debate. After hearing the debate a good number of people who previously believed global warming was primarily caused by human carbon emissions changed their minds. Sowell suggests that this spells the end of such open debate in the near future. That would be a real shame. If this is really a "moral imperative" then those who are convinced that it is should not fear the debate but rather enter it and show people like me why they are right. I am open to facts and would change my mind if I saw the right reasons to do so. Attacking the motives of the non-alarmists is not convincing at all. In fact, it makes me loathe to accept the Gore thesis more than ever. After all, isn’t this the same politician who invented the Internet?

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 22, 2007
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Non-evangelicals and progressive Christians continue to throw their support Rev. Richard Cizik’s way. Now the Institute for Progressive Christianity has released a statement commending “the courage and Christian concern displayed by Rev. Rick Cizik and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for recommending preventive action on the issue of global warming.”

Given the care that Cizik has ostensibly taken to distance himself from radical environmentalists, both of the secular and religious variety, and the care with which he has attempted to connect creation care with other evangelical political issues like abortion, I wonder just how welcome these expressions of solidarity really are.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine recent events surrounding the conflict amongst evangelicals over global warming political activism. In “Evangelical Environmentalism’s Moral Imperative,” I compare the shape of the argument to the debate over the last decade on the topic of poverty.

In the same way that conservatives were accused of not caring for the poor because they opposed an expansive welfare state, critics of climate change politics are being portrayed as not caring for the environment. To the extent that conservative critiques have not made it a point to sharply distinguish between global warming and the broader moral mandate to steward the earth, they deserve blame for this state of affairs.

This fault is exemplified well in the recent letter from James Dobson and others to the National Association of Evangelicals questioning the activities of Rev. Richard Cizik, who is actively promoting federal policy on climate change. The Dobson letter (PDF) challenges global warming but only notes pro-life issues, marriage, and sexuality as “the great moral issues of our time.” While the letter doesn’t explicitly exclude stewardship of the environment as a “great moral issue,” its omission from this list can easily give the impression that the letter’s signatories don’t find environmental stewardship to be a compelling moral imperative.

But it also falls to the responsibility of evangelicals who favor government action to combat climate change to acknowledge “the commitment of their opponents to ‘care’ of the creation, even amidst the sometimes pointed disagreements over the means and institutions responsible for that care.”

Read the entire commentary here.

I also recommend Andy Crouch’s recent review in Books & Culture of Roger Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, in which Crouch writes that Gottlieb’s book “could not be more calculated to inflame the suspicions of the politically and theologically conservative.” Crouch also outlines some of the recent activities and perspectives of groups like the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

Update: Bob Francis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, reacting to reader comments, acknowledges that “whether the issue is poverty or the environment, well-meaning Christians differ on solutions.”

Kathryn Joyce at The Revealer writes about “the real point of contention between Dobson, Bauer and Perkins on the one hand, and Cizik, on the other. Not so much that Cizik is drawing energy and outrage to global warming and away from gay marriage and abortion, but that, in the mind of many conservative Christians, choosing between pro-life or environmental activism must be a zero-sum game.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 15, 2007
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One of the stories told in the Acton’s forthcoming documentary, “The Call of the Entrepreneur,” (trailer available here) is that of Brad Morgan, a Michigan dairy farmer, who bucked the odds and the naysayers and turned the problem posed by the disposal of his herd’s manure into a profitable business venture.

His innovative solution to manure disposal, turning it into high quality compost for a variety of purposes, led to the formation of Morgan Composting in 1996, and more than ten years later the business is still going strong.

Sirico: “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by…”

Reflecting on the role of the entrepreneur in the market economy, Acton president Rev. Robert A. Sirico says, “Sometimes they’re the most common resources that we walk over, that we ignore, that we even are perhaps repulsed by, that become the source of wealth, the source of jobs, the source of prosperity. I mean this is an incredible institution.”

Perhaps no “resource” illustrates this reality better than manure. Brad Morgan turned the waste from cows into a valuable commodity. And now researchers and government officials are following Morgan’s lead.

Wendy Powers, a professor of agriculture at Michigan State University, says, “We really need to think outside the box on what uses for manure are.” Brad Morgan thought outside the box and Morgan Composting now offers a full line of products.

The Associated Press report says that “fiber from processed and sterilized cow manure could take the place of sawdust in making fiberboard, which is used to make everything from furniture to flooring to store shelves.”

“Farmers are having to put more and more money into dealing with manure,” said Tim Zauche, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “This is a huge cost to farmers.” A dairy farm can spend $200 per cow per year to handle its manure, Zauche said.

But looking at manure as a resource to be managed rather than waste to be disposed of is the key difference in perspective. That’s what Powers calls thinking “outside the box.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 9, 2007
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I’m a bit behind on this story, but as was reported by numerous media outlets over the past few months, a new trend has begun at some American churches. ATM machines, dubbed “Automatic Tithing Machines,” are appearing at some Protestant churches in the South. The machines are administered by the for-profit business SecureGive, run by Pastor Marty Baker and his wife, who integrated the machines at their Stevens Creek Community Church in 2005.

Proponents point to the transition to a digital age and the convenience of electronic transactions. Stevens Creek Community attendee Josh Marshall said of using the machines, “I paid for gas today with a card, and got lunch with one. This is really no different.”

Amy Forrest said this, “If you give cash, you think about it. And if you swipe a credit card, you don’t. It makes it easier to type that 4-0.”

These attitudes may not be truly representative, but they at the very least illustrate the potential for the convenience offered by these machines to turn faithful giving into something that is unreflective, automatic, mundane, and worldly. That’s certainly not the kind of giving that God wants.

Baker says of his concept, “It’s truly like an ATM for Jesus.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 29, 2007
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The business of philanthropy education, teaching people how to give their money away, is a growth industry, according to Business Week (HT: The Wealth Report).

It seems that wealthy kids often have trouble realizing and meeting their moral duties to be good stewards of their inheritance. “With my inheritance, I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility,” says Jos Thalheimer, 24, whose great-grandfather founded the American Oil Co. (Amoco) in 1910.

John Stossel’s recent “Cheap in America” program examined this phenomenon, contrasting the attitudes of Fabian Basabe, the “male Paris Hilton,” with Ben Goldhirsh, son of a publishing mogul.

Basabe, it seems, is unwilling and uninterested in doing good: “I’m going to live forever, by the way, so I’m going to have a lot of time to work and get involved.”

Goldhirsh, by contrast, “used the inheritance to start his own magazine, ‘Good,’ and donates subscription fees to charity. His father taught him that work, and charity — not money — is the route to happiness.”

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
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You may have seen this story a few weeks back toward the end of last year: “Some faith groups say bottled water immoral,” by Rebecca U. Cho of the Religion News Service.

The core of the story revolves around this assertion made by the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program and a number of other mainline projects: Drinking bottled water is a sin.

Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs for the National Council of Churches, bases this claim on the assumption that bottling water by definition deprives access to a natural resource basic to human existence.

“The moral call for us is not to privatize water,” Carmichael said. “Water should be free for all.”

According to the RNS piece, “Rebecca Barnes-Davies, coordinator of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, said bottled water companies encourage a culture in the U.S. that is comfortable with privatizing a basic human right.”

“As people of faith, we don’t and shouldn’t pretend to have ownership of any resource — it’s God’s,” she said. “We have to be the best steward we can be of all those resources.”

The foundational document for the NCC’s campaign is “WATER: THE KEY TO SUSTAINING LIFE: AN OPEN STATEMENT TO GOVERNING BODIES AND CONCERNED CITIZENS,” which presents the following false dilemma, “Water should be viewed as a gift from God for all people, not a commodity that can be traded for profit.”

The problem is that “Access to fresh water supplies is becoming an urgent matter of life and death across the planet and especially for the 1.2 billion people who are currently suffering from a lack of adequate water and sanitation.”

The lack of access to water in many developing nations is a real and serious problem (more on that here). The exploitation of this real problem by the NCC, however, is indefensible. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
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“The environment is begging for the Wal-Mart business model,” says H. Lee Scott Jr., CEO of Wal-Mart Stores in a NYT article, “Power-Sipping Bulbs Get Backing From Wal-Mart.”

The piece discusses Wal-Mart’s campaign to increase the sales of compact fluorescent bulbs, as compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. As Michael Barbaro writes, “A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.”

I’ve converted probably half of the bulbs in my home to CFLs (compact fluorescent lights), but have run into problems when trying to use them in some places. Lights that use dimmer switches, for instance, don’t work well with CFLs. And some CFLs won’t fit into light fixtures designed to accommodate incandescent bulbs.

Wal-Mart’s clout has begun to affect the light bulb manufacturing business, as producers like GE struggle to change their emphasis from production of incandescents to CFLs.

And on the demand side, what’s called for in convincing consumers to go with the CFLs is a basic economic lesson: you are sometimes better off spending more in the short-term for long-term gain: “Wal-Mart will have to persuade its traditional consumers that it is worth paying a bit more at the checkout counter to save a significant amount money down the line, a seemingly simple task that few companies ever accomplish. It is particularly difficult at a retailer that has long emphasized ‘always low prices.'”

As is so often the case, the best economic decision is the one that makes best use of both financial and environmental resources.

Update: This story is getting major attention across the blogosphere and MSM, including a NYT editorial here, and posts here and here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
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Our series on the year in review continues with the second quarter:

April

“Surprise! Evangelical Politics Isn’t Univocal,” Jordan J. Ballor

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues….

May

“How Do You Spell Relief?” Jordan J. Ballor

If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely?…

June

“There are more environmentalist misanthropes than you think,” Jay Richards

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions….

“Christian consumption has gone far beyond the book as millions use their buying power to reinforce their faith and show commitment to the Christian community,” reads an article in the current edition of USAToday (HT: Zondervan>To the Point)

According to the piece, “Nearly 12% of Americans spend more than $50 a month on religious products, and another 11% spend $25 to $29, according to a national survey of 1,721 adults by Baylor University, out in September.”

There has been a great deal of media attention paid to the Bible market in particular in the past few weeks. Here are some examples from Publisher’s Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker (HT: Reformation21).

Much of this phenomena flows from the affluence of the North American church, which itself entails a responsibility to be good stewards of those resources. As Ron Sider has poignantly reminded us, the way the church approaches the responsibilities and opportunities of wealth and affluence shouldn’t mirror the broader culture’s.

Reading through the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 the other day, I was struck by the danger of the third type of seed, that which “fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” In Jesus’ explanation, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Let us pray that the church in North America doesn’t fall prey to the temptations of the penultimate, but rather produces an abundant harvest for God.

If you’ve read any of David F. Wells’ books on this subject, such as God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, you know that he shares these concerns.