The Green Bible
Matthew Sleeth may not be the Lord Almighty, but he did write the foreword to the new edition of God's bestseller — The Green Bible. We chat with Sleeth about Jesus, SUVs and why the world needs yet another Bible.
Wed, Jan 28 2009 at 8:07 AM
Photo: Gratzi, Michelangelo Buonarroti
What does Jesus teach about respect for the environment?
Does God care whether I drive an SUV, leave the TV on all night, or fly around the world skiing? The Bible doesn’t mention any of these things. They didn’t exist in Jesus’ time. Yet Jesus taught the spirit of the law, not the letter. From the spirit of the law, and from the example of his love, we can determine the morality of our actions. The Golden Rule allows us to see the moral side of many issues, including environmental ones. Love thy neighbor as thyself – one cannot claim to be a Christian and ignore the Golden Rule.
What are some of the most compelling passages that address God’s love of creation and how we are to love and care for it too?
My favorite green passage is Psalm 24: "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it belongs to him." It focuses us on true ownership of our planet. It is a song, a prayer and a joyful acknowledgement of our creator.
Most people have never heard a sermon on trees, fish or even the biblical call to stewardship. Yet the Bible is filled with specific instruction on caring for God's creation. How do we prevent rainforest destruction or mountaintop removal? What should we do about climate change? Does a fruit tree have protected status? These questions are answered in the Bible.
The longest speech by God occurs in the book of Job. Job and his friends are struggling with the question, "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" In response, God points to the inherent grandeur and wonder on the natural world.
It all belongs to God. We are merely sojourners, tasked with passing along God's green earth in as good, or better, shape to future generations.
What is “eco-justice”? How is protecting and caring for God’s creation inseparable from the calling to do justice for the poor?
Christians are commanded by God to care for each other and the planet. Love of God, love of neighbor and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action. Our responsibility for life is nonnegotiable.
When my family and I make any decision or purchase, we try to ask ourselves two questions: Will this help me love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength? And will this help me love my neighbor? The answers will always lead us to "socially just" action that will be pleasing to God.
Stewardship and social justice both require us to replace greed and selfishness with gratitude and service. A hundred years ago, most people lived on farms. If an area was experiencing a drought, it would be common — and biblical — to pray for rain. There was a direct causal understanding of God's sustaining hand in our lives. With a credit card and a grocery store, God can seem superfluous.
We say a prayer of thanks before eating because we understand that food is God's sustaining hand in our lives, that many around the world do not have enough to eat, and that food is a gift, not an entitlement. Yet how many of us pray when we fill our cars up with gasoline? If we don't, is it because we think everyone has enough, or that gasoline (and access to clean water, unlimited electricity, etc.) is an entitlement?
From evangelical leaders signing the Evangelical Climate Initiative, to Catholics committing to reducing their carbon footprint for Lent, to churches of many denominations adopting sustainable building methods, Christians all over the world have committed to creation care. What are some other ways that Christians are going green? How is the movement changing the church, and the world?
Time and again, I have seen creation care reinvigorate the churches, bringing in new voices and giving a shared mission. This week, my wife and I had dinner with a church in Tennessee where I preached a creation care message last year. They did a small group study of my book, Serve God, Save the Planet, using the discussion questions in the back of the book to lead them through a period of self-reflection and change. Because these families are now recycling and composting, they only have one small bag of garbage a month. They cancelled their garbage service, and are giving half that money to the church. One family set up a large rainwater collection system at the parsonage, and now uses that knowledge to set up rainwater cisterns for others in the congregation — they even set up a 1000-gallon cistern at our home. Another family is helping everyone set up their composting systems. One lady is making homemade liquid laundry detergent, and giving it to others as presents.
A second grader I met read my daughter's book, It's Easy Being Green, and decided that this year she would ask for used books and used clothes for Christmas. Three families in the group who previously did not tithe are now tithing. Creation care affects every aspect of how we love God, and love our neighbor.
Business, science, and government all offer part of the solution, but what the church offers is hope. Once the church takes a leadership role in caring for the environment, then the world will see what we are for, rather than what we are against.
Is creation care an interdenominational, and interfaith, issue?
If we love our creator, we must love his creation. Every sacred text calls us to honor the world created for our sustenance, yet we continue to use resources at an unsustainable rate. We are called to leave the world better — or at least as good as we found it — and yet each of us, every day, is polluting our land, water, and air.
Our central text is the Golden Rule, an overarching guideline for earth stewardship that is shared by every religion. We are all called to treat our brothers and sisters as we would like to be treated ourselves. When we use more than our fair share of the world’s resources, then we are harming our neighbors.
Has the church been eco-friendly throughout its history? What has the church’s track record been on environmental issues?
The theology of creation care is as old. I have a 120-year-old study Bible that devotes 60 pages to the care of animals and plants. In the last 150 years, we have forgotten that theology, confusing Christianity with consumerism. The Green Bible is a tremendous step toward bringing us back to a focus on God's first commandment in Genesis 2:15 — to protect and serve the garden.
Matthew Sleeth, M.D., wrote the foreword to TheGreen Bible and is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet. He is executive director of www.blessed-earth.org and the Visiting Scholar in Creation Care at Houghton College.