Between God & Green

This week, I went to two events on campus that highlighted different aspects of the environmental justice movement. First, on Monday night, Katharine Wilkinson, author of From God to Green, came to speak about the role of Evangelical Christianity in shaping the EJ movement for Christians.

author Katharine Wilkinson, whose grandpa designed Memorial Gym


People in the audience: three elderly people, 25 white kids, me. The event was sponsored by SPEAR, the American Studies department at Vanderbilt, and Mayfield 4, who provided the platters of cupcakes.

First I’m reminded of a rhetorical question my mom once posed: Why do we care more about trees than people? (On that same vein, why do we spend $52.87 billion on pets each year in America?) For many, protecting the environment really is about saving trees for the sake of trees: conserving nature and wildlife for future generations in order to contemplate, reflect, discover. But as global environmental degradation continues, we are shifting our priorities to people. In many ways, in order to care for people we must also care for the trees.

I was really excited about the talk because I have noted the validity of “Creation care” throughout Scripture in the past. For example, one of God’s first commands to Adam and Eve was to cultivate the land: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” — Gen 2:15. And there are consequences throughout the Old Testament for the Israelites when they defile the land. (Check out more examples at Wilkinson walked us through the history of Christian climate concerns.

First she discussed the Evangelical Climate Initiative that ran in The New York Times:

The Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) is a group of over 300 senior evangelical leaders in the United States who are convinced it is time for our country to help solve the problem of global warming. We seek to do so in a way that creates jobs, cleans up our environment, and enhances national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, thereby creating a safe and a healthy future for our children. Our deep commitment to Jesus Christ and his commands to love our neighbors, care for “the least of these,” and be proper stewards of His creation compels us to act.

And its first claim: Human-Induced Climate Change is Real.

Right on, brethren. Read the rest of the statement here:

We have a moral obligation to fight for the poor and love our neighbors. Social justice gives a voice to the voiceless, whether “the voiceless” is low-income people of color coping with unjust environmental hazards, or nature that cannot defend itself or speak out. I think some Christians are fatalistic about the whole situation (if a fiery Apocalypse is inevitable and will destroy the world anyway, why even try?). But it’s just not right to sit by and let people, especially the 95% of the world that lacks the privileges and resources of the American Evangelical church, to suffer from environmental degradation that we ourselves perpetuate.

Wilkinson then provided some creative examples of Evangelical outreach to help Christians get green.

  • What Would Jesus Drive? (Answer: a hybrid)
  • “If you love the Creator, take care of Creation” bumper stickers
  • The Green Bible, which highlights passages that point towards creation care and is made from recycled paper, using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover

She cited influential Evangelicals like Rick Warren (ehh) and my hero, John Stott, that had conversions to climate change that echoed their conversions to Christ. People felt that God had intervened in their lives at just the right times in order to call Christians to save the world a la Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.

One interesting dichotomy she discussed is the evolution of our interpretation of God’s command after creation: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule…over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” In the past, many Christians treated this verse as the go-ahead to do whatever we wanted to the Earth because we were allowed dominion over our resources. But today we realize that God calls us to diligent stewardship of our resources, to tend and keep the land instead of overworking or destroying it.

It seems so clear to me, so the backlash against this movement from the conservative Evangelicals was intriguing. She pointed out that it was tied to power from the Republican party that churches may want to protect. Leading opponents of evangelical climate justice claim that it’s “the new face of the Pro-Death movement. Push back against the hype!”

Can we reach across the aisles that divide us for the sake of mutual concern for climate change? Apparently we can:

(note top YouTube comment: “Let’s push that couch a bit further out”)

Wilkinson is a self-identified agnostic, and she approached religion from a very scientific, psychological standpoint.  From what I could tell, in her opinion, Christians suppress “evil” desires and try and live godly lives for rewards that we don’t get until the afterlife. Similarly, we need to control our emissions outputs, coal consumption and so forth now, even though the human race won’t experience the horror or benefits of our lifestyle until later. The religious mindset of delayed gratification is perfect for the environmental message. I did not agree with this logic, first because Christianity isn’t only about afterlife rewards, but how to live our current life to the full. Also I think she missed the human component of Christianity, the love that fuels the Evangelical EJ movement. Because God loves the poor, we love the poor. This means protecting those that are hurt disproportionally by environmental degradation.

But overall she did a great job raising key questions. What responsibilities do we have to people outside America? How much do we have to sacrifice our wellbeing for the generations after us? What does it mean to live on a planet that our actions are changing?

Wilkinson closed her PowerPoint presentation with an image of a shiny, pristine green apple hearkening back to the original land preserve, the Garden of Eden. “Seek out opportunities to find those you disagree with,” she urged, “to move collectively from the wilderness to the Promised Land.”

Image Also, today was the annual Farm to Fork dinner on Commons Lawn. Strings of lights hung from the trees and provided the classy atmosphere of Peabody Esplanade against the brilliantly lit Wyatt Center. During the reception, the local farmers, growers, bread artisans and fruit vendors introduced themselves and spoke briefly about their work and relationship to the community. A lively band played bluegrass and country while we dined on yummy local foods: grainy breads, squash, chicken quarters, pork loin, arugula salad, and to top it off, rich pumpkin bread pudding with Jack Daniel’s butter sauce.

ImageWe met a few local farmers and shared a meal. I bought a jar of pepper jelly afterwards, and it’s delicious. There’s a lot of yummy local food in Nashville! I hope we get more soon. So far I only know of one restaurant that watches where its food comes from (Tayst) and its sandwich counterpart (Sloco). We close the night by toasting the green practices of our local farmers over blackberry sage water. Here’s to eating from farm to fork!

Until next time,


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