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April 01, 2009

Going green for God

Go Green Yesterday I spoke on the phone with Nancy Sleeth, author of the new book Go Green, Save Green. Sleeth and her husband, Matthew, are the founders of Blessed Earth, "an educational nonprofit that inspires and equips faith communities to become better stewards of the earth." Her husband and daughter have also written books on the subject. (We don't yet have the books here, but review copies have been shipped to our office, so you'll be hearing more about them in the future.)

Matthew Sleeth was an emergency room physician who was becoming concerned about what he saw as an increased incidence of environmentally caused diseases (in one week on the job, he saw three women in their thirties with breast cancer), as well as what he heard scientists saying about the decreasing of living material on the earth. He left his job and the Sleeths became what Nancy calls the "poster family for the downwardly mobile." Once they had made drastic reductions in their own energy usage, they set out to help others do the same.

At the same time, the Sleeths were starting a new "faith journey." Nancy had been raised Jewish and Matthew Protestant, but aside from celebrating holidays, the family had little interest in religion. Nancy quips that in their house "the Fiddler on the Roof slipped down the chimney and laid Easter eggs." But her husband had discovered a Gideon Bible one day in the hospital during a slow day, and "he picked it up and read the Gospel of Matthew and his life changed." Nancy and the children soon followed suit. Thus, Nancy says, "Our stewardship journey and our faith journey were parallel."

The Sleeths believe that helping save the creation is a way to honor the Creator, and that the Bible makes a solid case for taking care of the environment. "It's old theology; it's nothing new," Nancy explains. "We're just reminding people." The response they're getting from churches around the country has been "amazing," especially now that Christians, like the larger population, are trying to save money as well as natural resources. That's fine with Nancy: "I don't care if it's motivated by economics, it's doing the right thing." 

Many churches where the Sleeths have spoken have set up their own "creation care teams." Danny O'Brien, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Baltimore, Maryland, went so far as to say, "I became convicted and I had a conversion experience" about environmental issues. Dr. Gerald Durley, pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, had a similar description of his change in thinking.

I asked Nancy if this kind of language wasn't a little strong. Her take on it was that people like these pastors are just starting to realize that the theme of caring for all of God's creation is "pervasive in the Bible," and that "we haven't been paying enough attention to it." That theme can be seen in God-given principles like giving the land a Sabbath rest, leaving the edges of the fields for gleaning, and taking care of the poorest among us during hard times.

Learn more about the Sleeths' work at their website. And watch for upcoming BreakPoint commentaries on their books.

(Image © Tyndale) 

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Mike D'Virgilio

I must confess that Christians embracing environmentalism is annoying to me. It's cool to be "green" now so out run the Christians trying to be relevant saying they care for the environment too. Of course we do, but the environmental movement is home of the modern left, with all of their anti-capitalist, anti-liberty, big government assumptions and policy prescriptions. To make common cause with these people without being very careful is dangerous.

Having a "conversion experience" is not a "little strong," it is ridiculous. Every human with a modicum of common sense wants a clean and sustainable environment, but to somehow make it another branch of theology is idiocy. Americans and Christians along with them have done the same with the body, don't smoke, drink, eat too much this or that, exercise, lose weight. All fine things, but what about the soul? What about enjoying life and not being paranoid that we might actually be mortal?

I could rant for a long time about this, but "going green for God" is not a good thing.

Virginia Jones

"Green theology" isn't the point, Mike. What is the point is that Americans, in particular, consume too many of God's resources all the time. We thank God for a Thanksgiving meal (the provision of food), Christmas gifts, bringing healing to the sick, and a good job. But why do we not thank God for electricity (keeps the lights on and keeps our families warm in the winter) and gasoline (gets you to work every day) and good land (grows the very food you eat every day)?

Call it going green or whatever you want...The point is that we do not honor these blessings as we should, and our ability to honor them is decreasing, as they are depleting. We take these resources for granted, and these resources come from God. If you actually read the Sleeths' books, you'd know that their mission isn't "ridiculous", but is a rare effort in the church to help restore us to a proper appreciation of God's blessings -- the very blessings that comfortably get us through the day.

Mike D'Virgilio

Virginia, this is exactly the kind of debate I was hoping to spark. Let me ask you this: if Americans "consume too many of God's resources all the time," what is not "too many"? How do you quantify enough? And who is it that determines what "too much" is?

I'm also wondering who you include in the "we" that are not thankful enough. I don't know about you, but I'm constantly teaching my children the value of growing up in The United States of America, the freedom and material blessings we too often take for granted. I teach them all the time the miracle of free markets, and why capitalism and free markets are infinitely superior to socialism and communism.

This mentality of "Americans consume too many of the worlds resources" is part and parcel of the leftist view of reality. It is embodied in our current president and his party, and it is poison. And you know the result, Virginia? It is not everybody becoming more appreciative of our blessings, or as modern liberals claim more equal. No. It is a public policy of wealth redistribution, of a government that by force says some people have "too much" and that some politician will determine how much they are allowed to keep. This is not only wrong, it is evil. It is legislated theft. It is an assault on our liberty and the Founding Fathers of our country would be appalled. They had a revolution for much, much less.

It is one thing to teach our children or have our pastors teach their flock of the blessings of our abundance, and that we should not waste resources, but it is quite another to buy into the socialist/environmentalist assumptions uncritically, because they are anti-liberty, anti-capitalism, anti-Western, and ultimately anti-God.


It is very unfortunate that organized religion turned "stewardship" into "financing". The church has become too much of an enterprise. The Sleeth's have merely piggybacked the new "green" enterprise on top of another.

As to the question "how much is enough", perhaps the answer is as simple as "a little less than my first impulse". Also, thankfulness does not automatically result in Godly (or secular) stewardship. Both must be cultivated.

And finally, in an effort to be properly critical in my thinking, am I to assume from your last statement that liberty, capitalism, "westernism" and God are a perfectly congruent set?

Mike D'Virgilio

I think my problem with "enough" is that too many people think they know how much is "enough" for other people. I've even heard some make the utterly inane statement that this or that persons doesn't "need" whatever. If need where the issue, if need was the only thing God was concerned about when he created us then we would still live in huts. When you cross the line into determining how much is enough for other people you move into the realm of totalitarianism and materialism. Too many Christians disgusted with the narcissistic age we live in turn into de-facto materialists by judging other people's character or souls based on their income, or what kind of house they live in or car they drive.

And I love your last question. Nothing is perfectly congruent with God in a fallen world. That isn't the issue. The issue is what is the best economic, social and political system that maximizes liberty while maintaining order. I would strongly argue that the Founders of this great country got it mostly right.

If you look at your question and my statement, what is the alternative to those things? Many Christians, conservatives and others with a traditionalist bent get frustrated with the messiness of cultures that embrace liberty, capitalism and "westernism" as you put it. What is the option to liberty? Tyranny?

Either government or individuals assessing their own self interest make decisions for their lives. More government equals less liberty equals bad in my book. Government, especially big government, is massively inefficient, and so much of what it does has unintended consequences, usually always bad.

What is the alternative to capitalism? Socialism? Communism? Something else? The free market and Adam Smith's invisible hand have brought more wealth and health to more people in the last 100 years than in all history before it. The left expectancy of Americans in the early 1900s was 47 years for females and 46 for males. Women regularly died in child birth, and children regularly died from diseases all but wiped out today.

As for the West, I would argue that far more beauty, goodness and truth has come through Western culture than the opposite. It was the West that outlawed slavery. It was the West that saved us from Hitler, Stalin and Tojo's Japan. It was the West that bequeathed to us the American experiment, and I could go on.

I better stop now, because this is too long as it is.

Virginia Jones


We are coming at this from two different perspectives, and I cannot change yours. For me -- and for the Sleeths (I have read their books!!! -- this is NOT a political issue. This is a biblical issue.

And no, we can't live like third-world people in America and get by in this culture. But when I think about young children who haven't had a fresh drink of water in weeks, it causes me to pause and think about how much water I flush down the toilet and wash down the sink every day. What is not political is that fact that we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and depend upon the same land across the world -- Democrats, Republicans, and everything in between and beyond. You are off-base when you try to corner my thoughts into a political box; not all of us limit our thinking about social concerns to political talking points as taught by the media and politicians. And to be honest, I am a proud Republican!

Ben W

"How do you quantify enough?"

Taking a shot at answering this question: "enough" is the point when future personal liberties and order are endangered. If (God forbid) the worst predictions of global warming are true, then our continued luxurious lives are putting the lives of our grandchildren in danger. You can make the same arguments about the health and ecological costs of the use of coal, or the dangers of not transitioning away from oil soon enough. Or sustainable farming, logging, or fishing practices that don't permanently damage those resources.

I also think you can be a conservative and an environmentalist; environmentalism and liberalism/federalism are not the same things. The anti-gov't screed confuses me for other reasons, and seems kinda off-topic.

Mike D'Virgilio

Virginia, I'm not talking about politics. When I talk about left and right I'm talking about worldview. The left, religious or secular, sees the world in terms of limits. It sees disaster at every turn. It sees people as a drain on resources. It distrusts human beings and overly trusts government (ironically run by those same human beings, which when they are running government they trust them!).

Environmentalism is an excuse to destroy our liberty, because environmentalism is the religion of the left. My "anti-govt." screed is not at all off-topic. Ben, we are sort of talking semantics. Certainly one can be a person of the right and be concerned about the environment. Really, who doesn't want clean water and clean air? The issue is trade offs, isn't it? I mean, we can have perfectly clean air if we stop all industrial production, stop driving, flying, etc. Oops, I forgot about volcanoes and fires, so maybe not perfectly clean.

The environmental movement is never honest about the trade offs. They ALWAYS want more government, more regulation, less freedom, higher costs of doing business. This is not beside the point. When conservatives or Christians start buying into the rhetoric of environmentalists they are buying into the worldview and the politics. Just like in anything else, it is the assumptions and presuppositions that matter.

And Virginia, with all due respect you are not thinking clearly. I'm not sure where you are talking about kids not having clean water, but I assume you mean poverty stricken third world countries. The water you, and I and every American uses has absolutely nothing to do with that. Nothing. Same with land, and sort of the same with air (pollution can obviously travel around the globe).

There is nothing biblical about feeling guilty for absolutely no reason at all. This is not a political box, this is fact. The reason most of Africa is a basket case is not because Americans consume "too much."

And Ben (one more thing, honest), my perspective of enough is completely different than yours. I trust the ingenuity, creativity and and ambition of free people to solve resource issues. But this is another very long debate.


We are to steward creation. We are also to use it. "The copper under the hills is yours" and so on. The idea that Americans consume 'too much' of the planet's resources is not a well-thought-out notion. It is precisely America and the West which have created the majority of the resources, or made them available. We also out-produce.

We have only scratched the top couple miles of the planet. We have not yet tapped the profoundly greater resources in just this solar system. Green thinking tends to be anti-human and that fact that Christians in Europe were calling it ecofascism 10 years ago is good to remember. Cleaning up pollution? You bet! Creating more parks and green spaces? You bet! Being more efficient? Good idea. Having less energy to use? Disobedience to the creation mandate and ultimately deadly for human beings. Refusing to tap new sources of energy and resources? Misanthropic and disobedient. We need more energy! More energy allows for cleaner, less polluting living, it makes recycling sensible. We need to work towards getting our polluting industries off-world, though that will take a while, though not as long as one might think.

Africa hungers because its governments are corrupt because they are not informed by the Biblical worldview at a sufficient depth to where they would not think of driving peoples to deserts to starve (Marxist Ethiopia) or seizing aid shipments to sell on the black market. India starves because of Hinduism and the caste system, which mandate it. And on it goes.

Biblical and traditional Christian theologies have a lot more depth and texture to them than quotes on motivational posters.

Western civilization is an imperfect product of the Bible, of Christianity. As humans are always sinning, everything gets distorted, so instead of Christendom, we now have McWorld. But the answer isn't Oceana(!) it is Christendom.

Ben W

While there is radical environmentalism on the left, not all environmentalism is leftist. Heck, the EPA was created and the Clean Air and Water Act passed by a Republican president. There is a political aspect of extreme environmentalism that is dominated by far-left liberals, but I think many people on the right and left can agree on more moderate environmentalist principles, and there is plenty that concerned citizens can do to help that doesn't involve Big Brother.

The political movement "Environmentalism" is very different than the social movement of the same name.

Mike D'Virgilio

Ben, I grant your point to a degree. The problem is that the more extreme anti-market, anti-liberty, and anti-business tendencies of the extreme are shared by the mainstream media, and many Democrats, including the President of the United States. The danger to me is that those on the right who embrace a reasonable form of environmental concern end up giving cover to the worst elements of radicals. If we don't qualify what we say realizing that there needs to be trade offs and exactly what those are, all the anti-consequences I mention above have a better chance of becoming law.



There are books. Please read "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" and get back to us if your head doesn't explode.


Mike D'Virgilio

Martha, thank you for the suggestion, but a masochist I am not. I've found that Marxists tend to not be very perceptive when analyzing anything. We know the conclusion before they start. It's always the West or America that is at fault. The environmental movement is full of Marxists who would never admit to the moniker. Which is another reason for well meaning Christians and conservatives to be very careful when they make common cause with these folks.


We need to have our internal gyroscope, our own course, rather than deriving it by agreement to or reaction to the world system.

Not to say 'oh, those enviros are pagans' and throw trash out the car window, or 'God tells us to take care of creation, so we need to join the environmental movement, and have fewer children, ban DDT even though it means the deaths of tens of millions of African children, etc.

What is our role as gardeners? What does it mean to be a steward? What does it mean when God tells us that the resources He has created are for us to -use-?

A gardener uses, but does not despoil. A gardener doesn't refrain from gardening favoring a tangle of weeds.


I think the fundamental problem with a lot of crazy "eco-friendly" talk is indeed how anti-human it is. The human element is left out of the equation. People, not the planet, are the #1 victim of environmental destruction. Desertification, the loss of water resources, pollutants such as heavy metals from strip mining, and the loss of sustainable lifestyles due to deforestation, dwindling animal resources, reduction in important plant life, and loss of viable land, are the real costs of a callous treatment of the earth and its resources. Just this month in Sumatra, crazed tigers have been attacking and killing local villagers. This loss of human life is because of irresponsible deforestation practices that are creating a threatening situation for the local people.

There's no politics in being responsible. Good stewardship practices will help our fellow brother. That's reason enough for me to toss my soda can in the recycling bin and invest in alternative energy that will provide for better living around the world without the destruction caused by deforestation to make charcoal.

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