Are Christian values at Odds with Environmental Values?

A tree captured in a glass ball. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In my last blog I looked at passages in the Bible that give us a pattern for caring for God’s creation.

We often imagine environmentalists as people who care only about trees and animals, whereas Christians are asked by God to care for people, aren’t we? Actually, our values may be closer than you think. I’m going to look at some values that I think we could all agree are important for Christians and see how they unpack to environmentalists.

1. Advice and Truth

Get all the advice and instruction you can so you will be wise the rest of your life. Proverbs 19:20 (NLT)

There is a lot of misinformation out there about climate change and sometimes it can be hard to know who to listen to. Proverbs often talks about taking good advice, and this is from the wisest person who ever lived! I’m not a climate scientist but I have a science background and can understand many of the arguments. The basic science behind global warming and climate change is well established and well proven. We also know that by far the majority of climate scientists (some of them Christians) are convinced that climate change is real, happening now, largely caused by human activity and serious. A simple check on their values and motives (which tend to be for the greater good, rather than for individual gain) show that we can trust them and follow their advice; after all, understanding (even of science) is a gift given by God: ‘God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another’ 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT).

2. Justice and Fairness

I’d like you to imagine this… A family is going to a shoe shop. The three girls love dressing up and would all love new shoes, but this time there’s only just enough money in the family budget for one pair. The youngest girl desperately needs new shoes, her shoes are tight and worn out. But the oldest spots some shoes on the shelf that she thinks are amazing. She really wants them, even though her shoes fit perfectly, but Mum and Dad say no, there isn’t enough money. She nags at Mum, ‘Oh Mum, but they’re so good, I’d look so good in these.’ Mum says no firmly and puts them back on the shelf. Now the middle sister hears the commotion and comes over to look, she sees the shoes and wants them too. She picks them up and an argument ensues between the two older girls – ‘I want them,’ ‘No, I want them,’ they shout. Suddenly, rrip, the shoes are broken. Having paid for the broken shoes, the whole family leaves the shop in dismay as there’s no money left now for anyone to have new shoes.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
than when we offer him sacrifices. Proverbs 21:3 (NLT)

Justice is a very obvious concern for God: it is mentioned about 200 times in the Old Testament alone.

CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are a major contributor to Climate Change Photo by Ella Ivanescu on Unsplash

The nub of the climate crisis is that developed countries have grown their economies by burning fossil fuels. We know that the more fossil fuel we burn and the more greenhouse gases we emit, the warmer it will get and this will cause more extreme weather across the globe, from flooding to droughts to heatwaves. Those who have produced the least greenhouse gases will be the hardest hit, but the least able to pay to mitigate the effects. There is a very limited amount left that we can burn if we wish to avert the worst effects of global warming. One question is, who should be allowed to burn that?

Developed countries have the means, if they had the will, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions significantly and quickly, by investing in renewable energy technology (and making other changes). Less-developed countries wish to develop, but don’t have the same budgets to invest in renewable technology. However, like the girls arguing over the new shoes above, many of those who could, are refusing to make these changes, putting their wants ahead of the needs of others and the welfare of the planet. Christians can have a leading role in calling for justice in this situation and in demonstrating the lifestyle changes needed. There is no point giving a donation to a charity or planting a few trees if we do nothing to tackle the root cause of the problem.

Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die;
save them as they stagger to their death.
Don’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Look, we didn’t know.’
For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. Proverbs 24:11-12

A report in 2009 said that climate change is already responsible for about 300,000 deaths per year, 99% of which are in poorer countries.[1] If we fail to take action then those numbers will only increase. These countries have done the least to cause this problem. This cannot be justice! This passage illustrates that we cannot just stand by and watch it happen.

3. Empathy for Others

We are often told of other people being affected by climate change, but to many of us this still seems distant. Most of the time it affects those who are more vulnerable, from countries other than our own, first, even though they have contributed the least to it.

Jesus often showed empathy with people who were vulnerable. Even when he had just heard of his relative John the Baptist being beheaded, the Bible says, ‘As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick’ Matthew 14:13-14. (NLT) Later that day he fed 5000 men (and their families), all at a time when most of us would have been forgiven for having ‘compassion fatigue’.

We now live in a global economy, so our actions here and now have impacts all over the globe and well into the future. Perhaps think how you felt when the Covid-19 virus started in China, and how that changed as it came closer to your own country. If we can hold onto empathy for people in the countries most affected, it will help motivate us when we are trying to take action to tackle the environmental crisis.

4. Greed

Then [Jesus] said, ‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’ Luke 12:15 (NLT)

Greed is defined as having, or showing, a selfish desire for more wealth and possessions than we need. That’s a tough one for me, and probably for most of us in developed countries as most of us have more wealth and possessions than we really need. But many people across the world struggle as they don’t have enough to simply survive.

The world also has limits; limits on resources, but also in the amount of waste that the earth can absorb from our exorbitant lifestyle. CO2 is one of those waste products, but we are pumping it out more quickly than the earth can absorb it – especially as we are removing some of the mechanisms (forests, peat etc) that the earth uses to absorb it. Every time we buy something or eat something, then we use up more of those resources and produce more waste, pushing the world closer to those limits. We then leave less for those who are more vulnerable.

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NLT)

I read something recently that has been really helpful to me: ‘The secret of contentment is not to change our circumstances but, with God’s help, to change the way we see them.’ Can we learn to be content with less?

5. Looking After the Poor

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord, and he will repay you! Proverbs 19:17 (NLT)

How many times does the Bible ask us to look after the poor, the widows, the orphans, the downtrodden? God expects us to do whatever we can to look after other people, especially those less fortunate than ourselves.

‘Climate change is among other things an unconscionable assault on the poor.’ Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights

As already stated, climate change disproportionately affects the poor, both in poorer countries around the world and even in more-developed countries. They are less able to protect themselves from heat and flood and will be more affected by drought and food shortages that will happen as a result of climate change.

6. Migrants and Refugees

You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21 (NLT)

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it! Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)

We are often told that people only migrate to richer countries for a better life; however, what they are really often escaping is climate change, as their land won’t grow crops anymore, or the conditions are harder and harder to live in.[2] The Bible talks many times about welcoming refugees and strangers, as in the parable of the sheep in Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus says that when we welcome strangers into our homes, we are effectively doing it to him.

Another note on war: many people flee wars in poorer countries; however, it is now well proven that hotter temperatures are more likely to increase unrest and lead to wars, so climate change will make the migrant situation worse. Quite apart from the fact that fossil fuels, because of the amount of money involved, have been the trigger for many wars. So, moving away from fossil fuels and trying to reduce climate change are surely good targets to have. Interestingly a recent study found that peaceful protest is far more likely to trigger positive change than violence.[3]


Is there Hope?

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’ Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

The environmental crisis can seem overwhelming at times; after all, I’m just one person, aren’t I? But if we have our faith to turn to, we have hope in a God who is in control of world events (even if we don’t always see how he is working). He also promises us that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains (Matthew 17:20).

There are definitely mountains to move here, but if we as Christians unite together on this, we can begin, with God’s help, to move those mountains.

There are changes we can all make to our own lives that could significantly reduce our own environmental impact. If we consider what things we buy and where we buy them from, then we encourage the ‘right’ sort of business. If we consider where we invest our money (banks, savings and pensions), we encourage the ‘right’ sort of investments. If we talk to our families and friends about it (in love and with respect), then our influence grows and more people will start to make changes. This then starts to influence more people. As more people make changes, then politicians will find it easier to implement laws which help other people to make better choices.

As Christians we have an opportunity to demonstrate to the people around us that there is hope, that these changes are possible, and to reach out to those around us. Many are saying that spirituality has a place in environmentalism as God can give us the strength to tackle these issues. Are we using our faith to make the right choices to look after God’s Kingdom on earth? It’s rather like Jesus’ illustration of the mustard seed:

Then Jesus said, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.’ Luke 13:18-19 (NLT)


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/may/29/1

[2] “Out of Africa” with Thomas Friedman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfTswlvYXz4

[3] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190513-it-only-takes-35-of-people-to-change-the-world

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