Why Pro-Life Christians Are Addressing Climate Change

Why Pro-Life Christians Are Addressing Climate Change

by Rev. Mitch Hescox and Alexei Laushkin

From the formation of a child’s first tiny cell to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value because each and every one of us is made in the image of God. And that is why when we talk about being “pro-life,” it’s not just about a political issue. It’s a world view…it’s a life-view. It’s a way of looking at each human life that transcends culture, class, race, age and opinion.

— The Dignity of Life by Focus on The Family

We believe that creation-care is a matter of life because we see a clear scriptural ethic to protect human life at all stages; from conception to natural death. This view is anchored in historic Christian teaching on the subject and it is the same ethic that motivated early Christians to take up adoption and what motivates Christians in this age to protect the unborn from abortion.  As the recent video, The Dignity of Life, by Focus on the Family puts it: “From the formation of a child’s first tiny cell to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value because each and every one of us is made in the image of God.”

For us, being pro-life includes not only defending our unborn children, but also the biblical mandate to care for all life. While the threats may be different, the injunction to protect life is the same. We are called to protect this seamless garment of life.

Toxins and other pollutants foul our water, air, and soil, impacting the purity of life God intends. Children are especially vulnerable to many of these pollutants because their small bodies are still developing. A few years ago pro-life evangelicals spoke out on the impact of mercury on the unborn. 1 in 6 children in the U.S. were born with too high levels of mercury in their blood; here’s an audio briefing on why mercury is so dangerous for the unborn.  Because of the efforts of pro-life evangelicals the United States is taking a leadership role in reducing the impact of mercury on the unborn.  Another important issue is water.  As a recent USA Today op-ed put it if you care about life pay attention to what’s happening with water.

We believe climate change to be a profound pro-life issue, and Florida is ground zero when it comes to climate change. Cities across the state are already spending millions in taxpayer dollars to install new sea level pumps, bolster sea walls, and protect from salt water intrusion. While it is good to respond to current challenges, it is even more cost effective to spend funds ahead of time to prepare for present changes in the climate, including extreme weather events. Let’s upgrade Florida’s water pumps and building codes today before we have to clean up a bigger mess tomorrow. Given the dollars already being spent and scale of the cost, if you care about taxpayer money and limited government you should care about climate change. We are also concerned about worsening air pollution under climate change. Duval County alone has almost 18,000 cases of pediatric asthma. That number would be dramatically lower if we were better stewards of God’s world.

When we see the present impacts our pro-life ethic kicks in. Let’s empower individuals to take the lead when it comes to entrepreneurial business solutions that create a cleaner environment. We need to see climate not as an issue about politics or partisanship, but as a moral concern. God has given us all the tools to be good stewards of God’s creation. It’s time for Florida to come together to come up with a plan to address climate change. The church in Florida is already starting to take the lead through the Joseph Pledge. As the church starts to take on climate change more directly, it’s also time for clean businesses to take the lead. The cost of solar has plummeted, yet Florida is still well behind where it could be when it comes to clean energy. We need to do what we can to transition away from expensive fossil fuels and toward cheaper and healthier technologies. These actions should include putting together a plan for Florida to play a part in achieving the Clean Power Plan and finding conservative solutions to addressing carbon pollution.

Every concern mentioned in the video by Focus on the Family is impacted by our poor stewardship of God’s creation, whose consequences are borne by our children in their bodies and the future we bequeath to them. If creation isn’t stewarded well how do we expect the poor to have access to fresh food and to live free of toxins in their neighborhood? Our poor stewardship of God’s world is a reflection of how seriously we take God’s teaching. That’s why creation-care remains integral to being pro-life. As the Focus video states, being pro-life is “not just about a political issue. It’s a world view – it’s a life view.”

Rev. Mitch Hescox is the President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Repentance, Repentance, and Ferguson, MO

Repentance, Repentance, and Ferguson, MO

Slumber, slumber; My Church is the great sleeper
Why, o Why, do you ask for help to spend on yourselves
You have forgotten to bind the hearts of the brokenhearted
You have neglected your fellow brothers and sisters
You have forgotten Ferguson, MO
These things you should not have done
Turn, Repent, Cry Out and you will be Healed
Seek first the kingdom of God
Humble Yourself
We Confess
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

As a conservative evangelical I have a confession to make. I am not as naturally burdened by the events in Ferguson, MO as I ought to be. That is until this morning. This morning reading the news of more violence and confrontations with police, I was deeply burdened. This is our nation in turmoil. These are our people in suffering. These are our leaders in paralysis.

I have followed the events in Ferguson since they have happened, but I have not been as driven to pray and fast until now.

photo by velo_city used through flickr creative commons.

photo by velo_city used through flickr creative commons.

I have to ask myself. Where is the conservative anglo church? I know many are as burdened as I am, but why is what Ann Coulter says about Ebola and missionaries more burdensome than the violence and strife within our own cities. Why, are we not driven to repentance. Why do we not say and confess that we just aren’t as interested  or burdened to pursue relationships with fellow leaders of color.

I know many leaders would be happy if they had such relationships and some actually do, but why don’t we prioritize unity in the body?

Will we just let our understanding of politics and culture blind us to what God desires out of the church?

During the height of tensions in Ukraine you saw the Orthodox church do something incredible. They stood in the middle of the protesters and government forces and pleaded for peace. They reminded people, violence is not the way of the one who suffered the cross. In the end you may choose violence, but don’t confuse your will with the holiness of God.

As the body of Christ can we not see that the Lord wishes something similar from the American church? By that I don’t mean the anglo church or churches of color, I mean the way the Lord will look at us and does look at us, as one church. If we fail to humble ourselves and recognize our unity before God that’s on us not the Lord.

God longs for a holy and righteous American church. One that seeks first the kingdom. One that humbles itself through repentance and confession of sins. One that is not prideful, one that does not say I have nothing to repent of.

If we humble ourselves in unity and seek first the kingdom, the Lord will come and bring great healing and vibrancy back on the church. Let us live and fast for such a day. Let us live and keep the fast for Ferguson, MO. Amen.

How Evangelicals Handle Wealth, Fame, and Mission

How Evangelicals Handle Wealth, Fame, and Mission

“Not by bread alone we live,
Thy good word our life shall be;
Not for all the earth can give
Shall we worship ought but thee;
Nor the word of promise bend
E’er to tempt our God in heaven;
Never for unholy end
Was the gracious promise given”
(Faint and Weary Jesus Stood by Walter C. Smith)

It’s in our human nature to assign blame. We want to know why something happened and who was responsible. This is true in our legal processes as much as within our own relationships and family life. If something has gone wrong someone is to blame.

These tendencies are amplified when your community is facing big challenges. Presently, evangelicals are facing big challenges. Very few evangelicals are looking at the future and seeing bright and vibrant possibilities for the evangelical faith.

People are giving a multitude of reasons for the declining influence of evangelicals. For those outside of the community the culprit is the right-wing politics. Evangelicals would be better off practicing their religion and leaving politics alone. In fact if evangelicals did this many outside of the community might change their judgments from negative to just quirky.

For those inside of the community the reasons tend to be legion, but there is a tendency to say that such things are happening to us rather than to say that we are causing such things. Without a significant unifying figure like Billy Graham many evangelicals are breaking into a kind of tribalism. With various people picking their favorite way of practicing faith or doing it the right way. This has spawned a whole social media industry of blame.

So, what has actually gone on?

Seek first the Kingdom and His Righteousness.” How are we doing with such a focus when it comes to wealth, fame, and mission.

There is a tendency for posts like this to descend into a sort of blame game as well. But I submit to you that God calls us to discernment not to sit in judgment of specific people. Ultimately judgment belongs to the Lord and such a thought should cause us each to tremble. I know it does for me.

As best as possible we want to keep our judgments sober, modest, and in line with helping to extend the mission of the church as it is united with Christ. With this kind of charitable spirit let us look at some hard issues.

Money

Perhaps there is no challenge greater in the present church than the role of money. Beyond the sermon to give generously we don’t talk a lot about money. Yet, our day to day is dominated by needing to navigate finances. Money can buy material goods and we’ve even developed a special term for when our relationship with money is going well: financial well being.

Pastors are not immune from how our society grapples with money. And you can see this play out in the life of the church. From lavish amounts being spent to make sure the church keeps pace with the business world or not enough being spent keeping pastors in unnecessary hardship. We run the gamut from pastors who charge exorbitant speakers fees and fly private jets to those who never save for retirement. In our community you would be hard pressed to say we handle money well. The words of Jesus come to mind if you can’t handle the riches of this world who will give you the riches of the kingdom.

Scriptures are clear you can’t serve God and money. Money is not morally neutral. It’s not what you do with it, it’s what hold it has on your life and ministry.

Without the proper spirit on money, money easily rules the life of many evangelical Christians.

Perhaps we have seen our witness squandered in part by the way we’ve handled ourselves with money. It’s one of the unspoken areas of church life. Money often determines our comfortability with risk in the kingdom, should it really be that way?

Fame

This is a harder one to talk about, but in some ways as pervasive as a dynamic as wealth.

We live in a celebrity culture and evangelicals are not immune from such tendencies. In fact many crave attention and recognition. The problem is that seeking fame is not the same as seeking the kingdom.

If one wants to seek fame they might actively brag about their access to the corridors of power and influence. Yet the kingdom is not impressed with such things. The riches of the kingdom surpass the riches of any temporary fame. The way of the cross and salvation is not the way of cultural glory.

We should hold those who embody a holy life in high esteem. If that leads to recognition so be it, but let us all be on guard for the temptation to seek recognition for its own sake.

Mission

Seeking first the kingdom means seeking those things of the Father in all places and at all times. It requires peace of mind, awareness, intense prayer, and a deep love for others. This should be what motivates our focus, when such things are lacking we are falling short on Christian mission and in some ways we should consider refraining calling things that don’t resemble Christianity, Christian.

Mission creep is certainly very present in the evangelical world. So let us return to a passion for the mission of the kingdom in all of its rich forms.

The point is not to just say see look at three areas that aren’t normally talked about it is to actually encourage a turn and repentance in order that we might more fully seek the kingdom.

Repent, turn, and actively turn from the old ways. This is true for me as for you. Don’t just say I repent demonstrate repentance with actions that match a truly turned heart. Ask what God would have you do even if it is sell half of your possessions to atone. Have sorrow for how things have happened and move towards the heart of the kingdom. Seek the true treasurers. Don’t wait the time is now. Amen.

Everyday Faithfulness

Everyday Faithfulness

So what does it look like to grow in faithfulness everyday of our lives? If you are like most Christians the thought seems daunting.

I was at a retreat several years ago where we were asked to share our faith journey on a graph from left to right. Most people had several flattish lines with moments of inspiration (mountain top experiences) mixed in. The charts ended up looking like small growth followed by great leaps followed by a return to a similar level. While there were periods of great Christian insight most felt like their faith journey was a bit of a muddle.

Here’s what tends to happen.

Christians might feel really good at a Sunday service or a small group but the rest of the time they tend to be surviving or just trying to make it by.

Christians generally, but evangelicals in particular are taught to pray, maintain good bible reading, and avoid moral sins.

But what about the everyday struggles and faithfulness during the work week?

This is where some new terminology might prove really helpful. Christians battle with what the church fathers would call the passions. For each person their particular passion or passions might be different. For one person it might be pride, for another anger, for another deep seated anxiety, for another lust, yet another a judgmental spirit, and so on.

If you are lucky you are aware of your main struggle, for some such awareness is lacking. If you aren’t sure ask someone you trust and who knows you well and they’ll likely be able to help you identify some.

The Christian life consists in putting to death these passions, especially the ones that rule our day to day. The way we do this though isn’t to simply try harder and stop doing the things we know we shouldn’t do.

Christian prayers for centuries have said something like this. Forgive me for the sins I have committed willfully or in my weakness. Willful sins are easy to imagine, sins of weakness tend to be related to the passion or passions that easily overwhelm our ability to refrain from acting on them.

These sins that are committed in weakness often have deep seated sources. If you are an anxious person simply trying to stop being anxious won’t work.

Instead you must pursue everyday faithfulness to build up the strength to truly put to death the passions.

What do such things look like?

When we think of doing Christian things in our day to day we start reverting to abstract thoughts. Be nice, be kind, be friendly.

Instead we must focus on specific actions. Remember faith that does not flow into our actions is of little value.

So instead if you want to put to death the passions start with small and concrete actions. If you walk to/from a metro stop you or in a downtown area you might consider bringing a dollars worth of quarters with you. Now every time someone asks for money, give one of those quarters away no matter who it is. This can be a concrete way to give to all who ask expecting nothing in return.

Maybe you struggle with a particular colleague at work. Perhaps you might discipline yourself to say thank you each time you interact with them. This small change in attitude can pay major dividends as you seek to grow in your faith.

Maybe you are prone to deep anxiety. Practice a simple prayer every time you are anxious like “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.” Your anxiety won’t immediately go away but with time you are helping to build the spiritual health that will give you strength and inner peace to face your anxieties.

The idea is to take on small and new steps as often as possible in order that the Holy Spirit might transform you more and more into the likeness of Christ.

The way to big change often comes
with everyday faithfulness. Taking daily steps without growing weary will produce a mature harvest.
20140715-205753-75473793.jpg

Hobby Lobby- A Deeper Look

Hobby Lobby- A Deeper Look

This week the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Calistoga Wood. The ruling has set off a wave of social media confusion. So here’s a more comprehensive look.

First the basics. Hobby Lobby and Calistoga Wood objected to four contraceptives: two emergency contraceptives Plan B and Ella and two kinds of IUDs. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Calistoga Wood find these methods to be abortifacients, in their faith based view they do not want to financially enable these methods which they view as virtually equal to abortion. To put it more clearly, to the owners of Hobby Lobby and Calistoga Wood paying for these items would be the equivalent of enabling the death of babies.

At issue is the interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 and a subsequent law. The Religious Freedom and Restoration Act expanded the definition of religious freedom:

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

In other words the government cannot burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the law was not specifically targeted at a particular faith or religious belief.

Until this week, the Supreme Court had never definitively ruled on how RFRA applied to religious freedom. The court had also never ruled about the religious freedoms of corporations. So the case was groundbreaking on many levels.

This is not an exhaustive post, but I want to look at three dimensions of the case: what constitutes a Christian business, whether or not corporations are people, and how to view this case within a historical context.

A Christian Business

Is Hobby Lobby a Christian business? Here’s an interesting interview with Mart Green which I think will help you get a sense of how they view their life and work. David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, is the son of an Assemblies of God preacher. David was the only child not to go into full time ministry. Listen to the full interview to get a better sense of the family and how they view themselves. They are very much Assemblies of God Christians in their beliefs and practice.

Jonathan Merrit has a post that articulated what many probably feel at some gut level. How can a craft and hobbies store claim a Christian mandate or identity? It’s an interesting question and an important one to consider.

Certainly the Green family believes that they are running a Christian business in that they promote evangelism, are closed on the Sabbath, are pro-life in their beliefs, and are generous with their financial contributions. They also promote the values of integrity and empowerment within their business context.

CyberXRef/Wikimedia Commons

CyberXRef/Wikimedia Commons

I think it’s worth stating that God will hold us to high standards if we choose to call our business Christian. Some evangelicals will call a business they own a full time Christian ministry. What they typically mean is that there is a specific focus on evangelism and reaching others with the good news of Jesus Christ or that they are generous in their contributions, what is often missing is any mention or serious reflection on Christian practice in the entire life cycle of the business.

What’s important to remember is that in God’s eyes these aren’t either/or propositions. The Lord will ask us if our work contributed to the suffering of the vulnerable overseas, he will ask how we handled engaging with the unborn, he may ask if we thought about how our products were sourced in terms of their impact on God’s creation, he will ask how we tried to love our neighbors who weren’t Christian but were employed in our business. Certainly our personal generosity and Sabbath practices will also come into play, but as important will be questions on whether we earned wrongful gain or defrauded our neighbor in the life cycle of our business. God’s standards will be much higher than our legal or cultural norms. Not to mention the Lord will ask about all those hidden ways and questions that he has for each of us. In short, working in God’s name is not something to be taken lightly.

I think the question on money making and how Christians have handled money and fame in their ministries and lives has done a lot to cloud the role of money as a motivating factor in calling something Christian. Money is not morally neutral when it comes to whom you ultimately serve. So I think this sentiment and experience does a lot to lessen the enthusiasm for businesses claiming a Christian identity.

As far as the Green family, I cannot be a final arbitrator of what they claim to be. I can only point people to all the ways God may hold us to account for what we say, and ask that each of us be sober minded in our judgments and practices. After all God is other and He is holy and has called us to seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness. This is true for the Greens as any other Christian family.

Corporations and People

Are corporations people? It seems laughable, but under U.S. law increasingly the answer is yes. To some extent businesses in the U.S. have always been treated in some way like people for the purposes of entering into contracts and engaging with other businesses. You might ask why? The simple answer is that there was not the need to create another type of category or rights for businesses. The questions asked in the 19th century were not the same ones being asked today. The initial thinking around being held accountable like any person seems good and fair. Like people corporations can be held liable for illegal actions and even dumping.

The pro-life movement has often taken issue with the idea that corporations are people while the unborn are not. So it’s a bit of a surprise to see a reversal that doesn’t articulate that we view the unborn as people too.

Under current interpretations of the law, U.S. corporations are people in some instances but not in others. The most notable case in the last few years was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) which ruled that corporations are people when it comes to their ability to make their views known in the political process. The case built on Buckley v. Valeo (1976) which ruled that free speech includes money.

So association of peoples operating as corporations are being recognized more and more as people under U.S. law. This is morally problematic because it consolidates the identity of a business into the hands of a few decision makers. Isn’t there a way to balance ownership rights without resorting to equivalence?

The United States has a tradition of being skeptical of consolidated power whether in the hands of government or unaccountable groups of people. If corporations are people they are unlike any people you and I will ever meet with more influence than any single individual can typically wield.

Having said this it does not mean that all people or all government actions are wrong intrinsically. I simply mean that any accumulation of power without accountability is worth curtailing.

A bit of History

What constitutes religious freedom has always been subject to the laws and norms of the present time. Religious freedom has and will continue to change. Cases having to do with religious freedom and rights have constantly been adjudicated in U.S. law. For instance, as an employee you do not have a right to claim religious freedom exemptions for not working during certain days or times of the year if your exercise of that right puts an undue burden on your fellow employees. (I.E. an employee of a small business is not entitled to excessive time off even to practice faith.)

In 1878 in a case Reynolds v. United States a prominent Mormon leader challenged polygamy laws on the basis of religious freedom. The court ruled unanimously that Reynolds had a right to his personal views but that his liberty did not extend to his actions. He could claim no right to be a polygamist because marriage was to be entered into one person at a time.

In 1925 the Society of Sisters’ sued the State of Oregon for banning private schools. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Sisters religious freedom entitled them to run a faith-based school.

In 1990 two Native Americans sued the state of Oregon for denying them unemployment benefits on being dismissed for using cannabis in a religious ceremony. Back then, Justice Scalia ruled that both employees had no claim against the State of Oregon because the law did not specifically target their religious beliefs, but was generally applied to all citizens.

That court case sparked then Cong. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to introduce the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill passed unanimously in the U.S. House and with all but three votes in the U.S. Senate.

Historically the laws of the U.S. have been very generous in allowing for religious exemptions and the free exercise of religion, but when there are major social changes, what constitutes freedom of religion also changes. We have moved in times past from a nation with slavery to a nation without, from a nation with little rights for women to a nation with substantial rights, from a nation of discrimination on the basis of color to a nation where our laws no longer support such things.

On the issue of abortion there is still a great deal left unsettled. For the time being the court is allowing an accommodation for religious owners.

Will this mean a parade of terrible actions done by the hands of Christians and other religious people? I think the answer is mostly no. The court is unlikely to allow religious businesses to have different standards for same-sex couples.

I also don’t think this case is a real clear win for religious freedom. It’s unclear what lower courts will now rule on in terms of similar claims. I think we will see more cases on religious freedom, but those cases will not be as clear cut if they do not have to do with matters of life and death (i.e. how one views abortion).

The main lesson: Christians should be very careful on what they bring before the courts. Our culture and even popular Christian thinking uses one standard, but God judges the heart and the substance of what we do. This should all give us great pause.

 

Elusive Peace

Elusive Peace

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 172:2)

Anxiety deadens the soul. Anxiety can be all consuming and debilitating. It even gets harder to breathe when we are severely anxious. Anxiety robs us of sleep and perspective.

We live in an age where anxiety is the norm. Many people turn to faith to deal with their anxieties, but few take the time to truly explore the source of their deeply rooted anxieties. If we took the time we would find that our disproportionate passions are running the show. In other words we lack contentment and we lack peace. So in response we have sought our own ways of obtaining peace and contentment.

Angelico, Fra. The Conversion of St. Augustine (painting).

Angelico, Fra. The Conversion of St. Augustine (painting).

This is one
of the great truths of life. What if we have everything we could ever want or imagine; and yet we are still without elusive peace. This is the great tragedy, in our striving we obtain everything but  wellness of life.

This is the mystery of our age. We live in a nation of great wealth yet contentment is not universal or deep. Divorce is significant, family ties are weak, true friendship is rare, depression is ever increasing, and yet we continue to fill our deep needs with our latest attempt at a solution.

Jesus says, “Peace be with you. My peace I give you, not as the world gives.” The Psalmist says “I have more peace than when their grain and wine abound.”

Surely these are not euphemisms but spiritual and material realities for the Christian. As Christians we must take up our cross daily against anxious toil. We must not let the standards of the age determine our vision for well being in life. Christians must pursue the hard path of daily reliance on the Lord. We must be disciplined in our affections, so that with time we can abandon our own ways at finding solutions to our deep anxieties and fears and instead turn to the Lord for our daily manna. If we seek the Lord and let the goodness of the Trinity shape our desires, in time peace will be given. Amen.