Upping the Stewardship Ante

Upping the Stewardship Ante

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I've always believed in the call to be stewards of God's creation, but my ideas were solidified when I heard E. Calvin Beisner speak while a student at Summit Ministries. He was speaking about economics and the environment and I realized part of my duty as steward was to get the facts before falling in line on environmental issues.

That became even more clear when I went to work on Capitol Hill in 1992. It was there that I saw up close the way science and scientific findings can be used for political ends.

Fast forward two decades and I'm here reading tweets from my friend Dr. Russell Moore who's spent the past six weeks in Biloxi, MS on sabbatical. From the start of his trip, I've found it strikingly providential that he was arriving in his boyhood home just as the Gulf coast was bracing for an unprecedented environmental disaster.

And it's his writing that has clarified my understanding of the spiritual urgency of stewardship. I was particularly challenged by his blog post this week called "Ecological Catastrophe and the Uneasy Evangelical Conscience." In it he wrote,

As I pass that sign on Highway 90 telling me I’m leaving Biloxi, I can look out behind the water’s horizon and know there’s a Pale Horse there. A massive rupture in the ocean’s floor is gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, with plumes of petroleum great enough to threaten to destroy the sea-life there for my lifetime, if not forever. Everything is endangered, from the seafood and tourism industries to the crabs and seagulls on the beach to the churches where I first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Certainly I can understand his emotional response to the BP disaster. But it's his explanation of why this matters to us, believers who don't live in Biloxi and surrounding towns and cities, that stopped me cold.

For too long, we evangelical Christians have maintained an uneasy ecological conscience. I include myself in this indictment.

We’ve had an inadequate view of human sin.

Because we believe in free markets, we’ve acted as though this means we should trust corporations to protect the natural resources and habitats. But a laissez-faire view of government regulation of corporations is akin to the youth minister who lets the teenage girl and boy sleep in the same sleeping bag at church camp because he “believes in young people.”

Whoa. What has our hands-off approach to creation gotten us? A liberal left that worships the created rather than the Creator. And that's not good. Moore writes,

Moreover, we’ve seen some of the theological and ideological fringes in the environmentalist movement, fringes that enabled us to see them as not “with us,” and, frankly, to enable us to make fun of the entire question as a silly enterprise. But perhaps the void is being filled by leftists and liberals and wannabe liberal evangelicals simply because those who ought to know better are off doing something else.

I didn't realize, until now, how acute is the need for believers to take our responsibility to care for God's creation seriously.

We’ve had an inadequate view of human life and culture.

What is being threatened in the Gulf states isn’t just seafood or tourism or beach views. What’s being threatened is a culture.... When the natural environment is used up, unsustainable for future generations, cultures die.

And that hurts everyone. Moore says,

What’s left in the place of these cultures and traditions is an individualism that is defined simply by the appetites for sex, violence, and piling up stuff. That’s not conservative, and it certainly isn’t Christian.

We must think biblically about, and act biblically toward, the world around us -- every aspect of that world. Our failure to do so is devastating.

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  • Comment by  saidah:

    Now THAT was a good blog. And a frighteningly good perspective on the whole concept. After all, free markets or not, the love of money is the root of evil, right? So who are we to promote our money-making rights over... everything?

  • Comment by  Joe:

    I have a couple of problems with Dr. Moore's arguments.

    First he states:

    "Because we believe in free markets, we’ve acted as though this means we should trust corporations to protect the natural resources and habitats."

    The reason the oil spill has not been capped yet is because of government over-regulation, not lack of it. The government has forced the oil companies to drill at the edge of what is technologically possible. If the oil spill had been closer to the shore it would have been capped weeks ago because they would not have had to deal with the ocean depth. Also this quote displays the mistaken idea that it is the "evil" corporations vs. the "good" government. I'm sorry Dr. Moore but we are all fallen human beings.

    Second he states: "But a laissez-faire view of government regulation of corporations is akin to the youth minister who lets the teenage girl and boy sleep in the same sleeping bag at church camp because he “believes in young people.”

    Okay this is a terrible analogy. There is no laissez-faire treatment of the oil companies. They are regulated out the wazoo. If mistakes were made by B.P. they should pay for it, but that does not mean that we should give the government control. There are common sense regulations that should be imposed on corporations but our government is not doing that.

    I have to go now. I will finish later in another post.

    If this is a double post I apologize. I had some computer trouble while posting the first time.

  • Comment by  EKB:

    I'm so glad you posted this. I read it the other day and I think it's easily the best piece on Christianity and environmental stewardship that I've ever read.

    Particularly this:

    "Because we believe in free markets, we’ve acted as though this means we should trust corporations to protect the natural resources and habitats. But a laissez-faire view of government regulation of corporations is akin to the youth minister who lets the teenage girl and boy sleep in the same sleeping bag at church camp because he “believes in young people.”

    For some reason, I find it really easy to assume that anyone who aligns him/herself with political conservatism or corporate interests will act in the interest of the good.  Then this spill, and plenty of political scandals involving right wing politicians, have reminded me that I shouldn't automatically trust "my" side, particularly when they may agree with the "Christian Right" politically but there is no Christian love or discipline underlying their  hands-off views.

  • Comment by  AmirLarijani:

    Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with the environment, the issue is how much regulation, and what levels ought such matters be handled.

    Let's be honest here about the BP disaster: it's not like we didn't have regulation in place. In fact, we had entire regulatory agencies upon which the duty fell to ensure that oil companies were complying with federal law.

    Let's also be honest about the history of regulation of business in America: the history is one of businesses enlisting the government for protection, not one of government looking out for the public welfare.

    This is why the SEC is always a day late and a dollar short whenever there is a slew of corporate corruption.

    This is why the Federal Reserve has destroyed over 96% of the dollar's value in its nearly 100 years of existence.

    This is why AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Sallie Mae have put the taxpayer on the hook for a trillions of dollars in loans the value of which will never be recovered.

    The issue isn't whether we need more regulation--we have plenty of laws on the books, and enough regulatory apparatus such that the sufficient amount of governmental due diligence  ought to be possible--but rather

    (a) how do we have regulators who are not in bed with the industries they are supposed to be regulating? (This is a very serious problem at all levels of government: state, local, and federal.)


    (b) what function ought the regulators play? Are they enforcers? Are they informers? Are they some combination of both.

    Let's take the SEC for example...

    I've always felt that the SEC could serve an excellent role in ensuring the integrity of the free markets. Trouble is, they spend an inordinate amount of time chasing the wrong things.

    Right now, we have "ratings agencies"--Fitch, S&P, Moody's--which are basically hired guns who will tell the world whatever a company (who is paying the fee for the rating) wants the world to hear.

    (This is why these guys almost never downgrade a company until right before they file Chapter 11. This was the case with many dot-coms in the great Tech Wreck, as well as AIG and Washington Mutual and Lehman Brothers in the runup to the current meltdown.)

    Where can the SEC help?

    The SEC has the golden opportunity to play the role of ratings agency. They already have the infrastructure in place, because federal law requires publicly traded companies to provide disclosure in the form of standardized reports. (10-K, 10-Q, etc.)

    Analysts at the SEC, in turn, could use this information to provide assessments of companies with respect to their debt quality, quality of earnings, financial solvency, risk exposures, and so forth. This would provide more transparency--through disclosure--to the ratings processes.

    That way, if Moody's or S&P rates company X at AAA--the highest investment-grade rating--whereas the SEC gives them a lower score, the investor will have a balance against which to compare.

    Same goes for other industries: government can focus more on disclosure, which would play a role in assessing the risks to which a company is exposing itself.

    The Internet is the largest free market of information in the world, and agencies can use that to provide timely and pertinent information for legislators and investors alike.

    If a mining company, for example, had a large number of safety violations, then investors would be in a better position to ascertain their risks in the event of a mining disaster such as we saw in Utah 3 years ago as well as West Virginia this year.

    Disclosure would go farther toward ensuring a more equitable process, as it would allow investors to more rationally assess their true risk exposures.

    The BP disaster has raised the risk two ways: (a) the marginal cost for hedging against that risk just went up big time, and (b) the onus is now on BP's competitors to clean their own houses. This is because they realize that this could easily be them.

    Investors--who hold the capital--know this. And so do the companies that depend on that capital.

  • Comment by  YvetteS:

    Thanks for bringing this up, Candice. Just because some have taken it to pantheistic extremes, doesn't mean  protecting the environment isn't important.

    Clearly, God expects us to take care of the planet He created and gave mankind charge of.

    Exodus 20:11a

     "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day"

    Gen 1:27 -28

     So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth

    Rev 11:18

      18 The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,

         And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,

         And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,

         And those who fear Your name, small and great,

         And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”

    Can anyone else think of any texts that talk about the Christian's role in the environment?

  • Comment by  TedSlater:

    YvetteS (#5) -- sure, the Bible is saturated with talk about the "environment," which I take to mean plants and animals and the natural systems within which they interact.

    Just looking at the Gospels ...

    Some of the Apostles caught fish for a living; they, along with Jesus and others, often ate such meat. Jesus cursed a tree and it consequently died. Jesus and His friends walked through a field, eating the grain. Jesus' friends picked up after themselves after a huge picnic. Jesus calmed a storm and walked on water. Jesus used dirt and spit to heal someone's eyes; on other occasions the dirt was simply brushed away from His feet.

    It would be fun to dig deep into how Jesus and His friends interacted with the environment. In some cases, they treated it with respect. In some cases, they exerted authority over it. In some cases, they consumed it. In some cases, they destroyed it.

    For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven ...

  • Comment by  James:

    Just on a more personal level, I've always tried to be mindful of my consumption, and just taking care of the possessions I have at the moment. (condo, vehicle, etc)  I recycle, carpool, and try not to let any food go to waste.

    How about the idea of being good stewards of God's Word?  Certainly it's possible to misuse it for either our own personal gain or a cause we're championing (that isn't Christ)... agree?

  • Comment by  Mike:

    You know, I've seen an awful lot of talk in the media about a "lack of regulation" or a "violation of regulations" or "lax regulators".

    I've seen virtually nothing about precisely what regulations BP supposedly violated. Or weren't enforced. Or should have been in place.

    A lot of loose talk; very little actual evidence.

    That said - and more to the point of the blog post - Candice's point is valid. When we abandon responsible stewardship in favor of rabid pantheism, we're asking for - and will probably receive - a passel of trouble.

  • Comment by  James117:

    #8 Mike

    There's actually a lot of evidence that BP is not a great company.  Other oil companies seem to be a lot better.


  • Comment by  Steve:

    #2 Joe and #4 Amir are spot on.

    It's the regulation of markets, not the "free market" that has caused our problems.

    How disappointing that whenever something like this happens the call is for "more regulation," which represents a complete lack of understanding of what real free markets can accomplish.

    Good job Candice, for not giving him a free pass.

  • Comment by  Mike:

    James117 (#9) wrote:

    There's actually a lot of evidence that BP is not a great company. Other oil companies seem to be a lot better.

    Okay, fair enough. I wasn't very clear in what I said. What I should have said was, "I haven't seen evidence of allegations in this incident of what regulations were violated."

    Yes, BP has a rotten history of cutting corners. (And there was apparently some corner-cutting going on in this case; I mentioned the BP exec insisting on terminating the "mud" pressure early in the capping procedure.)

    But that still doesn't answer the question: If a company is breaking the rules, how will passing more rules help?

    The instant, knee-jerk reaction when something bad happens is, "We need more rules to stop bad things from happening!" That supposition is based on a false premise - that rules can stop bad things from happening, while simultaneously not stopping equally good things from happening.

    That's a fantasy. Sure, if you pass enough regulations, you can stop everything from happening. But then ... that's not exactly a good thing, is it?

  • Comment by  Dan:

    Isn't it government regulation that is keeping BP from paying the full cost of damages because of a maximum limit owed set?

    Republican politicians have been trying to pay lip service to libertarian-conservative like minds by going against regulation when the Democrats wanted to up the maximum cap of what BP cost in damages would be.  However the best thing would be to remove the cap all together and have BP pay all damages to all offended parties.  Neither ends of the isle sided with the right answer.  The very regulation people wanted is the very problem.  You vote with your dollar, not hand it off to government to fix unless you want to forfeit that entire freedom all together.

    When will individual responsibility reign over group-think government?

  • Comment by  Stefanie:

    I don't think Candice is calling for more government regulation. I think she's trying to say that CHRISTIANS should get involved. If Christians were involved in environmental issues the same way they try to be involved in "moral" issues in politics, the environmental platform wouldn't be in the hands of liberals calling for more government regulation.

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