Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Dear Senator Inhofe
distributed 1/23/15 - ©2015

"When are you Christians going to start calling out members of your tribe who use their faith to justify destroying the environment?" My friend Ron asked me that in December.

Ron was echoing the call that is often put out to mainstream Muslims, expecting them to denounce those who use Islam to justify terrorism. He named Senator James Inhofe -- who now chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee of the US Senate -- as a leading example of the public figures who quote Christian scripture to buttress what he and I both consider dangerous and anti-environmental positions.

Taking up Ron's challenge is not a task that I accept lightly. I have researched it and reflected for quite a while. It is important, though, to speak truth to our kindred in faith who are in error. My open letter to him is a bit longer than the normal Notes, because there is much to be said. There is also a footnote to Notes subscribers at the end.

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Dear Senator Inhofe,

In your book, "The Greatest Hoax: How the global warming conspiracy threatens your future", you call yourself "a Jesus guy" (p. 68), and you refer to two passages of scripture as shaping your beliefs about whether Christians should address climate change.

I write to you as an ordained minister in the Christian church, trained in biblical studies and ethics, because I see errors in your use and interpretation of scripture. As a brother in faith, I ask that you prayerfully reconsider these two texts, and your stance about how we most appropriately serve as stewards of God's creation.

You first refer to the writings of Paul, saying

It seems to me that we should make use of the resources that God has given us, and remember that it is God, not God's creation, that should be praised, as exemplified in Romans 1:25: "They gave up the truth of God for a lie, and they worshiped God's creation instead of God who will be praised forever. Amen."

Later, I will say more about why caring for creation is not the same as worshiping creation. But I must first tell you that you have misquoted this verse from the Bible, and have distorted the meaning of Paul's message.

I have consulted six translations of the Bible, and none of them say "they worshiped God's creation." All of them, such as this quote from the New Revised Standard Version, speak of "worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." There is a great difference between "the creature" and "the creation."

Romans 1:25 is in a passage that addresses the worship of idols -- a very important and practical issue in Rome at the time. The context of the passage is clear. Verses 22-23 say, "Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." Paul does not say a word about worshiping creation. His concern is about those who offer sacrifice and praise before a statue of a creature.

In that same passage, Paul affirms that the creation as a whole reveals God. Verse 20: "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." We are not to worship idols. We are to be attentive to the glory of God made manifest through God's creation.

The other Bible passage that you quote is Genesis 8:22 -- one verse out of the 20 verses concluding the story of the flood. "As long as the earth remains, there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night."

In Genesis 8:21-22, God is speaking to God's self, vowing not to bring another flood of destruction. Let us remember that this was The Flood, not just a flood. The Flood wiped away the entire structure of creation, cleansing the violence and corruption that had filled the earth (Gen 6:11-13). God promises God's self never to cause such an undoing of creation: "nor will I ever again destroy every living creation as I have done." (Gen. 8:21) "I won't do it" is the promise. The possibility of great damage and disruption from other causes is left open.

The reference to "springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night" takes us back to Genesis 1:14-15, the fourth day of creation in the magnificent Priestly telling of our beginnings. The orderliness of God's creation includes the astronomical regularity of days and seasons, the progression of solstice and equinox, the movement of the sun and moon that define the calendar. "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.'"

In the darkness and chaos of The Flood, even that cosmic regularity was gone. God's self-spoken vow after the Flood -- in the language of modern astronomy -- is that earth's orbit of the Sun will not be disrupted. That is quite different from a promise about the stability of weather and climate.

Throughout the Bible, and throughout history, there has often been drought, even devastating drought, where harvest never came. And the Bible frequently describes those devastations as a consequence of human sin. Hosea 4:3, for example, speaks of Israel's violation of covenant. "There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land." As a consequence, creation is disrupted: "Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing."

You wrote (p. 71): "And this is what a lot of alarmists forget: God is still up there, and He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth remains."

Yes, God is still "up there" and the astronomical seasons will continue. And it is also true that human actions have consequences, even including the great disruption of nature. The Bible says so, over and over again. The one verse you quote from Genesis does not promise that God will protect us from the consequences of our behavior. You distort the meaning of scripture when you claim that God will block the effects of human sin.

John P. Burgess wrote in a Presbyterian journal, "God's promise to Noah does not mean that nature is spared our destructive impact. Humans have now profoundly disrupted seedtime and harvest. Our actions have damaged summer and winter. Climate change does not put God's faithfulness into question, only ours."

Ben Thurley, the coordinator of Hope for Creation, wrote, "Yet it doesn't follow that God's place as sovereign over creation is undermined or threatened if human beings are able to change the climate and are now doing so. God's sovereignty does not mean that nothing and nobody else can affect or change the atmosphere and oceans -- even on a massive scale. ... God's sovereignty is not threatened by these things. But we are."

And because our actions do have consequences, the Genesis text brings us back to the distinction between "caring for creation" and "worshiping creation."

After The Flood, God makes a covenant defining the relationship between humans and the rest of creation. What we find in Genesis 9 is very different from the description in chapter 1, which was totally peaceful, and where only plants were food for any of the animals. This post-flood creation is a more violent place. Predation and the eating of meat is allowed. "Fear and dread" are built into the order of things. And, intriguingly, humans are told to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth", but are not told to have dominion or to subdue the earth. We are seen as more dangerous, "for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth." (Gen. 8:21)

In laying out these new arrangements, God makes a covenant -- not only with the people -- but "with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark." (Gen. 9:9-10) In that contract, God explicitly lists every living creature as a partner in the contract. Far from being "the resources that God has given us", those creatures are partners with us in God's first and everlasting covenant.

In our worship of God, in our honoring of our covenant relationship with the Creator, we are obligated to live in right relationship with the other creatures that God has brought into that covenant. We do not worship the creation. We do care for creation because we worship the God of creation who has joined in covenant with "all flesh", with all creatures.

Senator Inhofe, you and I differ on many political positions. As a minister of the Christian gospel, I am compelled to write with words of correction about your misuse and misinterpretation of scripture.

You have quoted two verses from the Bible to support your position that we do not need to address climate change. Both of those verses were taken out of context, and their clear meaning of responsible relationship with God and all of creation were distorted.

Senator, my brother in Christ, I call on you to prayerfully turn again to the pervasive testimony of the Bible about God's deep care for all of creation. For "in Christ God was reconciling the world [the cosmos] to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Christ "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, ... all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17)

As faithful Christians, we are called to love and care for God's beloved creation.

In Christ,
Rev. Peter Sawtell

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A brief footnote to this already long Eco-Justice Notes. Back in November, I made a post-election promise to myself and to the Notes subscribers. "Rather than writing off opponents as mad or bad, crazy or evil, I will try to understand the philosophies and values that guide them."

I have tried to understand Senator Inhofe, and I attempted to give his book an honest reading. I made it to page 60 before I slammed the book shut and shouted, "That does it!" On that page, he gives the transcript of television interview where he intentionally distorts reputable climate science and the intentions of those who are concerned about global warming.

My reading of the book reveals a man who is skilled at misdirection, innuendo, and taking things out of context. I am not at all surprised that his use of scripture falls into the same pattern.

My friend Ron is right. As people of faith, we must speak out when our faith is hijacked for evil purposes. I pray that I have done so honestly and fairly today.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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