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Religion, Narrative, and the
Religion, Narrative, and the Environmental Humanities provides a fresh look at rhetoric, religion, and environmental humanities through narratives of evangelical culture, analyses of evangelical writing, and their connection to environmental topics. This volume aims to present a cultural under standing between evangelical and non-evangelical communities, exploring how environmental priorities and diﬀerences ﬁt within the thinking and felt experiences of American evangelicalism. Oﬀering a variety of theological topics, chapters include discussion of key themes such as eschatology, scriptural authority, and stewardship, and their relationship to evangelical thinking and conceptualization within climate change rhetoric. To help readers better access evangelicalism and translate these ideas, each chapter utilizes individual narratives located within evangelicalism to set an aﬀec tive or experiential base for readers. In addition, this volume includes tex tual analysis of key documents within each section to further explore the environmental issues, values, and elements within the subculture of Amer ican evangelicalism. This volume will be essential for all scholars interested in bridging the gap of cultural translation and exploring the deep rhetorical roots of evangelical attitudes toward environmental issues. Matthew Newcomb earned his PhD in English (with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition) from Pennsylvania State University. He cur rently serves as an Associate Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz where he directed the Composition Program for ten years, earning the Dean’s Outstanding Service Award. His publications on argument, aﬀect, environment, sports rhetoric, and composition theory have appeared in Rhetoric Review, College Composition and Communication, JAC, Inter disciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, enculturation, Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, and elsewhere.
Routledge Studies in World Literatures and the Environment Series Editors: Scott Slovic and Swarnalatha Rangarajan Narrating Nonhuman Spaces Form, Story, and Experience Beyond Anthropocentrism Edited by Marco Caracciolo, Marlene Karlsson Marcussen, and David Rodriguez The Tree of Life and Arboreal Aesthetics in Early Modern Literature Victoria Bladen The Experience of Disaster in Early Modern English Literature Edited by Sophie Chiari Anthropocene Ecologies of Food Notes from the Global South Edited by Simon C. Estok, S. Susan Deborah and Rayson K. Alex Literature Beyond the Human Post-Anthropocentric Brazil Edited by Luca Bacchini and Victoria Saramago D. H. Lawrence, Ecofeminism and Nature Terry Giﬀord Religion, Narrative, and the Environmental Humanities Bridging the Rhetoric Gap Matthew Newcomb Nuclear Cultures Irradiated Subjects, Aesthetics and Planetary Precarity Pramod K Nayar Contagion Narratives The Society, Culture and Ecology of the Global South Edited by R. Sreejith Varma and Ajanta Sircar For more information about this series, please visit: https://www.routledge. com/Routledge-Studies-in-World-Literatures-and-the-Environment/book-ser ies/ASHER4038
Religion, Narrative, and the
Bridging the Rhetoric Gap
First published 2023 by Routledge 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158 and by Routledge 4 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2023 Matthew Newcomb The right of Matthew Newcomb to be identiﬁed as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identiﬁcation and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this title has been requested ISBN: 978-1-032-33121-8 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-032-33123-2 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-31829-3 (ebk) DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293 Typeset in Sabon by Taylor & Francis Books
Talking Systematic Theology: An Introduction
Eschatology: Escaping the Apocalypse with Evangelicals and Environmentalists
Scripture and Authority: The Department of Hermeneutic Security
Stewardship: Human Care through Creation Care in Evangelical Environmental Statements
Evangelism: Share the Good (and Bad) Environmental News
Knowing Creation: “Bible-Science” and the Possibility of Global Warming
Sin and Righteousness: Aﬀective Dissonance and Comparing Environmental and Political Priorities
Evangelical Conservation: A Postscript
First, I must acknowledge the many evangelical Christians and envir onmentalists, particularly friends and family members, that I write about in this book. While sometimes the language is more positive and sometimes more critical, each person is more than a set of political or environmental stances, and I value them through both our diﬀerences and agreements. Thanks also to my colleagues and many inspiring students at SUNY New Paltz, especially within the English Department. More speciﬁc appreciation goes to Michelle Salyga, Bryony Reece, and the whole team at Routledge who guided and supported me throughout the publishing process with great clarity and cheer. The feedback from my anonymous scholarly reviewers was invaluable and signiﬁcantly improved the ﬁnal product. I also want to acknowledge the “Good Letters” blog from Image Journal, which allowed me to reuse a portion of my short personal essay “Endurance Test,” which they previously published. Thanks also to Oxford University Press and Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment for permission to use (for Chapter 2) a revised version of “Fire Insurance: Evangelical Environmental Escapism,” ISLE vol. 6, no. 1, 2019, pp. 211–22. Most of all, love and thanks to my wife (and superior writer and editor) Erin and our girls for their laughter, constant encouragement, and continual dance and swim practices (where I could sit to write and revise). All reasonable eﬀorts have been made to contact copyright holders for quoted material.
Talking Systematic Theology An Introduction
In the summer of 2020, I received an invitation to join a church’s special study of systematic theology. This invitation was from an evangelical, Baptist-aﬃliated church I had attended in the past, and I still had some poker buddies connected with it. An evangelical church trying to teach “key biblical truths” in a systematic way isn’t surprising. What I paused over was simply the question, “why now?” In the midst of a pandemic, a rising movement against continued racial injustice in the United States, early hurricanes strengthened by climate change, and massive numbers of job losses, what made systematic theology, with topics including “The Scrip tures, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the Devil, The Creation, Sin, Repentance, Faith, Salvation, the second Coming of Christ, and Heaven and Hell” the most relevant response in religious education terms? My former Baptist pastor grandfather’s voice jumps immediately into my head with a gentle laugh and obvious explanation that no matter what the current national or personal crisis might be, knowing more about the Bible and Jesus is always going to help guide you through that. Still, others were reading The New Jim Crow or working on their epidemiolo gical literacy. What made this study more salient, exigent, relevant, or necessary? My day job as a rhetoric and writing professor pushed me to hang on the word exigence. It’s those things that happen in the world or in a person or both that create a need for a response to change things, to inﬂuence them for the better. Broadly, it’s a question of priorities, of what matters so much that it is worth speaking and acting up about. In this church group setting, the question not just about what is important to a particular com munity, but how can we as citizens understand the vast diﬀerences in priorities that seem so obvious to diﬀerent groups even when they are opposed or surprising. Why does joining a march for science in response to political policies seem obvious and important to some of my colleagues and friends, while a systematic theology small group is the response of others? Of course, this isn’t just about the diﬀerences in values, which have many causes. It is about how to develop understanding and work between those with conﬂicting values and views. This text doesn’t provide all the answers DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-1
Talking Systematic Theology
or a how-to, but it does make an eﬀort at translating between groups and presenting an approach that values the analytical and the emotional/ experiential in our attempts to understand and work with others. For evangelicalism and environmental issues in particular, this transla tion work can be useful because of the signiﬁcant role evangelical thought and values play in the U.S. political system, yet, like any group, evangelicals are not monolithic and greater understanding of evangelical language and priorities can improve attempts to work across diﬀerences. Who are these evangelicals? Religious historian David Bebbington provides one of the most inclusive set of criteria that focuses on religious identity as I do here, even though evangelicalism may be more popularly thought of in terms of conservative American politics at the present. Bebbington says the cen trality of the Bible’s authority on all matters, working for individual con version of others to Christian belief, a willingness to proselytize about salvation through Jesus Christ, and maintaining the biblical cruciﬁxion and resurrection story as a central element of a life of faith (3–16). Key elements of contemporary evangelicalism related to the environmental work ana lyzed here include the practice of speaking to convert others, the utter cen trality of the Bible for questions of science and environment—whether seemingly connected to spiritual matters or not, and the roles of individuals and of salvation through Jesus Christ in inﬂuencing social and political priorities. Priorities for a group, like evangelicals, and an ecosystem of values aren’t just the issue of the moment but are lived in each day. What are the con stantly changing issues and assumed perspectives in which each community lives and moves and has its being? But what happens when parts of prio rities clash or some community members try to add to the priorities. Con servation of a particular approach to reading the Bible can easily meet conﬂict with changing cultural values and scientiﬁc information. Those oppositions stand out even more when the new movement is about a con servation of its own, and one that brings priorities of earth (not heaven), bodies (not souls), and ecosystems (not individuals) yet tries to still main tain the same basic biblical identity and beliefs. A conﬂict of conservation purposes arises. To shift back, the local congregation’s systematic theology study is ulti mately an example of a conservationist ethic or at least tendency in Amer ican evangelicalism. The conservation isn’t about land but rather is about preserving a particular vision of the Bible. Famously, the book of Acts, chapter 17, verse 28 says God is that in which “we live and move and have our being” (NIV Bible). That phrase has had some life of its own. Scholars of interpretation and literary theory have altered the meme to language being that in which people live, move, and have being, making language constitutive or creative of who we are and something to use with serious attention to future eﬀects. Environmentalists and more materially minded scholars push back with reminders that ecosystems are literally that in
Talking Systematic Theology 3 which all plants and animals, including humans, live, move, and have their being. Preserving and caring for those ecosystems is a form of self-care and ethical treatment of others in this case. Evangelicals stick with the original version from the book of Acts but take the Bible as by far the primary way to understand God and the world. The Bible becomes that in which we should live, move, and have our being. As such, it is a universal ecosystem for the mind, body, and soul; it must be preserved and watched over, lis tened to, and treated with respect. In this vision, the Bible is a sort of pre serve, but not wilderness that can only have a limited number of visitors per year. It is more like a national park, where workers generally keep it in its current form and use, but many people are encouraged to come and experience it.
Environmental Priorities So why don’t American evangelicals care about the environment? That’s the frustration I’ve heard from friends with little personal connection to evangelicals, and perhaps the impression that comes from media coverage of evangelicals and language that emphasizes spiritual over material expla nations. Some evangelicals do, in fact, care a great deal about the environ ment, as, like any group, evangelicals have many diﬀerences between and within them. But the general statement rings true: even if evangelicals may care about the nature around them, the environment as a thing to make policies about doesn’t tend to be a priority. Comparing evangelical political action from groups like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Reli gious Liberty Commission on topics like abortion, sexuality, and school curriculum (for example) with action on environmental policies shows some of that diﬀerence. Maybe the theology itself makes it impossible to be a priority. Lynn White famously argued in his 1967 essay “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” that Christian doctrine was the problem. While many individuals who happened to be Christians might value envir onmental care, the placement of humans both above and in charge of the rest of nature (often through the idea of dominion) meant that nature would inevitably be treated as a resource for humans. The spiritual in Christianity is above or outside nature, says White, not within nature as in some religions, and ultimately the immaterial soul is what matters, not anything physical (1205–06). Environmental studies scholar Robin Globus Veldman argues in The Gospel of Climate Skepticism that while “climate skepticism has come to feel like the ‘natural,’ ‘normal,’ or even ‘Christian’ position” for many evangelicals, there is no necessary theological reason for it (3). In fact, social factors and the direct work of having views “heavily promoted by leaders in the politicized arm of the evangelical tradition” has created much of this questioning of climate change (2). Like Veldman, I dissent from White’s sense of inevitability about evangelicalism based on its theology,
4 Talking Systematic Theology although there are some strong impacts from that theology. In exploring evangelical culture and how diﬀerent views about climate and other envir onmental issues are, in fact, held, I approach the topic from cultural and rhetorical directions. This focus shifts from the important work of showing reasons for environmental attitudes to a more aﬀective exploration of evangelical priorities as they relate to environmental topics. This aﬀective and rhetorical work leads to explorations of how change in those attitudes might happen. The possibilities for change often hinge on the viability of shifting environmental issues from competing with evangelicals’ tendency to conserve their culture (and the Bible) toward letting those same issues integrate in as part of that existing cultural conservation practice. Elizabeth Vander Lei uses the term “rhetorical renovation” to identify one version of changing the lines of orthodoxy in evangelicalism (xi–xii). Those changes can be about cultural orthodoxies as much as theological ones, but feelings of what priorities are important and possible are as important lines as the beliefs themselves. In Braiding Sweetgrass, ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer tells the story of Skywoman and the story of Eve. Both are part of creation myths that situ ate humans in, with, around, and against other elements of the world. Like White, she indicates through these tales how people learning the Eve story learn to work against the land and see environments as a possible punish ment, rather than a gardener working for the good of the whole community (of all creatures and plants) with Skywoman (5–7). Kimmerer explains: One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good green world that would be the home of her descendants. The other was an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven. (Kimmerer 7) How can one in exile, not at home, a renter, a sojourner seeking a better place care profoundly about the here and now for the long term? It hap pens, but not frequently. The question is one of shifting what is considered important, of changing relationships to a place, of motivation, and of what elements are understood as truly necessary. This question leads us back to exigence. Exigence here is an experience—an experience of the importance or need or value of something. Jennifer Edbauer’s work with “rhetorical ecologies” as aﬀective, always changing, and societal (“Unframing”), along with Joshua Trey Barnett’s ideas about “earthly coexistence” as a vital task and democracy as being connected to more than the human (“Rhetoric” 368, 372), both broaden rhetoric towards a sense of embeddedness and mutuality and no priorities developing in isolation. Feelings and experiences and (I argue) exigences are not just individual; they ﬂex and change based on the communities, beings, places, and values a person lives within. Any of those values are always negotiated, as one issue comes into contact with
Talking Systematic Theology 5 another and another. As an experience, exigence has a strong aﬀective ele ment, with both duration (in time) and intensity. Exigence is a ﬂow of experiences coming to attention with a question attached and an intensity attached—a question about what, if anything, is to be done and an inten sity that waxes and wanes with the focus that is taken up with the rest of living life. Human energy to be invested in a topic and to act is limited, so gaining attention to a topic is a start, but exigence takes it to the level of what is important to deal with. Engagement might be the next level, where the issue takes on a long-term importance and becomes an element of someone’s identity. But, as my wife regularly asked me, why was I still on some email list for this church? Well, I’m a busybody apparently, and if I’m writing about evangelicals, I have to keep tabs on them a little bit, right? My real question was how did I possibly go to this church a mere decade ago? Much of that answer is comfort and familiarity. Even if I disagreed with much of the theology, some of the ethics, and a few of the leaders it felt like the chur ches I grew up in. Not only that, it sounded like them too, using the lan guage of separation as real Christians, letting verses abound and more Bible study be the application of most sermons, and speaking salvation as not only the primary goal but also a way to be in the group that will rake your yard or watch your kids. The insider talk and hugs of purpose and belonging could drive priorities and bring at least some comfort even when I didn’t share the purpose and knew I didn’t belong. Evangelical language particularly uses two terms in talking about envir onmental topics. One is “stewardship.” Of course, many others use “stew ardship” as well, but in evangelicalism, as will be explored in Chapter 4, stewardship refers to a role for humans in taking care of a world (including environmental and economic aspects) that ultimately belongs to God. While diﬀerent versions of stewardship can come into conﬂict, the sig niﬁcant role for humans in working for God and in some way overseeing the world remains. The second term, “creation care,” is often a way for evangelical Christians to signal concern for environmental issues in a way that emphasizes a God-ﬁrst perspective and that the earth gets its value through being God’s creation as opposed to being something to value separately. But this isn’t a claim that all environmental priority disputes are mainly linguistic, nor is it a story of losing faith or purpose in God and gaining it in environmentalism. Despite the fear some evangelicals rightly have of “pantheistic” radical environmentalists being competition for providing a sense of purpose and identity in thinking about the world, it’s not so much the pantheism that evangelicals should fear, but the powerful sense of pur pose and belonging that trying to literally save the world can give. Nobody knows the power of trying to save the world like an evangelical, so the competition is clear. But my faith and purpose, what I have left of either, can’t be fully found in Christianity or environmentalism, and the two don’t
Talking Systematic Theology
necessarily have to be opposed. This exploration of evangelicalism, envir onmentalism, and that experience of rhetorical urgency called exigence ﬁnds moments where they can ﬁt together and re-thinks this priority-deﬁning concept called exigence as part of considering the possibilities for evangelical environmentalism. Working with exigence as something people live within and as an experience that is based in long-standing and shifting identity factors, priorities, and values means that those perspectives that shape exigence should be part of the story. While exigence as a moment of urgency or need to speak that combines creative rhetorical action with details about the world is valuable, this lived-in exigence calls for an approach that mixes stories that show priorities and perspectives with moments of direct analy sis. The lived-in exigence mixes with singular rhetorical acts and both are layered in aﬀective responses. In critical aﬀect studies, aﬀect is a bodily experience or visceral response that precedes language and named emo tions. Emotions have more deﬁnition and are part of stories that get told (see Edbauer “(Meta)Physical”; Gunn; Massumi Parables for the Virtual). From Brian Massumi’s foundational work on aﬀect theory in particular, aﬀect is about a mutual mode of being (play ﬁghting versus real ﬁghting in one of his examples) and intensity of mood or experience (What Animals Teach Us 5). The mutuality can come from communal priorities and the aﬀective intensity can be low-grade for a long time but intensify in the presence of a particular stimuli—perhaps an apparent challenge to freedom or religious gathering or to a localized water quality concern. The priorities and cultural forces around what is important for a group don’t just create thinking about the importance of particular issues, environmental or otherwise. Gut responses (or the lack thereof) take place when climate change information is presented or a species near extinction is brought up. Exigence is not only a state of being to dwell in, but also an aﬀective experience as one responds to that general state and to more intense moments or topics that pop up within it, like mushrooms popping up when the weather is right in the fall from the larger fungal underground struc ture. Aﬀect may be understood as bodily or without conceptual content, but it readily comes from and leads into named feelings, stories and con cepts (see Sedgwick; Worsham). Those all can be felt priorities that can seem clear or be contested within a counterpublic, as environmental topics can be within evangelicalism. Of course, one’s cultural group or community is not the only inﬂuence on aﬀect and priorities. Ultimately, exigence as a lived within aﬀective experience is a main site of contest or struggle. Ben Anderson links aﬀect with biopower (following Foucault), where biopower is the regulation or other techniques of power, often used by governments, over health and life itself. Anderson argues that “the aﬀective life of individuals and collectives is an ‘object-target of’ and ‘condition for’ contemporary forms of bio power. In this context attending to aﬀective life oﬀers a promise. It opens
Talking Systematic Theology 7 up a way of relating to the surpluses of life that Foucault invoked when ﬁrst introducing the concept of biopower” (28–29). Exigence as a sort of aﬀective experience that evangelical individuals or communities (among others) may have, means that biopower would work on exigence. Exigence as aﬀect is something to shape and regulate, just as evangelicals in tension with each other seek to regulate the sense of importance (or vitality) around an issue like climate change in relation to abortion rights—both of which are explicitly framed in terms of power over life itself and around the con ditions for experiencing life. In other words, the struggle over evangelical priorities related to life is part of a larger context of techniques that seek to shape the lived within aﬀective experiences of people as part of inﬂuencing responses to issues of life—like environmental concerns. While not a theo retical text on biopower, this book shows some of the struggle over aﬀect in evangelicalism and techniques of power related to reading (the Bible) and possibilities of environmental regulation in connection to evangelical subculture.
Not a Conversion The priorities one lives within can also hit speciﬁc moments of contrast or experiential dissonance, and that’s where changes often happen. While conversion as a change in beliefs is a traditional goal in evangelical rhetoric and can be for environmental rhetoric, the approach to changing and competing priorities taken here makes for less of a conversion and more of a constant shifting of exigence. Conversion prioritizes identity as a Chris tian or environmentalist in a way that can be too all-or-nothing. For one example of a political non-conversion that also gives a glimpse of an eco system of values for an evangelical, my father voted for Barack Obama in the 2011 presidential election. My father was a life-long Republican and evangelical Christian, although the evangelical side was always more important than the Republican side. It was the Aﬀordable Care Act (2010) that did it. My father had suﬀered from a multitude of health problems including diabetes, an adrenal system that would not turn on and oﬀ properly, thickened heart walls, and a possible tumor pushing on his pitui tary gland. Between not being able to work and health care expenses, the more than $2000 per year in out-of-pocket costs that the Aﬀordable Care Act saved my parents was a big deal. The call or pressure of paying bills and personal health issues overcame the desire to aﬃliate with con servatives and to vote against those seen as likely to enlarge the federal government. In the competition for attention and negotiation of priorities in my father’s life at that time, health care coverage won out. The constant state of managing personal health issues and talking ceaselessly with doc tors and the insurance company made a broader policy issue a matter of gut response that Obama might care about people like my father while others didn’t understand.
8 Talking Systematic Theology Richard Lanham writes about the competition for attention in an infor mation age through an economic metaphor. Attention of minds and eye balls on screens is the thing in high demand and low supply relative to the high supply of messages out there. While Lanham reverses the usual sub stance over style saying to assert that substance doesn’t matter if there is no style to gain attention, my father’s experience suggests that attention might come with that sense of exigence, which can be more about connecting big issues to personal priorities than strictly a style move. And the Aﬀordable Care Act didn’t blame my father for his illnesses. That’s where more of the dissonance came in, as some (not all) evange lical church friends did manage to blame my father. Those ﬁrst days of a serious illness bring guests, sympathy, and food. Casseroles and cookies stack up in the refrigerator and on the counter. Anonymous friends sent money in the mail when my father had been out of work for a few months. At ﬁrst, it is a tragedy or bad luck; it happens to you—you suﬀer, with the passive sense of receiving it. The illness is something to endure, and the suﬀerer garners praise when endured cheerfully. Soon, though, the sickness is an endurance test for those around you. When the illness lasted the visits changed. Tall men with pale skin from the overcast Portland skies visited from our Baptist church, but less frequently, without casseroles, and with new purpose. Ostensibly, the goal was healing. They asked, “What is the sin in your life? There must be something you aren’t repenting.” Sickness as God’s favorite punishment for sin, or at least a way to renew a soul. In this case, my father’s soul. Hard times that last are no longer passive suﬀering. They are active, a lifestyle choice, never mind the adrenal system that won’t turn on or oﬀ properly, or the little tumor that may or may not be pressing on your pineal gland—the scans aren’t conclusive. In our living room, with my father sinking back into the couch and the tall men from the church sipping cups of tea my mother hustled into the living room, the meeting began. We heard about Ananias and Sapphira withholding money from the early Christian church. It wasn’t so much that they lied to their fellow believers, but that they tried to deceive God. The disciples had to drag them out by their heels. Ananias and Sapphira certainly had their priorities wrong, and apparently bad things couldn’t just happen—someone had to be at moral fault. The real exigence for the tall men was sin and grace, a natural Christian ﬁt, much more than issues of biochemistry. What was my father hiding? Why would he lie to them as church leaders, and more importantly, to God? And always, what’s the sin in your life you aren’t confessing? To put it in terms these men would deny if challenged: “Your illness is causing us discomfort: guilt for not taking more care of you, fear for ourselves, and sadness because we do care. The discomfort requires action, so what’s the cause and cure of the illness? It’s you and your sin, and if you won’t repent, we no longer have to feel so bad about it.” Soon enough, my father’s denial that there was some sin became the
Talking Systematic Theology 9 problem. He’s too proud, said the reasoning. Pride and lying piled onto the unknown sin, until that ﬁrst cause of the illness wasn’t necessary anymore. The American prosperity gospel would say that if you trust God and obey him, you’ll be blessed in material ways. Good people get rich. Our church utterly rejected any connection to this idea, yet although riches weren’t a sign of God’s favor, illness or poverty could signify God’s dis pleasure. It’s the tough times gospel, but not one for aiding the suﬀering. With the tough times gospel, sin can cause God to punish you, giving you control over God. Of course, God could choose to show mercy, but diabetes can be a useful form of discipline. Christians are often seen as inconsistent when they don’t want government programs to pay for the poor or environ mental conservation, but the logic ﬁts. The notion that the poor are to blame resonates with the tough times gospel and with the prosperity gospel. Environmental conservation supposedly moves away from individual moral choices and responsibility. Those tall men didn’t return, but the smell of the urine bucket in the corner of my father’s bedroom remained. The blame was more powerful than the smell and pushed my father just a touch away from the exigencies and priorities of his evangelical community, making room to feel other priorities and even giving space to justify a change in politics. The church leaders who visited my father might be called “fundamen talists” in their approach to applying biblical verses in someone else’s life. A key distinction to make here that is relevant for the whole of this evan gelical environmental exploration is between Christian fundamentalism and Christian evangelicalism. The lines between the two are fuzzy, and many people may have fundamentalist tendencies in some areas and not others, but some distinction is worthwhile. Historian of American Christianity Mark Noll explains Christian evangelicalism as a broad “brand” with many directions and groups, while fundamentalism is one particular subset of evangelicalism. Noll notes that fundamentalists are especially inﬂuenced by the turn toward dispensational pre millennialism as a theology in the late 19th century and sometimes by their attitudes of separation and militancy toward the rest of the reli gious world and the rest of the world. Evangelical Christianity as a whole would include some fundamentalist tendencies, some funda mentalist groups, but probably most evangelicals would not want to be called fundamentalists themselves. While particular theological tendencies are part of the fundamentalist view, an attitude toward the outside world is prevalent too. But there is a great deal of blurriness in the deﬁnition, as many evangelicals, to outside obser vers, can be seen as being quite separatist and militant toward other reli gions. This exploration focuses on evangelicalism, but fundamentalist branches of that come in at times and are not treated as completely
10 Talking Systematic Theology separate. In fact, sometimes debates within evangelicalism are the most enlightening in showing possible attitudes toward environmental action. Evangelicalism as a whole here is considered to be a type of para doxically dominant counterpublic. Michael Warner, in his work on various forms of publics and public spheres, asserts, “A counterpublic maintains at some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status.” It works against or is deﬁned against a “dominant” culture (119). Evangelic alism has its own institutions, debates, and values that diﬀer from much of what one would read in mass media. It also tends to have a sense (true perhaps at times, but not other times) of being subordinate to a dominant culture with a more secular perspective. Warner works further to deﬁne counterpublics, stating, Discussion within such a public is understood to contravene the rules obtaining in the world at large, being structured by alternative dis positions or protocols, making diﬀerent assumptions about what can be said or what goes without saying. This kind of public is, in eﬀect, a counterpublic. (Warner 56) While discussion within evangelicalism, whether about scientiﬁc knowledge or public priorities often ﬁts that deﬁnition of having diﬀerent assumptions, evangelicalism is widespread enough in the United States to play a major role in dominant culture discussions and public policy decisions. Its values and institutions can overlap with dominant ones in a Venn diagram of sorts. This overlap or combination of functioning as a counterpublic with somewhat separate spheres (churches, parachurch organizations, con ferences, etc.) while some portions of evangelicalism exert a signiﬁcant direct inﬂuence on dominant bitz, including having many evangelicalidentiﬁed elected oﬃcials, make evangelicalism into a (counter)public both important to understand and one full of competing pressures. The tall men from a counterpublic evangelical institution (a church) who visited my father were not alone in their fundamentalist tendencies. Envir onmentalist language and advocates can do the same type of thing. It’s diﬃcult not to think here of environmental messages that are full of implied blame and powerlessness. Blame in evangelical circles means sin is hiding nearby; oﬀenses may be against people, more questionably could be against nature, but are always against God. Forgiveness may be as easy as silently chatting with God about the sin for evangelical Christians, but blame is a way to undermine any other message you might have. Before too long we left the tall men’s church, but the language of moral blame can push people away from connection to environmental issues. The most important things, the priority issues people end up feeling, are those that are lived experiences and are those that don’t blame you, that don’t shatter your self-image as a good person.
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Rhetorical Priorities Theory A primary term in rhetorical studies for thinking about priorities is “exigence.” The concept has been debated for over ﬁfty years, often in the pages of the journal Philosophy & Rhetoric. In the classic rhetorical chicken and egg struggle over control of exigence as a concept, Lloyd Bitzer says exigence “strongly invites utterance” (5). The sense of something being important and changeable about a situation creates a pressure to respond. Exigence here is everyone who has heard a tragic news story and said, “we have to do some thing.” Writing to deﬁne rhetorical situations, exigence is central as the events in the world that can be changed by taking action in language to a particular audience. The events call for an appropriate response. Richard Vatz reverses that formula to “utterance strongly invites exigence” (159). In Vatz’s version, the speaker frames the situation and makes the need to speak based on that framing. Their respective examples ﬁt neatly with their diﬀering versions of exigence. Bitzer writes about the Kennedy assassination (13), which serves as a single moment that seems overtly important to the society and is unique in its features. That a big thing has happened feels obvious. Vatz takes Kennedy as an example too, but switches to the Cuban Mis sile Crisis (160). There, a slowly changing state of aﬀairs exists, and the big question in the ﬁrst place is whether there is a problem or not. The exam ple is one where the need for and style of response itself is most in question. Both of these scholars stay with individual moments, even if one crisis point has or creates an exigence and then the response leads to another. The logic is sequential. But an experience of the world is not just one thing of course. It is a multitude of pressures and requests in an information-dense society where human attention is a scarce good sought by many as Richard Lanham explores in The Economics of Attention. But attention to an issue doesn’t just come from ﬂashy marketing (although that helps), the values and practices of diﬀerent communities predispose them to speciﬁc issues, and personal issues can struggle against more public ones. The personal can become public and vice versa too. If it is my church that isn’t allowed to meet during the height of a pandemic or it is my well that has become contaminated, the personal and public mix as second-wave feminist work powerfully argued with the “personal is political” slogan (often credited to Carol Hanisch). In the competition and interconnectedness of pressures, is a question about local schooling ascendant? Or is it a relative’s health test results? More publicly, what needs attentive action most and what topics does a group understand as linked or separate? Is responding to systemic racism, global warming, or pandemic policies (just to name the most media-covered elements as I write this) top priorities for a community, or are racism and global warming mixed together in a single issue? But those are one set of media terms. The real concern might be framed as “loving your neighbor,” with both personal and systemic aspects to that, all complicated by a sense of resisting mainstream culture.
12 Talking Systematic Theology Of course, others have entered the exigence debates. John Patton and Scott Consigny both responded to Bitzer and Vatz by ﬁnding roles for the rhetor as creative and responding to the world, but the debate about exigence being in the world or in the person is fundamentally similar. Diane Davis has used Derrida to consider exigence as more of a fundamental state of openness to a particular situation or inﬂuence (“Rhetoricity at the End of the World” 439– 40). This approach where exigence is a state of being matches well with how I use exigence here, which involves a particular felt state of being inextricably intertwined with priority topics that are noticed readily (or made salient or present, following Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca). Nathan Stormer and Bridie McGreavy review ecological communication to establish rhetoric as something in relations more than in things and emergent rather than strategic (2–3). They want to “treat ecology as an orientation to patterns and relationships in the world rather than as a science” (2). This idea of rhetoric as an orientation to particular patterns also evokes my notion of exi gence, but rather than thinking of rhetoric as a cultivated orientation as Stor mer and McGreavy usefully do, the example of evangelicalism suggests that an orientation to patterns and relationships of some sort is already present. They describe “vulnerability” as a key “commonplace” about being about to be acted upon and as a state of mutuality between elements in an ecology or system (12–13). Exigence, in part, is a recognition of this vul nerability that can be something we as a system or set of relationships respond to, but diﬀerent publics, diﬀerent groups will recognize vulner ability in diﬀerent moments and maintain a sense of constant vulnerability around diﬀerent relationships. High-consuming humans, automobiles, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climate, and pollinators serve as one relationship of vulnerability; while sexual education in schools, fetuses, pregnant women, people interested in adoption, and legal decisions are a diﬀerent set of vulnerabilities to be attuned to. Within both, diﬀerent points of vulnerability can be found as well (the fetus or the pregnant woman, for example). This brief reﬂection on approaches to exigence is in preparation for exploring just a small part of the lived experience of aﬀective priorities and relationships that serve as a lived-within ﬁeld of exigence inﬂuencing evangelical language and action about environmental topics. Put another way, those contexts of systemic racism, global warming, and pandemics are not so much contexts as they are exigences. Like Timothy Morton’s hyperobjects, much of what people deal with are vast issues beyond human ability to grasp that mix concepts and very material reali ties. They are slippery and pop up with details in many places and in many scales. A hyperobject is the ground for a sort of exigence. Exigences can be less what people observe or create and more something that they live within or are attuned to. Exigence can still have the feeling of needing to respond, but that feeling happens because of how one’s community and experiences shape what someone identiﬁes as important and how issues are framed. Diane Davis in Inessential Solidarity writing about a basic grounding of
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being inﬂuenceable and constantly being in mutually shaping relationships with the world and Thomas Rickert in thinking about rhetoric as ambient and lived within both imply something like this idea of exigence. Rickert uses Martin Heidegger’s work to emphasize rhetoric as a kind of attune ment within the world. The question then is how one lives with and relates to massive exigences, like global average warming. These exigences are con stant in their presence, even if their details, such as current understandings of sea level rise, for example, shift. The more theoretical hypothesis here is that exigence can be further understood as an aﬀective, as moments of intensity that pop up from a need that people dwell within. This is similar to the rhetorical ecologies Edbauer theorizes, where rhetorical actions are in a broad context of feel ings and values (“Unframing” 6–7). I stay with the term “exigence” to emphasize that priorities emerge from the needs one lives within, showing both the moments and ideas from that lived environment and some of the intense reactions and feelings that pop out. Put another way, saying some thing is exigent is a way to name both a feeling and a context. An exigence is a felt experience as much as it is a state of aﬀairs in the world or a way of framing an issue. This may be especially the case when talking about environmental issues, which tend to be huge, hard for most people to describe, and sit as an undercurrent of feelings.
Mixing Rhetorical Priorities and Aﬀect into Method As previously noted, for Lloyd Bitzer, an exigence, a situation out in the world that calls for a response, is “an imperfection marked by urgency” (6). Emphasizing the “urgency” in that formula makes exigence and the sense of priorities around particular topics a feeling. That feeling is not just from what is objectively out in the world, nor is it created entirely by an indivi dual. The feeling of exigence in response to an experience is a moment of greater intensity in the continual wash of aﬀective responses that constantly roll over brains like waves on the beach. Neuroscientist of emotions Lisa Feldman Barrett argues that emotions are not a set of common options like anger or sadness that are tied to particular parts of the brain. Rather, according to years of data on emotions, aﬀect is a level of intensity com bined with a sense of pleasantness or unpleasantness and bodily responses like a change in heart rate. Emotions are concepts created socially that name moments of aﬀect. The sense of a particular emotion can change drastically between individuals and societies. Exigence may be the name of an emotion that identiﬁes particularly intense moments of aﬀect around issues that have become priorities for particular groups or individuals. When my older relative sees a church in California being ﬁned for opening during a particular moment of the coronavirus pandemic, the background values around religious freedom pop out with a more intense moment of urgency, or the emotion we might call “exigence.”
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This aﬀective approach means that determining what is most important and understanding priorities for action cannot be found by just looking at situations in the world, instead, some of the buzz of competing events has to be explored through the experiences and ways of thinking/feeling together within a group. Starting to grasp the why of the political priorities of a group like evangelicals in a way that goes beyond simple assumptions about their ignorance or hatred or other faults (and of course evangelicalism, like all subcultures, can have plenty of faults) means exploring the lived experience of values and concerns that is a kind of sea of potential exigence. Those narratives with their multitude of aﬀective moments can move one closer to understanding why and how particular moments of exigence as an emotion characterized by urgency arise. Environmental concerns combined with evangelicalism is a particularly interesting case as a struggle within evange licalism to create a feeling of urgency where it does not easily arise for many. Put another way, most understandings of exigence or priorities focus on the conditions in the present. An aﬀective approach bases those feelings of pre sent urgency on long-held beliefs and how emotions and world observations have been trained—so on the past. Of course, the response is future-focused, so time matters for these cultural priorities, and with environmental issues, the time scale becomes a central issue too. To think about method and aﬀect, Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stew art’s book, The Hundreds, takes seemingly mundane scenes and describes them in order to explore the aﬀective elements within and between the scenes. A hint of that approach is present here, as scenes that display aﬀect are described, less to display a broad cultural atmosphere and more to dis play the aﬀect and value priority connections that feel obvious in parts of evangelical subculture. The scenes are limited in the sense that many are from my experiences, but they intentionally include larger evangelical groups I was connected to at diﬀerent points and are experiences coming out of larger evangelical subculture conversations. Those scenes are juxta posed with readings of books, statements, websites, and other elements around evangelicalism and environmentalism, with the scenes providing a slightly altered atmosphere for understanding priorities and perspectives and feelings of exigence in those texts, while those texts work at the same time to help explain some of the experiences in the scenes. The documents analyzed also provide a broader scope of evangelicalism. Ideally, each illu mines the other, as ultimately the distinction between emotion and thought is a fuzzy one at most. This book is an attemp at subcultural translation. It isn’t a direct trans lation of one group into another, but rather it serves as an eﬀort to make evangelicals a bit more comprehensible to academics and environmentalists, beyond stereotypes or assumptions of political conservatism (as accurate as those sometimes are). This writing then is not strictly a report on research or an analysis of some set of things American evangelicals said and wrote, although it includes elements of those; it is also an act of discovery through
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the writing that overtly uses my biased position as someone raised in and who participated extensively in evangelical subculture in Baptist and non denominational churches and through regular Bible study and discussion at home but who is no longer part of it. I still have many close relationships with evangelical friends and family and have attended evangelical churches oﬀ and on as an adult for relational reasons, but my current blend of more mainline Christian practice (often thought of as “liberal” churches) with agnosticism would not count as real Christianity for many evangelicals. Within my writing approach, the initial theorizing of exigence is primarily in this introduction, while elements of those ideas are exempliﬁed in later chapters. In his introduction to a special issue of Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, Barnett argues for and exempliﬁes an approach of composing with fragments of stories, with observations of nature, with an approach that composes a bit of the world (“Opening” 3–4). Barnett sought writing that “would get at the feel of climate change” (5, emphasis in original). Some of that priority is here, where the feel of evangelical connections and attitudes toward environmental action is as important as particular actions or policies. This approach calls for a mix of narrative experience, analysis, theory, and contradiction. Evangelicalism, like any way of being in the world, has a variety of experiences and contradictions, and the broader question here is about the feel of crisis and priority in general. What does average global warming as a lived-within issue (for example) feel like in evangelicalism, not just on its own, but in tension and competition with other issues and identity factors? Broadly, this eﬀort at a subcultural translation seeks to create some fur ther understanding of evangelicalism as a powerful public group and fur ther hopes to show an approach to thinking about group priorities and how key issues or stances for a group might shift. In a moment where political and cultural polarization are considered the norm, where social media algorithms may help create information bubbles—only creating exposure to ideas a person has already shown interest in, yet where massive and grow ing environmental and social catastrophes require cooperation then under standing those with diﬀerent beliefs and experiences is often a necessary (but not suﬃcient) condition for action. This is not to say that the work to understand others should only go one way, nor that there won’t still be major fundamental disagreements. However, cross-subcultural understanding, in this case potentially between conservative evangelical and more secular Americans concerned about earth’s ecosystems, can be a small step toward more common ground and toward ﬁnding the beliefs and values behind political diﬀerences. Rhetoric is an act of long-term understanding and negotiation that needs at least a small element of trust. In order to help along that understanding and trust, narrative of lived experiences with evangelicalism is used to give more of an internal glimpse into some of that powerful subculture. The
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potential for more experiential understanding through those narratives is paired with analyses of texts and organizations showing diﬀerent evangeli cal responses to environmental concerns (particularly climate change). These analyses serve not only to deepen the understanding of diﬀerent forms of evangelical thinking, but also to show diﬀerences within evange lical communities and hint at possible connection points with people out side that value system. As one cultural translator among many, my position is one who was raised in and fully part of one version of evangelical subculture for many years (no version or translator is fully representative). I am no longer part of evangelic alism or identiﬁed with it, but still have many connections through American evangelical friends and family. The explicit desire here is not to criticize or defend evangelicalism, but to slightly further possibilities for understanding and cooperation in the public realm while exploring how a group struggles through potential changes and challenges to its rhetorical priorities.
Moments and Documents Each chapter of this book intentionally combines description of experiences and conversations with evangelicals with analyses of texts that show some of the discussions and debates about environmental issues. As a whole, this book examines a sort of applied unsystematic theology, covering topics that relate to understandings of God and nature and how humans should then live according to evangelicalism. Chapter 2 starts with the end of things, as perhaps beﬁts many environmental conversations. This end addresses the idea of an afterlife and a sense of escapism from earth and its environ ments, not unlike some environmental ﬁction that considers the idea of heading to other planets as a response to deteriorating conditions on the earth. Questions about escape and where humans’ true home is (earth, theological heavens, Mars and astronomical heavens) are situated in an honest evangelical family conversation about what the importance of environmental issues should be when voting as a Christian—particularly in the 2008 election in this context. Exigence begins in ultimate things, but not just metaphysical things, the ﬁnal (if changing) places humans live toward. Chapter 3 prioritizes aﬀective experience with a narrative about the role of the Bible in my becoming a literary scholar. The chapter attempts to show the centrality of the Bible to much evangelical experience and the vital importance of protecting it as that applies even to seemingly unrelated conversations, like about climate change. The analysis studies how that Biblical protection leads to a sort of rhetorical inoculation against parti cular priorities and perspectives. This inoculation and the powerful authority of the Bible can set possibilities for how prioritized environmental issues of diﬀerent types can be. Chapter 4 examines relationships between God, humans, and nature, which are all kept separate in most the of the thinking showing here,
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through the notion of stewardship. Stewardship may be a way of thinking about exigence more philosophically, considering what is important to address and care for as an ethical practice. Taking care of an environment means working for God and caring for the poor (humans ﬁrst) in multiple evangelical versions of stewardship, but what that means is actually a point of great contention within evangelical circles. Documents from the Corn wall Alliance and the Evangelical Climate Initiative are examined for the quite diﬀerent understandings of stewardship and resulting actions from those understandings. An evangelical missions and teaching trip to Uzbeki stan, with the vital backdrop of the shrinking Aral Sea there, provide an aﬀective and experiential context and counterpoint for the stewardship discussion. Following stewardship, Chapter 5 takes the act of evangelizing or prose lytizing as a struggle over purpose for people’s lives, with environmental evangelists and religious ones competing at moments. The chapter works through parts of four books written (three by evangelical Christians and one ostensibly written to them by biologist E. O. Wilson) to try and con vince evangelicals that environmental care should be part of their larger purposes and activities too. My attempts to explain environmental approaches and feminist approaches together to an evangelical pastor friend frame the chapter with a small sense of how these conversations might work in real life and the relational tensions that come into depicting alternative priorities to someone. Chapter 6 works to explore ideas of science, particularly as it relates to geological, evolutionary, and historical time. Standard science contrasts with what I call “Bible-science” as diﬀerent bases for (un)scientiﬁc author ity struggle against each other. Debates about creation and how to think about science within evangelical culture often drive the possible attitudes toward issues like climate change or extinction. The documents analyzed, primarily from the Institute for Creation Studies, a fundamentalist Chris tian organization, emerge directly from references in a social media debate between diﬀerent evangelicals as they struggle to clarify the best or most Christian stances and attitudes available within that subculture regarding climate science. Here, exigence is a struggle that is always intertwined in larger questions of time and knowledge. Finally, Chapter 7 considers purity and disgust and how aﬀective responses to environmental issues are trained. This chapter moves towards political priorities in general, but particularly brings in the notion of life (and pro-life) as a vital concept and even identity factor for many evange lical Christians in the United States. As with the other chapters, the life idea shows many evangelical attitudes as a form of faith preservation or con servation. Every conversation with evangelicals is also about protecting the faith and the Bible as a basis for the faith. The purposes of the faith are part of that protective focus as well. I introduce aﬀective dissonance as a primary type of experience that can lead to a change in how a group or
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members of a group might feel the importance of diﬀerent issues or the exigences they feel that they live within. “Is that the hill you really want to die on?” The question is asked, ser iously or facetiously, when someone seems to be vehemently defending a minor issue or unimportant point in the face of serious opposition. It’s a relevant question for evangelicals and environmentalists alike. What hill, what geographic feature that helps hold you up, that you have a mutually protective relationship with, absolutely must be defended? Evangelicals responding, in whatever way, to environmental issues, are dealing with questions of protecting and conversing their faith. The Bible, particular beliefs, and speciﬁc morals and values create a culture to protect that can often compete with cultures of environmental protection. A fundamental example is the notion of earth as a temporary stop on the way to a real and permanent home in the afterlife. These conﬂicts lead some evangelicals to reject much environmental action and belief as incompatible with the faith that must be protected, while other evangelicals seek ways to reconcile parts of both that still preserve the core faith. The question here is how to understand better that diﬃcult negotiation within evangelicalism and how to communicate about environmental topics with evangelicals. Understanding and communicating with a group can sometimes best happen when ulti mate ends or goals are known. The next chapter embraces thinking about the ultimate ends of the earth itself and talking about the end of the world.
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Edbauer, Jennifer. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 4, 2005, pp. 5–24. Gunn, Josh. “On Recording Performance or Speech, The Cry, and the Anxiety of the Fix.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, vol. 7, no. 3, 2011, pp. 1–30. Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Press, 2013. Lanham, Richard A. The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information. U of Chicago P, 2007. Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Aﬀect, Sensation. Duke UP, 2002. Massumi, Brian. What Animals Teach Us About Politics. Duke UP, 2014. Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. U of Minnesota P, 2013. NIV Bible. Holy Bible: New International Version. 4th ed. Nashville, TN: Biblica, 2011. Noll, Mark. “Mark Noll Extended Interview.” Interviewer: Judy Valente. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Apr. 16,2004. www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2004/ 04/16/april-16-2004-mark-noll-extended-interview/11416/. Patton, John H. “Causation and Creativity in Rhetorical Situations: Distinctions and Implications.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 6, no. 1, 1979, pp. 36–55. doi:10.1080/00335637909383457. Perelman, Chaim and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Trans. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. U of Notre Dame P, 1969. Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Rhetorical Attunements of Being. U of Pittsburgh P, 2013. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Aﬀect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Duke UP, 2003. Stormer, Nathan, and Bridie McGreavy. “Thinking Ecologically about Rhetoric’s Ontology: Capacity, Vulnerability, and Resilience.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 50, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1–25. Vander Lei, Elizabeth. “Introduction.” In Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradi tion, edited by Elizabeth Vander Lei et al., U of Pittsburgh P, 2014, pp. ix–xvi. Vatz, Richard. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 6, no. 3, 1973, pp. 154–161. Veldman, Robin Globus. The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change. U of California P, 2019. Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Zone Books, 2002. White, Lynn. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” Science, vol. 155, no. 3767, Mar. 10, 1967, pp. 1203–1207. doi:10.1126/science.155.3767.1203. Worsham, Lynn. “Going Postal: Pedagogic Violence and the Schooling of Emotion.” JAC, vol. 18, no. 2, 1998, pp. 213–245.
Eschatology Escaping the Apocalypse with Evangelicals and Environmentalists
How soon does an environmental apocalypse have to be coming to make you care? The sun won’t burn out for another 5 billion years, and the earth is likely done through serious sun-based climate change in about a billion years. Any silly concerns about global warming are nothing compared to when the sun starts burning helium and swells into a red giant. But what if the earth as we know it might end in a few centuries? Or decades? And as the futurists and science ﬁction writers ask, can we escape this fate or this earth? Talking with evangelicals about the environment has to keep the future in mind, and that future considers eternal terms, not just geological or planetary timescales. My cousin’s husband, let’s call him Brian to maintain some privacy, sent a Facebook message asking a dozen of us, as Christians, how important environmental issues are to our votes. His query came well before most of my social media circles turned political and interrupted the ﬂow of hum blebrags and travel updates. The honest and open question, delivered during the height of the 2008 election season, implicitly pitted Barack Obama against John McCain, but necessitated amateur theology too. I must say, this was not 2016 or even 2020, by which time my relatives and I had learned to avoid making political posts on social media. In 2016, the abortion policies and culture war setbacks associated with Hillary Rodham Clinton made her non-viable for many white evangelicals (who have traditionally voted diﬀerently than Black evangelicals as self-identiﬁed groups). The 2016 election, with 80% of white evangelicals supporting Donald Trump (CNN), had pushed climate change down the priority list again, except for a few like Russell Moore, President of the Southern Bap tist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Even then, much of the evangelical resistance to Trump prioritized character issues, not environment. But in 2008, Brian was no God-cannot-be-deﬁned-by-language, social justice ﬁrst Episcopalian with a woman pastor whose partner led yoga classes. He has solid fundamentalist roots. I know this because Selma told me. My grandma’s longtime best friend, Selma scooted next to me in the third pew back at Brian and my cousin Christie’s wedding. Selma asked if I DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-2
knew his family, which I didn’t, and assured me that his dad was a pastor— a good fundamentalist pastor, even a dispensationalist. Selma served as the back-up organist at my grandpa’s Baptist church for years. She lived alone in the suburban trailer park across from my great-grandmother, caring for a cliché number of stray cats for a woman with her robust glasses and loose curls of gray and black hair swirling above her head. As kids we loved to make Selma laugh, because when you got her going, the migrating goose honk came out and didn’t stop until everyone ﬂew south. But Selma knew better than I the ﬁve fundamentals of American Christian funda mentalism that emerged from the Niagara Bible Conference and The Funda mentals book series. Infallible Scripture, virgin birth, Jesus’s death as atonement for sin, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus’s miracles as historical facts determined whether Brian’s family matched with ours. Would it be a good marriage? Doctrine matters ﬁrst; all else is secondary. We celebrated the wedding in Portland, Oregon (like “organ,” but with the smallest hint of “eh” between the two syllables—and it’s more “gun” than “gone” at the end), in January 2004, a full election season before Brian’s question, and more than two years after planes ﬂying into the World Trade Center shifted popular use of the word “fundamentalist.” Many in my family kept their beliefs the same but drifted into the broader word “evangelical” to avoid the connotations of direct violence. Not Selma. She knew her doctrine better than her contemporary culture. Maybe not as much as her neighbor, my great-grandmother, who still took correspon dence courses from Moody Bible Institute into her 80s, nearly 30 years after her pastor-husband felt the massive heart attack that ﬁnally sends every male on that side of my family to his eternal reward—or torment. For Selma, fundamentalism meant particular beliefs, set against liberal moder nist Christianity from the early and mid-1900s, and no foreign Muslims on the east coast would take that word from her. At least they had the sense to take their holy book seriously and reject modern liberals, even if their violence, beliefs, and connection between church and state were wrong. Islam wasn’t in the picture for spouses in my family, and even dis pensationalism fell outside Selma’s inclusive requirements for Christie’s spouse. That dispensational theological system of God working with human history in seven modes or ways of administering justice and mercy helped some believers explain the apparent diﬀerences between the God of Genesis, of Leviticus, of Matthew, of Acts, of Revelation. Dis pensationalism also covered why miracles didn’t seem to happen so much these days, although Selma knew that God moved traﬃc along to help her out sometimes, and that extra $200 check in the mail didn’t send itself.
Green versus (Verses?) God Christian fundamentalists are not known for their Greenpeace member ships, and Selma might have been confused by Brian’s question, not
through any mental lack on her part, but because of its strange pointless ness. While catechisms were just another Catholic plague we didn’t really know about in my family, the question-and-answer ritual would work for fundamentalism and the environment. Who made the world? God. What did He say about it? He said it was good and very good. When is Jesus coming back? Soon—when the time reaches its fullness. What happens to creation? God will provide a new heaven and a new earth. In other words, environmental worriers reject God’s words. He said the earth is good, so to believe that people can destroy it with carbon emissions (plant food), overpopulation (rejecting the blessing of children and killing babies), or garbage patches in the ocean (sad about those ﬁsh) is to call God a liar. And this world will end soon, not in a billion years, but looking at how things are going in the Middle East, possibly in the next decade or two. Jesus is coming back, and eventually this world will be literally replaced or made new, so why are rainforests a priority over starving stomachs and condemned souls? Real Christians will escape, usually caught up to Heaven in the Rapture. My father used to explain that becoming a Christian was not just about “ﬁre insurance,” making sure one didn’t go to Hell for eternity, but for environmental issues, the theology of a New Earth gives insurance against addressing warming and other environmental ﬁres in the present. Systematic theologian Wayne Grudem formalizes the logic in Politics According to the Bible. Grudem is no fringe element for American Chris tianity. He authored one of the most popular systematic theologies for evangelical seminaries and Bible schools, and his Council on Biblical Man hood and Womanhood is a force for deﬁning gender roles in evangelical circles. Grudem provides an escape from environmental care requirements, just as Christians will escape this version of earth in fundamentalist belief. I read Grudem in my basement, void of natural light and full of Legos and rugs too stained to use on the main ﬂoor, where I escape to work at home. The fully blind and mostly deaf black cat nestled next to me is the closest thing to a sign of nature in this human-centered environment. Two particular political cases Grudem makes is in favor of drilling more oil in America (par ticularly the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge) and against the reality of human-inﬂuenced global warming. I can’t help but remember painting the dark wood paneling down here with an oil-based oﬀ white, directly using a non-renewable resource to create the faintest illusion of more light. Grudem says: It does not seem to me to be likely that God would set up the earth to work in such a way that we would destroy it by doing morally good things that he wants us to do, such as building a ﬁre to keep warm or to cook food, or driving a car or a truck (with appropriate pollution controls, but carbon dioxide is not a pollutant), or ﬂying in an airplane, or running a factory to produce goods for people. (Grudem 580)
Eschatology 23 No speciﬁc biblical texts are cited in this small section on current environ mental issues, but Grudem refers to his earlier case that “God has created a wonderfully resourceful earth in which there are abundant resources of every kind” (579). The argument in his earlier section hinges signiﬁcantly on the claim in Genesis 1:31 that creation was “very good” (ESV Bible). Grudem also mentions Adam and Eve being told about the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, ESV Bible), but that this is only relevant to the Garden of Eden itself, not the rest of the world. This separating of rules to particular time periods and locations ﬁts with Selma’s dispensationalism (although Grudem is not dispensationalist), expressing that contrast between a religion that claims to have ultimate truth for all but must deal with at least some substantial diﬀerences in time and place. Any keeping is quickly superseded by Genesis 1:28 and the call to “ﬁll the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” (ESV Bible) the various creatures. Grudem takes this dominion and subduing as an order to “develop the earth’s resources in such a way that they would bring beneﬁt to themselves and other human beings” (325). That beneﬁt to the self and others can easily lapse into whatever suits me and mine best. The care is “speciﬁcally for the Garden of Eden” (324). His examples regularly pit obscure animals against jobs for the poor (326), and these conﬂicts do happen sometimes in the immediate term. The ultimate point, however, is that Grudem declares because the earth is very good according to God, it will not “run out of essential resources” (329), and that this earth will “be renewed,” and this “renewed earth will have the same resources” (329). All resources are renewable. The timescale doesn’t matter because absolutely everything except human souls will be made new and perfect. The sheer hope and joy of this universal salvation could make the most liberal theologian proud, except for the contrast, where free will, which now sounds like a curse, means most humans will choose to reject God and miss their renewal. Grudem’s approach, which sees environmental activism as a rejection of God’s goodness or power, was echoed after the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017 by evangelical representatives like Tim Walberg (Republican—Michigan), who asserted that “if there’s a real problem, he [God] can take care of it” (Bailey). The anti-science, pro-science paradox of fundamentalism, where evolu tionary science must be wrong, but Bible reading becomes a science that is best when backed by modern scientiﬁc studies, requires Grudem to cite studies. This anti-modern yet fully modernist split cherry-picks studies to support its own views, like the laziest playground basketball player failing to run back on defense. Grudem turns to studies that suggest population, pollution, climate, and other trends showing that the earth will be ﬁne for all natural resources (relying heavily on Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist). Part of the issue here is a question of priorities. Grudem is mainly concerned with earth being able to sustain humans, and not so
much with the survival of any particular other species or ecosystems. Nat ural entities like trees are understood rather strictly as a human resource, having no special value in their own right, except for a moment of citing sources to suggest that rainforests are not in as much trouble as most people think (349). His reading suggests an incredible optimism about the present and future, particularly with the ease that one could read that biblical “very good” as being good in a rather primal state or at a particular moment after creation. The sense of God having an ongoing relationship with crea tion works against the very good being limited, but one could at least, in relatively standard evangelical terms, think of negative changes in nature being due to creation’s freedom, just like bad things happening to good people (or much of the problem of evil) being due to creation’s freedom. Grudem’s reading is also a reminder of the blinders that any hermeneutic provides. You can choose to be enslaved to a biblical literalist, feminist, New Critic, deconstructionist, or other approach—and often for good rea sons. Nonetheless, it not only limits the possibilities for seeing alternative viewpoints, but it starts to become a tool to justify what you might want to think is true. To be clear, reading approaches, all hermeneutics do this, but biblical inerrancy does it particularly well. With God directly authoring the text and authorizing the readings, plus a pull to read everything as a unity, the interpreter (like Grudem) can easily make his or her own perspectives part of that unity, which then divinely authorizes those viewpoints. So, when Brian asked about making environmental issues an important consideration in the 2008 election, he struggled against a signiﬁcant tradition knowing that this world is a low priority and a new one will be given soon. Plus, the Bible. Pro-environment might be understood as anti-Bible to some of the recipients of Brian’s question, despite the temptation to quote Jesus with phrases like “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what ever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” in relation to strip mining, deforestation, and drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. But this nuptial ceremony, complete with reception in the church base ment, because the bride has the Protestant good sense to put the few thou sand dollars from her parents toward a down payment on a house instead of a country club rental and smoked salmon, happened in Portland. Port land may not be Portlandia, but the citizens deﬁne themselves by the nat ural features of the area, not the sense of human history as with many, shall we say, more elderly cities. Portland serves as a center for environ mental protest, and Oregon’s 1971 Bottle Bill, the ﬁrst lasting measure of its type in the U.S., developed Oregon’s identity as a pioneer in recycling. Brian and Christie, only in their mid-twenties, hiking in the Columbia Gorge on dates, and going cross-country skiing on Mount Hood with Christie’s parents on Christmas Eve couldn’t fully escape a context where the environment might matter. It might even matter just for its own sake in some inchoate way.
Healing Nature In fact, there is a strong minority strain of evangelical environmentalism, although, in the end, who gets to count as a real Christian or evangelical Christian will diﬀer depending on whom you ask. The Evangelical Climate Initiative garnered around 250 members and found the headlines in 2006 by publishing their views about the reality of human-based climate change in both Christianity Today (the most prominent evangelical magazine by most measures) and The New York Times. In 2008, the same year Brian asked his question about the environment and Christian voting, Southern Baptists published “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Cli mate Change.” They note that “sanctity of human life and biblical deﬁni tions of marriage” are more serious moral issues (Wilkinson 163) but say they “must care about environmental and climate issues” especially as those impact the poor (164). No stance is taken on global warming science, but, as scholar Katharine Wilkinson notes, the language of “creation care” stands out for the Baptist statement (164) and for evangelicals in general. The angle for those who take the Bible seriously and literally (in a wes tern, modern, Christian culture sense) is that God made something, you are in charge of it for a while, so you better not mess it up. The sense of car etaking for a more powerful ﬁgure makes Jesus’ parable of the talents comes back to me. A landowner goes on a trip and entrusts his servants with various amounts of money. The landlord returns and expects a return on his money. The two servants who doubled their money receive rewards, while the one who hid the money is punished. But the parable’s use depends on what sort of return God expects from creation. Is it to ﬂourish in species and ecosystems and water quality, or is it for doubling your money? Wilkinson immersed herself in evangelicals interested in environ mental issues and says, “I agree with Wendell Berry, who has argued that Americans live within a Christian cultural matrix from which there is no escape. Those interested in advancing environmental sustainability would be wise to engage this religious tradition” (xv). I have a Wendell Berry poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” framed on a shelf in my oﬃce. Berry mingles religious language with the eye of a naturalist. “Put your faith in the two inches of humus / that will build under the trees / every thousand years” (lines 31–33). Berry is no funda mentalist, at least not about religion, and encourages looking with a timescale of forest growth and decomposition. Consumerist society is the environment Berry wants to escape, and some fundamentalists can agree with that too, but Berry’s imperative to “Say that your main crop is the forest / that you did not plant, / that you will not live to harvest” (lines 25–27) falls by the wayside when “dominion” over the earth, using it and cultivating it for human ends alone, takes center stage in Christian theological politics like Grudem’s. Then there’s my politically and religiously conservative evangelical friend who happens to be a meteorologist. Every month or so he provides an
article link and Facebook plea for his fellow conservatives to pay attention to the science. Evangelicals who prioritize environmental issues tend to talk in terms of “stewardship.” The world is God’s garden, and humans have been left in charge of it for a while. For them, humans need to take serious care of it and show our faithfulness by returning it to God in good shape when Jesus returns. The National Association of Evangelicals has a call to action on “creation care” which emphasizes the poor and climate change, while not speciﬁcally commenting on human causes of climate change. Again, it is an ethical issue, often in the language of helping the poor and fulﬁlling duties to God. A few, like theologian Howard Snyder, step toward a theology that embraces environmental concerns, deﬁning salvation as “creation healed” (xiv). Snyder regularly clariﬁes that God, not the environment, is the real concern, but that God’s healing, redeeming, and saving work is for all of creation, and the goal is a “new and healed creation” (227), rather than reaching heaven. Snyder here goes outside traditional fundamentalist ideas, and as a Methodist is part of a more mainline church. He critiques the idea of the rapture and leaving earth behind as “near heretical” in a 2012 interview (Viola). The Southern Baptist-aﬃliated writer Jonathan Merritt even provides a conversion narrative to believing that God is “green.” He starts with the Bible and “sees our environmental crises primarily as biblical and moral issues rather than economic, sociological, or political” (xv). This starting point may implicitly reject huge human impacts, but it is a way to speak to evangelicals. Something is moral because it is biblical. With Merritt, even Noah’s ﬂood moves out of kids’ bedroom wallpaper and oﬀ my children’s toys to become a story about recycling what is good about earth. Merritt points to a tension Brian felt, even if not in these terms, between two Bible verses. Genesis 1:28 speaks about “dominion” over the earth, with a sense of using resources according to many evangelical translators and inter preters. Genesis 2:15 asks for “care,” at least for the Garden of Eden. In evangelical circles, the struggle for environmental policy is in part a struggle of textual interpretation between these two concepts.
Other Escapes Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Rachel Carson may set the textual standards other than the Bible for American environmental writing, but my fundamentalist upbringing took me in less transcendentalist directions in my reading, often to science ﬁction, a reading tendency that has continued despite coming to appreciate Emerson’s philosophy and Carson’s prose. Among its other uses, science ﬁction runs engaging thought experiments on religion and politics. The environment mattering for its own sake is one of the positions explored in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, all three books winning either a Hugo or Nebula Award. And it’s
Eschatology 27 an escape, not just as supposedly escapist genre ﬁction, but the characters use Mars as an escape from earth and its hot, overcrowded woes. Like much traditional Christianity, the goal is to get out, to know or be or do or believe right and start with a fresh environment. Even a ﬁctional Mars may not be as human-friendly as God’s New Earth, but the complexity, the wickedness of the environmental problems, which are never just about the environment, and the suﬀering that inevi tably accompanies any ecological and spiritual niche can be too much. Too much to begin to comprehend how to not just to slow, but to stop or reverse global warming, while encouraging economic growth for all nations and managing micro-cultural clashes in every institution. So, we run away. Robinson’s characters ﬂee earth at personal, national, and corporate levels, setting up small, ideological communities. Whenever they ﬂee an environ mental problem, they also ﬂee diﬀerence. Escape is from others—ﬁctional Leninists, powerful corporations, nonbelievers. The books depict a growing struggle between two broad coalitions, starting with the Greens, who want to terraform Mars quite rapidly, appreciating it, but placing primary value on human use of its resources, and even helping earth with its own environmental problems. The Reds, a smaller and more radical set of communities, seeks to preserve Mars in its pre-human-settlement state as much as possible, often for the sake of the beauty of the rock itself. One of the original settlers of Mars, Ann, serves as a sometimes leader and sometimes symbolic ﬁgure for the Reds. She advo cates for ecopoesis, a world that retains the beauty and changes of its nat ural forms, with only enough human intervention to make it survivable. For her character, the rock itself is a place to escape to, out of the politics and pain of struggling with other settlers, while for the under classes on earth, Mars itself is a heaven to escape earth’s growing economic and climate-based problems. Refugees and colonists have diﬀerent forms of escape in this context, but both can have visions of a new true home, but the relationship to the old home is diﬀerent. In Green Mars, national and corporate colonists stay connected to earth and represent at least some of the interests of their sending agency. The Swiss bring more Swiss and negotiate for all, increas ing their power, while the Praxis corporation sends Art, a kind of naïve spy, to gain the advantage on Mars over their earthly competitors. Eco nomic refugees, on the other hand, build idealized miniature versions of Bedouin or Chinese or other societies, recreating an imaginary home, but maintaining connections to the old home mainly in nostalgia, anger, and other forms of memory. For the fundamentalist’s true home in heaven, the denial that the old place was home eases the path toward letting it go up in ﬂames. The escape to a true home for a Christian fundamentalist with power—a Jerry Falwell, a Pat Robertson, or even a Wayne Grudem—lets the old home, earth, become more like a colony with resources to use as desired, and souls as the export product to bring back to the empire. For a
28 Eschatology fundamentalist with less standing, like my grandma’s friend Selma, the escape is from the sorrows of this life and place to the idealized joys of the next, and how could the environment of the earth be a priority for one who can do little about it and is ready to leave it.
How to Vote A few days after Brian sent out his Christian views on the environment question, my brother emailed me from Washington State to Pennsylvania. This message in itself surprised me, since we wrote only a couple of times a year and saw each other once if we were lucky and I traveled west at the right time. My brother wanted to know my political views and perspective on the 2008 election more generally. We came from a family of Repub licans, but Republicans who always counted God over country and our loyalty to a particular politics only came with how well it could depict itself as more biblical than others. In the email, my brother referred to Brian’s environment question and addressed the environment as a near-moral topic, but not explicitly moral in the individual choice sense, opposing it to something like the more strictly moral issue of abortion—all of which was not unlike the Southern Baptist environmental statement’s approach. I might have argued that the environment is a moral issue given the eﬀects on human health and life (which would make sense as moral to my brother) and a Platonic sense of doing what is good for one’s soul, but the quasi-moral meant that envir onmental policies in themselves were not right or wrong. I didn’t argue the point, maintaining our general and likely false sense that we mostly agree, with me slightly to my brother’s left, and to preserve our ability to hang together as brothers to take care of parental issues as our father’s health struggled and our mother took care of him alone. Like Grudem and like most Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals, my brother set the ground for political decision-making with the observation, we need to use the Bible as the ﬁlter for how we view the world, so what does the Bible tell us about all that? And since no candidate is going to be using the Bible as their ﬁlter, you have to choose candidates that then ﬁt what you have deemed most important. (Email received Nov. 1, 2008) My brother merely follows his values consistently, not to mention paying his taxes, taking care of his children, and generally not bothering people. We should all make such an eﬀort, yet perhaps even now I’m maintaining the positive relationship. That relationship’s status, too, is a condition for useful conversation about environmental topics and many other things. I don’t feel a desire to escape my family any further. My brother’s insight is
the evangelical-interpreted Bible as a “ﬁlter,” as a tool for purifying a cultural environment. That Bible is like a ﬁlter system scrubbing gasses and particulate matter from an engine, or like the upper atmosphere and how it serves as a ﬁlter for diﬀerent wavelengths, diﬀerent forms of light and heat between the earth and space. The Bible is a useful ﬁlter between culture and self for the literalist. Of course, it can’t escape being part of the culture too, and even part of the self, as when I was encouraged to read my Bible for at least ten minutes a day and memorize passages for another ten minutes. I worked through the New Testament ﬁrst, then the Old, even Numbers and Deuteronomy, absorbing the text as part of me, as my own ﬁlter. Brian, who announced voting for Obama on his Facebook page in 2008, and I could read Genesis 2:15 about Adam “caring for” or “keeping” the Garden of Eden and think that some level of environmental care might be God’s command. Before the inﬂuence of Grudem and similar fundamen talist theologians, our ﬁlter could make the environment a moral issue, an obedience issue. But the big picture matters. How signiﬁcant is that care compared to a common evangelical cultural focus like sexual ethics when this is not, in fact, the only earth we’ll have, but the sexual ethics impact the only soul we’ll have? Or when unborn babies are dying and Hillary Rodham Clinton or your local Democrat is understood as totally in favor of that? Perhaps the reading of the Holy Scriptures is polluted, the Bible as an atmosphere ﬁlling up with greenhouse gases that trap political heat and inﬂexibility. In the end, for fundamentalists, everything is about reading—even the environment. There is no escape from that reading until Jesus returns, so for today, for tomorrow, or for the next billion years, I want to tell Brian yes. The environment matters, take care of it, and take care of your scriptural environment too. Keep it a diverse ecosystem for healthy reading, and be wary of pollutants, and when you read for environmental policy, read on Mt. Hood, at Multnomah Falls, or at Cannon Beach. Those places, you won’t want to escape. But I worry now that the possibility for a conversation about the envir onment and evangelicalism, the possibility of good discussion of Brian’s question is more diﬃcult now. The environment didn’t come up in the few personal family discussions I had about the 2016 presidential election, and the belief that climate change is a human-based reality dropped from 34% in 2008 to 25% in 2015 among white evangelicals (see Pew Research Center; Bailey). Even the need for escape has diminished as the political tides turned. For some of the many white evangelical Trump supporters, this was another chance at power, a chance to make this more of a Chris tian nation again, a chance to change some culture war results. White evangelicals had one of their own, Scott Pruitt, in charge of the Environ mental Protection Agency for a while. His promotion of debate over cli mate science and emphasis on protecting fossil fuel use shift the discussion for some evangelicals away from the environment itself, from care, from
stewardship. It moves to political ground and links up with other topics, like tying climate skepticism to religious freedom (one of Pruitt’s main concerns). The theological debate is lost, Brian goes unheard, and Grudem style assumptions roll back in. That isn’t a context for escape; it’s a setting for sticking around on this world right now and focusing on the present, while escape and environmental issues are left to their concerns about the future. I know my relatives can take the long view to eternity. In a context of political power for evangelicals, where maybe Christ’s return doesn’t seem quite so imminent, the earth can feel a little more like home. Those evangelicals focused on environmental concerns can attempt to link climate change or natural resource protection back to individual morality, tradi tional evangelical issues, and even God’s judgment for human stewardship of the planet. Perhaps instead of ﬁre insurance—staying out of hell when earth is remade, what is needed is home insurance—preparations for the current home of all known life, just in case.
References Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. “Why So Many White Evangelicals in Trump’s Base are Deeply Skeptical of Climate Change.” Washington Post, Jun. 2, 2017. www.wa shingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/06/02/why-so-many-white-evangelic als-in-trumps-base-are-deeply-skeptical-of-climate-change/?utm_term=.404401abc 119. Accessed May 31, 2018. Berry, Wendell. “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” In The Country of Marriage. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1973, pp. 16–17. CNN. “White Born-Again or Evangelical Christian?” Nov. 23, 2016. www.cnn.com/ election/2016/results/exit-polls/national/president. Accessed May 31, 2018. ESV Bible. Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway, 2001. Grudem, Wayne. Politics According to the Bible. Zondervan, 2010. Merritt, Jonathan. Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. Faith Words, 2010. Pew Research Center. “Religious Groups’ Views on Global Warming.” Apr. 16, 2009. www.pewforum.org/2009/04/16/religious-groups-views-on-global-warming. Accessed May 31, 2018. Robinson, Kim Stanley. Green Mars. Bantam Books, 1994. Snyder, Howard A. Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace. With Joel Scandrett. Cascade Books, 2011. Viola, Frank. “Howard Snyder.” Oct. 10, 2012. http://frankviola.org/2012/10/10/ howardsnyder/. Wilkinson, Katharine K. Between God and Green: How Evangelicals are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change. Oxford UP, 2012.
Scripture and Authority The Department of Hermeneutic Security
Environments aren’t the only things that might need protection, just as they aren’t the only things, at least metaphorically, that people live within. Pro tection, safety, security, even inoculation (thanks COVID) are all goals for communities, ecosystems, and sometimes identities. Much of the pressure to not emphasize environmental issues within evangelicalism can be felt in part as pressure to defend the Bible and the priorities read into it. Reading and environmental issues go together because the preservation of ecosys tems is of distant, secondary (or tertiary) importance compared to the pre servation of the Bible’s integrity. This chapter conveys some of the experience of the Bible as the basis for evangelical priorities and a sense of an ethic or value for conservation within evangelicalism, but that con servation is of a text and subculture more than of natural environments in many cases. Societal topics other than environmental ones appear here because they are part of the constellation of competing priorities within a context of biblical conservation. Talking with evangelicals about the environment means thinking about the status of the Bible and preservation of identities based in it. Evangelicals made me an English professor—white northern Baptists were most to blame in my case (race is mentioned here because while Black and white evangelicals may have signiﬁcant commonalities in theology, the churches they attend and communities they are part of have historical been quite segregated—leading to sometimes diﬀerent or even opposing politics and priorities in those communities). Those Baptists didn’t teach me how to read per se, but they taught me how to interpret and they taught me how to protect a text. That’s how I got to know them too. To understand white American evangelicalism you should consider the hermeneutic—the broad movement’s philosophy and practice of interpreting Scripture. It’s not just a way of reading the Bible; it’s a way of reading the world. That interpretive practice is fundamentally about security: securing a faultless text with no chinks in its armor in order to secure eternal life and a security in knowing where to go to answer any question. The point here is not necessarily to remove security or the desire for it. Rather, as rhetoric scholar Beth Daniell advises, using the resources within a tradition as a starting point (rather DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-3
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than just a problem) and encouraging rhetorical reading in its various possibilities is a more useful attitude (105–06). To return for a moment to the introduction’s discussion of aﬀect and bio power, Ben Anderson identiﬁes security as central to those concepts in Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s work (in Empire and Multitude), stating, a form of biopower emerges that addresses the interplay between free dom and danger: security. Security aims to either stop disruptive events before they occur or prepare for an interval in between the occurrence of a disruptive event and it damaging a valued life. Neither relation with contingency necessarily involves forbidding or prescribing. Instead, security consists of a set of apparatuses that aim to regulate within reality, because the ﬁeld of intervention is a series of aleatory events that perpetually escape command. (Anderson 34) While the examples at hand for Anderson may be related to terrorism or other physical threats, this focus on security as preparation in the interval between events applies to both environmental practices like preparing for stronger hurricanes and ﬁres and to the protective or conservation work of evangelicals regarding the Bible and how it is read. Freedom in entertaining other priorities, particularly physical ones, must be limited for how those freedoms could disrupt the security of so-called literal or historical readings of the Bible and its cultural authority in evan gelicalism. The regulation of life is indirect here, but no less potent for how it can play a role in setting policies that might promote resource-extraction over nature preservation, for example. Besides, in evangelical terms, the life of the spirit is soul is more fundamental than bodily life, so biopower techniques become more justiﬁable if they provide security for the realm of the soul. Regulate or eliminate abortion to protect the spiritual well-being of individuals and the community. For Anderson, aﬀect escapes any sort of total control (36), so the interruptions of other priorities and other aﬀective experiences always remain possible. The soul and aﬀect have potential to resist becoming just other parts of the capitalist marketplace. Naturally, I wasn’t thinking about any of this, except maybe the impor tance of the soul over the body, as a child reading my New Testament. Starting as soon as I could read short chapter books ﬂuently, around age six, I was required to read at least a chapter of my New International Version (NIV) Bible every night. I may have started with the Gospels, but as a child I read the whole thing, Old and New Testaments, every purity law in Deuteronomy and every sexy description of legs like “cedars of Lebanon” in Song of Solomon. Combined with working on memory verses for ten minutes each night—except Sundays, which were optional because of church—I developed an intimacy with the biblical text that prepared me to delve beneath the surface of other works.
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Family Environment One evangelical parachurch organization my childhood church paid some attention to, partially because of their “solid” literalist take on things, was Focus on the Family. Founded by James Dobson, it tries to apply a parti cular take on biblical “family values” to the political and personal sphere, from parenting advice to anti-LGBTQ rights issues. Their use of the Bible applies to environmental issues too, including a short statement on environmental concerns from 2011. They ask, What would a genuinely Christian and thoroughly biblical expression of environmental concern look like? In our view, it would have to begin with a confession of faith based upon one of the Scriptures you cited: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). Christians, of all people, understand that we do not own the world in which we live. The earth, like the vineyard in Jesus’ parable (Matthew 21:33–46), is a trust given into our keeping by its Maker and Proprietor. God has tasked us with the tending of His garden. We owe Him a positive return on His investment. (“Christians and the Environment”) Caring for the earth for the Lord is a fundamentally ﬁnancial activity, at least by metaphor, but earth is a ﬁnancial instrument. The return on investment is still likely to be souls. One of my family’s little rebellions when I was a child was against Focus on the Family. Sure, they had read founder James Dobson’s ideas about child rearing and generally followed his Dare to Discipline approach. Par ents were to be respected by virtue of their position and clear discipline, including spanking, was the norm, but all controlled and not out of anger. But the Focus on the Family approach to marriage didn’t work out for my parents; at least, they always said the closest they came to divorcing was at a Focus on the Family married couples’ weekend they participated in. Regardless, the nuclear family unit takes higher priority in Focus’s materi als. Larger social issues are secondary to or based on the supposed health of families (married, heterosexual, ideally with children, typically male-led). Focus on the Family’s oﬃcial 2010 “Statement on the Environment” makes those rankings explicit. “Though we oppose greed, covetousness and envir onmental ‘gluttony,’ basic human welfare—at home and abroad—must be preeminent in all environmental proposals” (2). Caring for nature matters, but it just doesn’t have the emotional pull, the urgency, the exigence of other issues. Environmental concerns aren’t part of daily dwelling the way human needs are. The ranking and supposed dichotomy is even more explicit when abor tion enters the picture. The environmental statement asserts, “as Christians
34 Scripture and Authority who are called to love our fellow humans, we tremble to consider the consequences to a nation that spends billions for pure air and water yet tolerates the destruction of more than 47 million innocent preborn chil dren” (“Statement” 2). I’m not sure if the implication is that pure air and water don’t matter for children’s health and well-being, but the directness of abortion and the centrality of the nuclear family unit help make that issue the exigence many evangelicals live within. My family never protested outside Planned Parenthood, but we certainly had friends who did, and the sense that the environment was one of families falling apart made our conservation eﬀorts about preserving relationships—through some healthy forgiveness and unhealthy lack of boundaries. The passage about turning the other cheek was taking seriously, at least when my father wanted to be let oﬀ the hook for some manipulative teasing.
Rhetorical Inoculations and Public Evangelical Statements When it comes to the priorities evangelicals (or others) have, the mix of political issues Focus on the Family brings up is just a sampling. Those issues ﬁght again for primacy whenever there is a major natural or social event. On August 29, 2017, most of the United States focused on the tor rential rain and horrendous ﬂooding in Houston and other parts of coastal Texas and Louisiana from tropical storm Harvey. A few hundred miles away, in Nashville, Tennessee, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in conjunction with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention publicly released a state ment that, among other things, aﬃrmed marriage as only between one man and one woman and rejects that a “homosexual or transgender self-con ception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption” (“Nashville Statement” article 7). Priorities and exigences diﬀer widely. While the timing and name of what was simply called the “Nashville Statement” may have been decried as inappropriate (see Schmidt) in the midst of the destruction and continued loss of life in Texas and Louisiana, the timing is not just situation-blindness or lack of tact by those releasing the statement. The timing is a reminder of a fundamental diﬀerence in priorities, where issues of personal and spiritual morality are often separate from and take precedence over mere material matters. This is not to say that many evangelicals did not help extensively in the response to Harvey, despite the controversy over Joel Osteen’s potentially slow opening of his megachurch facility in Houston (see Bromwich). Regardless of help given or not by a particular congregation or organi zation, for many evangelicals, the greater danger is always moral corrup tion rather than physical harm like a natural disaster. While the message was likely not intentional, the timing of the Nashville Statement points out a cultural divide over priorities and suggests that for evangelicals it is always a good time to work on rescuing those in danger of being ﬂooded
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by the immoral messages on contemporary American society. The question is one of moral and ideological safety, security, and protection. To this end, messages like the “Nashville Statement” act as a sort of rhetorical inocula tion against what is conceived of as the infectious dangers of the dominant culture. A rhetorical inoculation is a statement made, at least partially directed to members of some sort of in-group, to “protect” them or keep them separate from outside ideas. It treats those other ideas or other messages as a sort of disease to be prevented. It is a powerful tactic in preventing those with diﬀering political, religious, scientiﬁc, or other views from listening openly to each other. The rhetorical inoculation is a particularly important move for the American white evangelical. Three statements stand out as speciﬁc and powerful rhetorical inoculations from the past ﬁfty years: the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (1978), the “Danvers Statement” on bib lical manhood and womanhood (1987), and the aforementioned “Nashville Statement” (2017). All three can be considered part of oft-lamented culture wars in the United States, and each treats its conception of mainstream American culture as something to resist—and to change if possible. The “Chicago Statement” is perhaps the primary document, since it directly protects the biblical authority that the others claim to rest on. It sets the rules that the others come out of to try to make particular forms of equality (or stepping out of God-given roles that are provided for the good of humans, to give a more evangelical phrasing) into ideas that can’t even really be considered. H. Richard Niebuhr, in a book numerous evangelical leaders would be familiar with, categorizes ﬁve relationships between Christianity and cul ture. He argues that both Christ (for religious adherents at least) and cul ture are forms of authority, and that cultures have the struggle of putting together many diﬀerent groups and values that can be in opposition to each other (38). Christians have found ways to connect with culture—sometimes in more conforming terms and sometimes in more oppositional terms. Two categories Niebuhr provides, “Christ Against Culture” and “Christ the Transformer of Culture” ﬁt with the evangelical attempts to use public moments like the “Nashville Statement” to protect their adherents from some forms of cultural pluralism and to change broader cultural values. However, these statements work much more on the protection side, while legal actions such as bills regulating what bathrooms individuals who identify as transgender can use work more overtly on changing the institutionalized culture. The protective element continues in Sharon Crowley’s exploration of political discourse and fundamentalism in the United States. She observes that fundamentalists put their main eﬀorts not into questioning their ideals, but into “protecting those ideals from assault by unbelievers” (13). For evangelicals, the protection of ideals is centered in protecting the Bible, which then can be read to protect other beliefs. Crowley’s
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oﬀering of rhetoric as a way to argue that allows values and feelings in the debate more than liberal empiricism does makes sense, but state ments like the recent one in Nashville counter rhetorical work on ethos or authority-oriented grounds. Part of the function of the statements is to show other values in an attacking light, reducing their potential rhetorical eﬃcacy. The “Danvers Statement,” emerged from a meeting in Danvers, Massachu setts, to aﬃrm and prioritize the idea of complementary gender roles for men and women. In evangelical circles, that usually means asserting a sort of separate but equal ideology, where men and women have equal value is people before God, but God has given them separate roles to play during their earthly lives. Those roles ﬁt one notion of traditional gender expectations, with women caring for children and the home and men having authority over spouses and children. Those not ﬁtting or identifying with either category are not addressed in the Danvers statement, and gender identity is tied to biologi cal sex for the statement (“Danvers Statement”). The declarations are a response to the growth of feminism, which may feel late to some in 1987, but feminist thought had purportedly reached the evangelical church more, leading some to move away from these assertedly biblical gender roles. Attitudes about gender and sexuality are hot points of cultural contesta tion for many in evangelical churches. However, a primary concern linking many of those issues together is consistently preservation of particular ways of reading the Bible. Any loss in the authority of the Bible and of a parti cular evangelical reading of it suggests a loss of the whole thing. All biblical authority could be gone, thus the need for rhetorical inoculations about the Bible and about central cultural issues. Those inoculations become parti cularly important when the issues involve lived experiences that may be felt to contradict the approved biblical interpretation–whether about a family member who comes out as gay or about creation and evolution (which is one particular concern of the “Chicago Statement”). For the evangelical community, the rhetorical inoculation is ultimately working against attitudes toward, interpretations of, and hermeneutics for the Bible that do not conform with their accepted views. For that reason, the “Chicago Statement” is the most important of the inoculations here, and the other two rely on the ideals put forth in it to protect the evange lical subculture from Bible-critiquing ideologies. This inoculation work, which happens in smaller ways on a regular basis in the American evan gelical world, is a key part of the apparent talking past each other that happens between secular or theologically liberal Americans and those who identify with evangelicalism.
A Shot of Authority Given the role of biblical authority in evangelicalism, some of those state ment inoculations (Danvers and Nashville) are aﬃrmations of the more
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central (for evangelicals) ideas exhorted in the “Chicago Statement on Bib lical Inerrancy” (CSBI). The CSBI was written at a large conference of evangelical leaders at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago in the second half of 1978. Sponsored by a group called the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, the statement was signed by close to 300 evangelical leaders, including some who have signed the Nashville Statement thirtynine years later. The CSBI then shows the main form this inoculation takes. This main evangelical approach to the Bible’s authority, called inerrancy, is an all or nothing gamble. Either every single jot and tittle of the Bible is true in all realms of knowledge, including history and science, or it all falls apart. But this house of cards is one made of magnetized iron. It supports its own authority and culture in a variety of ways. This all or nothing approach to the main Christian text also sets up the believer to read the world through the hermeneutic of biblical inerrancy. Whatever supports the truth, values, and culture of inerrantist readings of the Bible is good and true, and whatever conﬂicts or is against this speciﬁc biblical perspective is false. Inerrancy is an attempt to build a perfect closed system that can test all other knowledge and be usable in almost any circumstance. Not only that, it also builds its own culture of taste for attitudes and values, then, it provides built-in reasons for supporting those values. God is invoked as aiding with all stages of creating and using the text, so the whole structure is struck together with a sacred glue. Inerrancy makes an approach to interpretation into an argument in the sense of being both a wall and a bridge to all other arguments. It keeps out potentially incompatible ideas and serves as the way in for other ideas. Whatever can gain traction as linked to that inerrancy crosses the bridge and becomes unassailable. The idea of an inerrant Bible (or other text treated in the same way) locates all ethos in the sacred text, which grounds all logos there as well. Facts, alternative or otherwise, involve signiﬁcant questions of authority and trust. Most claims, however good the evidence looks, have to come from a source whose evidence one is willing to accept. Beliefs follow whatever source a person already agrees with, and in extreme cases, infor mation is just made up. For evangelicals, this issue of authority and trust is based in understandings of the Bible. The approach to authority taken with the Bible then has implications for other sources. In particular, history and tradition are relatively unimportant, experts have no special knowledge, the self and the impressions or felt leading of what seems right (from the Holy Spirit) are authoritative. With inerrancy as an attempt to cling to founda tions of knowledge when beliefs are challenged by scientism and historicism or undercut by a rejection of ﬁrm foundations (postmodernism), get rejec tion of authority of all areas except the Bible. If it feels like this discussion is more about the Bible than the environment, that’s the point. Without a starting point in the Bible and a sense of how central it is for many
38 Scripture and Authority evangelicals, the move towards application to particular issues—like environmental topics—misses the larger network of concerns. When it comes to facts, the writers of the CSBH invest themselves in one signiﬁcant debate. In Article XXII they assert that creation, fall, and ﬂood stories of Genesis are “factual, as is the rest of the book.” This assertion is to go directly against the idea that those stories “are mythical and that scientiﬁc hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.” The crea tionist move indicates to followers that the authority of the Bible as iner rant comes before scientiﬁc or scholarly authority. In other words, the CSBH is providing an inoculation against the speciﬁc disease of scientiﬁc evolutionary thinking along with a more general dose of claims to ward oﬀ any questioning of a literal approach. The CSBH speciﬁcally asserts this in the realm of facts, not just ethics, spiritual truths, or values. The authority is speciﬁcally based on inerrancy and the explanation of the article is worth quoting at length here. Since the historicity and the scientiﬁc accuracy of the early chapters (among others) of the Bible have come under severe attack it is important to apply the traditional literal hermeneutic espoused (Article XV) to this question. The result was a recognition of the factual nature of the account of the creation of the universe, all living things, the special creation of humans, the Fall, and the Flood. These accounts are all factual; that is, they are about space-time events that actually happened as reported in the book of Genesis (see Article XIV, “Chicago Statement”). The group found agreement on denying that Genesis is mythological or unhistorical. Like wise, the use of the term “creation” was meant to exclude the belief in macro-evolution, whether of the atheistic or theistic varieties. This type of authority rejects physical evidence in favor of textual evidence; the Bible itself can then serve as an inoculation against later scientiﬁc data. Article V of the CBSH takes the preventative work even further, asserting that “the Holy Spirit enables believers to appropriate and apply Scripture to their lives.” God is helping any true believer read the Bible well and use it for actions and decisions. At the same time, the authors claim, “the natural man does not receive the spiritual message of Scripture. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit there is no welcome for its truth in an unregenerate heart.” A non-believer may understand something in the Bible, but for it to really matter and change the person, for the text to be taken as a uniﬁed, author itative whole, the Holy Spirit is necessary. The defensive move is in being able to say that any reading one disagrees with is not from a true believer. I might read the text right because the Holy Spirit guides me, but clearly that other reading is not guided by the Holy Spirit. I can be inoculated against other interpretation. In traditional rhetorical terms, ethos is denied to anyone who doesn’t already believe the same things and read the same way. Taken as a whole and centered on the idea of inerrancy, these three evangelical statements demonstrate one group’s powerful attempts to
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inoculate itself against opposing ideals and sympathies. Not only is this a model for thinking about how many groups protect their identities and values, but it also raises questions about how to respond rhetorically to these inoculations.
Teaching Safety As a writing teacher, I notice the sense of needing a secure and consistent base for understanding and describing the world in many of my students, religiously evangelical and not. That academic answer of encouraging stu dents to explore and question their beliefs can be powerful, but it’s psy chologically risky for many and requires a sort of privileged position for a student’s emotional state and support structure to manage without anguish. When possible, forms of questioning authorities and hermeneutics work best when found within a tradition’s own resources, and I certainly learned forms of questioning authorities from evangelicalism too. My role as an English professor compels me to state that no individual experience can represent a whole group, including mine of evangelical interpretive practices. At the same time, the traits and tendencies I have found come over many years and have been corroborated by others. Growing up as a conservative evangelical, my hermeneutic was one of lit eralism, taking the plain meaning (whatever that is) of the text whenever possible, and relying on the infallibility, at a minimum, of the text. Our house was open to infallibility or inerrancy, a distinction of interest to the more theologically minded in our church circles. Infallibility is the more liberal position that only holds that the Bible is always trustworthy in guiding the believer. Infallibility says the Bible’s teachings are always right, and the doctrine taken from a right reading is true about God and the world. It leaves some room for historical or scientiﬁc errors in matters unrelated to Christian faith and life. But always, the question is whether the Bible is right or wrong. That question is central to any discussion of global warming, for example. Does human-based global warming as a serious problem support, reject, or neither the authority of the Bible? The inerrancy stance, more popular in my denomination as a child, shows some similarity with a strict Muslim position about the Koran (which of course has its own varieties and histories of interpretation). It isn’t quite that every word was literally from God in one particular lan guage, but inerrancy approaches the idea of God dictating word for word to the human automatons doing the writing. Inerrancy says there are no errors of fact or contradictions of any kind in the Bible—not just about spiritual life, but in all the unity of knowledge about the world. The power of a particular text doesn’t just give prescribed answers to questions, it sets of the form of written arguments. My students who have identiﬁed as evangelical usually ﬁnd no problem pulling quotations and using textual evidence to make a case, but control of meaning stays with the author,
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human or divine. What does it mean for an author to give up control of a text if God has to give up control of a sacred text too? As I’m sure you can imagine, the arguments between the generally iner rantist believers in creation happening in six 24-hour days and the leftwing, commie infallibilists who might allow for each “day” to be an epoch or extended period of time get pretty feisty. They do usually manage to co exist, though. My inerrantist-leaning grandfather, who could still switch-hit (baseball, people) in his 60s and is a sweeter man than any of your friends, managed to not argue with my infallibilist-leaning father about the Bible—at least not at Christmas dinner. That was no thanks to my father, who ﬁgured if you weren’t arguing about the Bible, it didn’t really count as a conversation. When I was around ﬁfth grade, especially on summer evenings when our lack of air condition ing made staying up later a necessity, we played an interpretation game that imagined we were almost all-powerful. The game couldn’t have been much simpler. My father would describe some dilemma or scenario, involving questions like “when does life end?” based on a scenario with a horriﬁc car crash and a debated inheritance, and I had to give the answer. I was the one who had to be in charge or choose what was right, but I could ask him questions about diﬀerent people’s viewpoints on the topic or the details of the scenario. More often than not, the questions turned to the Bible and to passages diﬃcult for the evangelical hermeneutic of security. The plain sense litera lism had to stand up to the seeming contradiction of what the “unforgi vable sin” really is and how there can be one for a fully forgiving God, why some Proverbs seem to directly contradict each other, and why we don’t let women be pastors (in our church), but we do let them go with their heads uncovered. A 30-second Google search will turn up at least half a dozen diﬀerent evangelical answers to this last pressing question. I don’t use “pressing” sarcastically because the question can hinge on how to use cul ture in interpreting Scripture, and if our interpretations become too cultural, the security system falls apart. Throughout, though, I was learning not only to interpret texts, but to weigh diﬀerent interpretations and their evidence against each other. I worked through interpretations so counter to any plain sense of a text it would have made a deconstructionist like Derrida proud. Of course, those interpretive contortions were in service of the unity and non-contradiction of the Bible, which trumps or reshapes “plain sense.”
Systems Fall Apart The inoculation move is important to keep the belief system and ultimately the sense of self in the same place. If a hermeneutic does not hold together, then all of heaven and earth crashes down with it. Security and certainty give way to confusion, culturalism, or even (heaven forbid) mystery.
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Biblical knowledge can be as certain and total as any Enlightenment rationalist might think about the natural world. Yet, even as I write this, my fondness for hermeneutics of all sorts comes rushing back in a slap of nostalgia. All these issues of interpretation are just as important for my writing students as for the literature side of things. Can I give the slightest push to teaching others to write with mystery and risk, without endanger ing them as growing writers? Encouraging their non-academic authorities, their near-fundamentalisms, just to be in conversation with academic sorts of authority in papers is a small start. A hermeneutic of security is all about ﬁnding certainty, knowing right answers, avoiding mystery. Foundations are not questioned because then the authority is less strong. It feels safe. Impassioned debates can be about whether people who turn away from God keep their salvation, lose it, or never had it, but nothing that would question the way of reading itself. Perhaps about what happens to people who have never heard the Gospel is a safer question. This is not to mock by any stretch, for the concern about the eternal destination of those who haven’t heard is often palpable and moving. The Gospel is deﬁned as Jesus’ salvation-making work of dying on the cross and rising from the dead, requiring a personal response from each individual, neither less nor more. Especially not more in either human good worksbased responses nor in Jesus’ life, teachings, or “Kingdom of God” language as fundamental to the Gospel. The defensiveness of this approach to interpretation comes in part from the birth of the modern Christian fundamentalist movement at a time when the Bible was seen as under attack by historical critics. In a strange parallel to literary theory, this move to consider the text as sacred and uniﬁed, with complexities and paradoxes in the text always open to reconciliation through right interpretation matches the growth of New Criticism in the early to mid-twentieth century. New Critics tried to (in part) separate literary studies from historical work, placing an emphasis on literary techniques and the aesthetic quality of texts, particularly valuing complexity that could be brought into a uni ﬁed interpretation. The biblical scholars got there a decade or two sooner than the New Critical heyday of the 1940s, plus the New Critics cared more about literary devices and aesthetic quality. Nonetheless, the rather ahisto rical, text-focused, unity is a clear match between New Criticism and evangelical hermeneutics. The reader is not considered a major inﬂuence on the text or its inter pretation. For New Criticism, the aﬀective fallacy says not to base an interpretation on the readers emotional response, while for security herme neutics the reader should look to God instead of himself (usually him) for any grounding. The biblical readers cared for doctrinal quality instead of aesthetic, and a basic level of formal expertise was valued. And that reconciliation the Bible calls for mainly functions as reconciling the text
42 Scripture and Authority with itself, the Old Testament with the New, the prophecies with history, and the creation with science. Well, maybe not that last one, but to preserve the inerrancy of the whole, science can be rejected or adjusted as needed. I think of the Under Armor commercials with football players revving themselves up for a home game and the slogan “Protect this House.” I can’t watch those ads without thinking of foreign policy issues, which in a sports/military combo way is exactly what they’re going for. But I also can’t watch them without thinking of reading the Bible, which I’m pretty sure is more unexpected. If there is one hole in the line, one break in interpretive unity, the house can fall. The Bible is a home. It is dwelling with God, with the text standing in for God until you go to heaven or Jesus comes back. The hermeneutic is the security system that holds the internal consistency of that house’s many rooms together no matter strange wiring workarounds have to happen. I sometimes forget for a moment that the global-warming-is-a-hoax argument paper turned in to one of the teaching assistants I mentored comes partially from a need to keep a whole spiritual foundation secure. It is an argument of emotional self-preservation, but at the cost of potential emotional and material damage to others. In college, I could work around any paradox in a text, following critics John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, I. A. Richards, not to mention my northern Baptist pastors—who all agreed that those German historical critics had it all wrong. For our formalism, I at least earned huge accolades for memorizing all the books of the Bible in order and mastering “sword drills,” where the Bible was the “sword of truth,” and the drill was to ﬁnd any announced chapter and verse faster than everyone else. I was the quiet one, never speaking in Sunday School discussions, but competitive with my ﬁngers when we sat in a row of 1970s wood-on-metal tubing chairs waiting for the Sunday School teacher (a male teacher for the separate grade-school boys’ class) to shout out Haggai 2:2 or II Thessalonians 4:15. Still, I learned to close read the devil out of a text and could reconcile Deborah as a judge and leader with women not allowed to speak in church, or God’s mercy in sacriﬁcing his own son with the slaughter at Ai. At the time, I didn’t know that this was more than what my American Literature professors would ask of me, with their easy non-divinely inspired, culturally closer, single-author novels. Literary critics often ﬁnd a key, a linchpin, a passage in a poem that frames the interpretation of all the rest of the text. Stanley Fish famously realized that Milton made Satan so dang appealing in Paradise Lost because the reader was supposed to be seduced by the devil’s wiles and experience that temptation. For the evangelicals I’ve known and loved, you can pick a few key verses that set the parameters for reading the whole rest of the Bible. (Don’t worry, leftist/liberal Christians and biblically knowledgeable atheists do this too, just with diﬀerent passages.)
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A nice starting point is II Timothy 3:16–17, the biblical authority verse par excellence. For many white evangelicals, it establishes the house and the basis for the security system. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV Bible). By the way, all Bible passages in this chapter are from the NIV, which evangelicals often consider not as good at word-for-word literalism as the King James Version or the English Standard Version, but its lan guage is more accessible and at least the older NIV translations didn’t do any of that liberal media gender inclusive language stuﬀ. So, Timothy basically proves that the Bible claims to be inerrant, or at least infallible, and therefore must be read that way or utterly rejected. It is a single unit; if it lies here, the whole thing can’t be trusted. Security is tight for this hermeneutic, and no breaches of any sort are allowed, but exactly this level of extreme interpretive protection is comforting. Once you are in the house, in the text, nothing contradicting it can penetrate. You can rest, knowing you don’t have to ﬁgure out how to re-interpret a passage in this day and age. Except for applications. You do have to ﬁnd lots of real-life applications for Bible verses. That application can be a beneﬁt for teaching. It’s a resource to call out, that my students’ own texts should often con sider practical applications—giving the paper a chance to work more rea listically with constraints on the issue at hand. And critique is usually okay for my evangelical-identiﬁed students, who know that when their ideas are not on biblical concerns, the text, the house no longer must be protected. But in the biblical house, the other textual cameras, sensor beams, and alarms in this security system start with a classic: John 3:16. I’m not going to quote it. Seriously, look it up. If you aren’t reading the Bible and don’t have large pieces memorized, you should be reading with your Bible next to you and open, or so goes a common evangelical expectation and pressure. Question everything and everyone with the Word that became text (which turns out to be one of the possible saving graces of this hermeneutic). So, John gives us Jesus. The main concepts to shape interpretation are here. The key is Jesus, particularly this death and resurrection, and the response of belief in him. Romans 10:9–10 makes it clearer, and you should be worried if you go too many weeks without hearing these verses at church. You’ve got to believe in the resurrection in your heart and you have to say that “Jesus is Lord.” Like the wedding in Princess Bride, if you didn’t say it, you didn’t do it. The story of Jesus telling Nicodemus he must be “born again” during a secret night meeting jumps in too. You don’t know that story? Or what book and chapter it’s in? Then get that education before talking to an evangelical about an environmental issue—even if they don’t seem con nected—or ask the evangelical about that story and others. In conversation with evangelicalism, conservation of the environment is part of the primary context of conservation of the Bible and evangelical belief. Other verses are
44 Scripture and Authority key for biblical home security too, like Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23, which are always used together in talking ﬁrst about how people are sinful and second in how the consequence of sinfulness is death—unless you have God’s help. These verses are used to show how someone is either in or out of the house forever. There is virtually no uncertainty, which gives a type of security. A safe home in heaven forever has to be taken care of before a safe temporary home on a warming planet can be the concern.
Familiar Cultures Of course, not all who attend a particular church fully identify with that church or group or belief system. In part, this book is a narrative about attempting to be in a community of people with diﬀerent priorities. My family attended an evangelical church for a couple of years because of its general familiarity in religious language and because it was one of the few places where we all had friends. Our toddlers looked forward to playing imaginary tigers after church and there were parents of similarly aged kids dealing with the same issues. Age diversity combined with those in similar life situations is not to be scoﬀed at for feeling supported. But the Sunday when a lay member of the congregation gave the sermon, which was cen tered on a video by street evangelist Ray Comfort about techniques for converting others, only my horriﬁed curiosity kept me from walking out. The notion of evangelism as (in part) proselytizing wasn’t unexpected or new, but the level of Socratic manipulation was stunning. When the prior ity is getting people to accept a particular belief and say a prayer of com mitment to Jesus to have a life in God’s presence from then on, particularly after death, other priorities have a hard time competing. Manipulation seems justiﬁed, even if it doesn’t work so well in the long term. The total sense of certainty presented in the video worked as a booster shot for the watching congregation against openness to other perspectives. Some caution should be used when calling evangelicalism a culture, a subculture, or a counterpublic, because, while it has its own values and ways of circulating ideas that diﬀer from most popular media and mass culture, it has signiﬁcant power (I prefer subculture because evangelicalism may not be dominant in mass media, but it doesn’t have the implied weakness of a counterpublic). Many who identify as evangelicals are in political positions of power, membership in evangelical churches is still quite high when thinking in terms of alternative groups, and evangelical thought reaches into mass media and inﬂuences debates on many cul tural topics. In that sense, it is perhaps more of a competing culture than a true counterpublic in Michael Warner’s use of the latter term. Warner explains that “A counterpublic maintains at some level, conscious or not, an awareness of its subordinate status.” It works against or is deﬁned against a “dominant” culture (119). American evangelicalism is an alternate public or mix of dominant culture and counterpublic, deﬁning itself against
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parts of popular culture, but it is thoroughly intermingled with elements of a dominant public and politics as well. In terms of how counterpublics work for Warner, Discussion within such a public is understood to contravene the rules obtaining in the world at large, being structured by alternative dis positions or protocols, making diﬀerent assumptions about what can be said or what goes without saying. This kind of public is, in eﬀect, a counterpublic. (Warner 56) That focus on a particular type of biblical authority in evangelicalism is perhaps the main alternative rule or protocol, radically changing what can be said and need not be said, and the discussion within evangelicalism includes these rhetorical inoculation statements that also signal opposition to a broader public.
Allies and Resemblances That broader public includes political/cultural allies. Politically, it was only natural for security-oriented evangelicals to join in with protect-America ﬁrst politicians and cold warriors throughout the twentieth century. They (the evangelicals and the cold warriors) knew how to read for security and safety. Our house, our text, our country—all are internally consistent and ordained from above. The city on hill is also a Bible in a hand, shining forth for all to see. And insiders and outsiders had to be clear. The ﬁrst question my parents asked me whenever I mentioned new friends was, “Are they Christians?” As if I knew the eternal status of the soul of the guy I studied with for our college geology test last Thursday. But the meaning of the question was clear. Does this person actively claim to have a personal, saving relation ship with Jesus? Has she asked Jesus into her heart? Or does he at least clearly show that he knows and read the Bible the right way? The herme neutic served as a test for real Christianity—not like those liberal cultural Christians who might even call God “she.” In my family, Catholics and (heaven forbid) Mormons weren’t really on the radar other than to root against the Notre Dame and BYU football teams. This “are they a Christian?” question lasted all the way up at least into my 30s when I rejected the question a hundred diﬀerent ways—or would have if I’d had that many friends. “No, Dad, I don’t know if Jeremy’s a Christian. We were in a committee meeting, and it didn’t come up around our discussions of including more feminist criticism in classes and how our families just don’t get the value of neo-Marxist cultural studies.”
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Another deﬁning feature of evangelical hermeneutics is a respect for the plain or common sense of the biblical text. Put another way, it is a rejection of the signiﬁcantly limited cultural perspective and bias any reader has, no matter the eﬀorts to consider the context of the text’s authors. An approach to interpretation that assumes that one’s own perspective is the normal way to see things can apply quite handily to cultural politics too. The status quo and what seems normal should just continue, at least when it generally matches evangelical values. New Criticism garnered criticism on similar grounds. By being apolitical, not worrying about criticism as a challenge to the status quo, and by not considering cultural context in major ways, it did not concern itself directly with social ethics. Perhaps I do want my students to write as New Critics at times, focusing on complexity brought into unity, creating an experience of the whole, with the text speaking for itself, and a concern for aesthetics. But then I can’t separate my rhetoric from my ethics. Evangelical hermeneutics have a form of accessibility to them that can be quite encouraging to followers and students. Because it is about common sense, and more theologically, the priesthood of the believer, anyone can do it. No training is necessary. In fact, at times the Holy Spirit is invoked as a guide who helps with the interpretation. New Criticism ended up with a similar value for the common person as exegete. Particularly with the increases in university enrollment after World War II—and with most of those students not having gone to fancy prep schools—a type of reading everyone could try out was needed. New Criticism ﬁt the bill. Students could learn some literary devices—from metaphor to enjambment, look for symbols, and see how those devices bring “J. Alfred Prufrock” together. I learned that the common person’s hermeneutic meant we got to check up on pastors. Every sermon I heard from late grade school through high school was accompanied by some interpretation-checking work with my own Bible in the pew. Or chair. Or theater seat. Some of those Biblebelieving non-denominational churches are extremely inclusive about seating options. My father made sure we questioned the preacher, perhaps because his own pastor’s kid status kept him looking for ﬂaws in the father/pastor ﬁgure. But most pastors encouraged at least following along in your own Bible, which of course you brought to church, with a pen, and possibly a monogrammed leather cover. Eventually, after reading through the whole Bible in a year for six years in a row, my hermeneutic shifted thanks to the text itself. But for many evangelicals, changing the mode of interpretation is equal to changing gender, race, class, sexual orientation, or any other major identity category you might ﬁnd in a contemporary cultural analysis. This common sense hermeneutic, this independent pioneer way of read ing (even if grabbing land given by Uncle Sam and taken from the nearby Indigenous tribe) has a rebellious streak. And independent reading is encouraged. I once attended a church with the application of the sermon
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nearly every week included some form of “read your Bible more.” The strain of using that Bible to check up on the pastor, to question the theological ﬁne points is an encouragement.
Resisting Authority/Changing Priority There is ﬂexibility here. As Susan Friend Harding argues in The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics, “hybridity not purity, ﬂuidity not ﬁxity, characterized the movement at every level. One’s identity as a Bible-believing Christian was not narrowly deﬁned or stationary” (274). The fundamentalism she writes about is thoroughly modern in set ting itself up against forms of modern critical practices, yet it participates in those too. The rhetorical response could be to remind your local evangeli cal, or yourself if you are one, not to just listen to your favorite pastor, Christian celebrity, or systematic theologian. Remind them of the real weapon, the sword of the spirit (a term for the Bible in this context) to participate in what Harding calls not a single fundamental path, but a “ﬂexible absolutism” (275). Do a sword drill (looking up verses quickly) to Micah 6:8, to Matthew 25:40, to Galations 3:28. Want to know what those verses are? Look them up. Don’t count on me or any pastor to tell you. No mediator between you and God. The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it, right? The Bible, in fact, serves as the connection and mediator between the believer and God—since Jesus went up to Heaven, it stands in for God on earth. Remind yourself of your freedom as a believer or unbeliever to use your (or your hotel’s) Bible to argue with every claim—political, religious, or otherwise—that calls on God for backing or even implies biblical sup port. I certainly want to embrace that critical strain within evangelicalism as a resource for approaching environmental topics with evangelical friends and acquaintances, not asking them to jettison beliefs before being critical analysts themselves. Put the biblical texts you like together with the biblical texts your rightwing, left-wing, or green neighbor likes and try to unify them. Let it be a return to New Critical Bible class, where all the inconsistencies must be reconciled. Dive into the Word and let the Bible itself break down people’s hermeneutics, rewire the security system and open the house. That just might make it more possible to protect other houses, including ecosystem homes. As a (counter)public, evangelicalism might not have to make environmental concerns low priority. And this is where we ﬁnally return to evangelicals and environmental issues. The conversation (at least for religious evangelicals, as opposed to those who take evangelicalism as almost only a political identity), is always in part about the Bible. The sometimes-perceived threat of environmentalism is about how it threatens readings of the Bible, so starting with hermeneutics and maintaining reli gious identity are central to any environmental discussion with evangelical Christians. Any discussion of environmental priorities, any feeling of land
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use policy or limiting extinctions as exigent, are also hermeneutical issues. Environmental and biblical conservation go hand in hand in an evangelical context.
References Anderson, Ben. “Aﬀect and Biopower: Toward a Politics of Life.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 37, no. 1, 2012, pp. 28–43. doi:10.1111/ j.1475-5661.2011.00441.x. Bromwich, Jonah Engel. “Joel Osteen Says Lakewood Church Is Open to Harvey Victims After Criticism.” The New York Times, Aug. 29, 2017. www.nytimes. com/2017/08/29/us/joel-osteen-backlash-church.html?mcubz=0. Accessed Sep. 7, 2017. “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” 1978. www.bible-researcher.com/chica go1.html. Accessed Sep. 7, 2017. “Christians and the Environment.” 2011. www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/ christians-and-the-environment. Accessed Apr. 15, 2021. Crowley, Sharon. Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. U of Pittsburgh P, 2006. Daniell, Beth. “A Question of Truth: Reading the Bible, Rhetoric, and Christian Tradition.” Renovating Rhetoric in Christian Tradition, edited by Elizabeth Vander Lei et al., U of Pittsburgh P, 2014, pp. 105–116. “Danvers Statement.” Jun. 26, 2007. https://cbmw.org/2007/06/26/the-danvers-sta tement. Accessed Sep. 7, 2017. Harding, Susan Friend. The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics. Princeton UP, 2001. “Nashville Statement.” Aug. 29, 2017. https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement. Accessed Sep. 7, 2017. Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. Harper & Brothers, 1951. NIV Bible. Holy Bible: New International Version. 4th ed. Nashville, TN: Biblica, 2011. Schmidt, Samantha. “Evangelicals’ ‘Nashville Statement’ Denouncing Same-Sex Marriage Is Rebuked by City’s Mayor.” The Washington Post, Aug. 30, 2017. www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/30/evangelical-leaders release-nashville-statement-on-sexuality-rejecting-gay-marriage/?utm_term=.1f33e f93a241. Accessed Sep. 7, 2017. “A Statement on the Environment.” 2010. www.media.focusonthefamily.com/top icinfo/environmental_statement.pdf. Accessed Apr. 15, 2021. Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Zone Books, 2002.
Stewardship Human Care through Creation Care in Evangelical Environmental Statements
Snow fell regularly in the capital of Uzbekistan in the winter of 1998, often making the steps down to subway treacherous in the morning as I headed from my apartment with a 50 by 80 sepulchral white steel door to the repe titive gray concrete of Tashkent University. From December of 1997 to early February of 1998, I taught English as a Second Language at a uni versity in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Technically, I traveled as a special guest of the president, although I am quite certain he had no knowledge of my existence. The U.S.-based non-governmental service organization I was aﬃliated with for that time went by the egalitarian and tame name of Resource Exchange International (REI), although it had a Christian mis sionary element as well. We were independent westerners, not wearing cowboy hats like the Marlboro Man on my bag—but living a version of the cowboy with a white hat, or at least a beige one. The trip required me to consider my own stewardship as someone using the donations of others for part of it, but also taught me about Uzbek caretaking of the Aral Sea. Stewardship in an evangelical context can be generally deﬁned as responsibly caring for the world that God has given to humans to look after, which includes nature, money, and the self. Stew ardship can also be a way of thinking about exigence as an ethical practice that is part of one’s identity—as a good steward. Diﬀering evangelical per spectives on stewardship show the centrality of that term and diﬀerent collections of priorities in the environmental debates within evangelicalism. Talking with evangelicals about environmental issues means trying to understand nuances of stewardship. Oﬃcially, it couldn’t be a missionary organization. The Uzbekistani government didn’t approve of such things but help with English was dif ferent. After years under Soviet rule, the Uzbekistan of the 1990s turned west for at least some of its inﬂuence and the English language became a hot commodity. I had no special knowledge of Uzbekistan, but while sitting around a campﬁre after an old-fashioned formal college dance, my date’s good friend (and my friend too) mentioned that she was going to join her parents in Uzbekistan for a couple of months at the end of the year. They worked with a sort of intercultural organization in Tashkent, but were DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-4
50 Stewardship basically Christian missionaries, and hey, she thought they would be happy to have people come along and teach English as a second language for a bit. Were any of us interested? I needed a post-graduation adventure and so I went. Plenty of churches, friends, and relatives were happy to use some of their resources to help me go. After all, what better stewardship of money than to invest in bringing a little more talk of Christianity to a former Soviet republic. My actual conversations in Uzbekistan didn’t match the missionary hopes very well. Many of the college students in Uzbekistan that I worked with had three main topics they wanted to cover with me: what the Amer ican education system was like, the Bill Clinton sex scandal, and the Aral Sea. The news of Clinton’s and Lewinsky’s power-imbalanced aﬀair broke for me after class one afternoon. CNN is everywhere, and one of the employees at the school where I taught asked me what I thought of the scandal. I thought nothing, having not yet heard about it. Over twenty years later, with Monica Lewinsky giving thoughtful TED talks and Clin ton’s sexual misconduct looking both much worse and not that bad in the contrasting lights of #MeToo and Donald Trump, my Uzbek colleagues might not be so shocked and just continue their curiosity at the soap opera of bizarre freedoms that they saw in the United States. The Aral Sea motivated engineering projects and study for several of the college-age students I worked with. They prepared for the TESOL English exam as a way to gain access to graduate school internationally, with the hope of coming back to preserve Uzbekistan’s most important body of water. Formerly the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world, it had been shrinking for years, primarily due to less water ﬂowing in thanks to irriga tion for cotton and other crops while Uzbekistan was still part of the Soviet Union. Increased salinization of the Aral Sea, the growth of desert land around it, and the reduction of ﬁshing opportunities are a few of the results of that environmental disaster. Vitally, for the organization I traveled to Uzbekistan with, stewardship of the Aral Sea was not a priority topic. It was a real issue, but one that served primarily as an inroad to being in Uzbekistan and dealing with the real exigence of a country that primarily mixed Soviet atheism and cultural Islam in religious terms. Stewardship of the resources of time and money meant prioritizing relationships that could lead to sharing the saving message of the Gospel with as many individuals as possible. Priorities can be linked and it isn’t a zero-sum game, but attention to one area, like evangelism, can leave other topics, like the Aral Sea, behind. The Kazakh government, with the help of a World Bank loan, improved water ﬂow into their portion of the Aral Sea, and a great deal of ﬁshing has returned with improved water quantity and quality (see Chen). But Uzbe kistan’s portion of the Aral Sea to the south, nearly cut oﬀ from the part in Kazakhstan, remains low, full of dangerous chemicals and potential natural gas mining. Water needs to sustain a major cotton industry have helped
prevent improvements in water ﬂowing into the southern Aral Sea (see Micklin; Columbia University). Many of the students I brieﬂy worked with wanted to work on the Uzbekistan side of the Aral Sea, at least partly to steward it, to take care of that natural resource for its own sake and for their varied personal and national motivations. The students wanted to protect the Aral Sea, the land in general, and the nation. I’m no longer sure what I was trying to conserve. The ﬁgure of the environmentalist is an important one in attempts to motivate individuals and institutions to work to reduce carbon usage, pre serve species through protecting habitats, improve water supply cleanliness, and other environmentally related actions. The environmentalist might be depicted as a happy hippy, a passionate Greenpeace member, or an Al Gore clone among many other options. The traits of ethical environmental actors and how that role is portrayed is often a hidden frame for people to iden tify with or against. In the case of environmental change, the possibilities presented for making a diﬀerence environmentally and the purposes for acting in a way beneﬁting the environment are both important aspects of that identity. How evangelical Christians negotiate that environmentalist identity, often rejecting it and replacing it with their own categories, is central for seeing motivations and possibilities for environmental justice and ecological preservation. The identity of the “good steward” in its dif ferent versions shows diﬀering conceptions of humans and environment in contemporary evangelicalism. The steward is a protector or conservator, but one who does so nor the sake of someone or something more important, whether that more important ﬁgure is God, nature, society, or something else. Despite Lynn White’s famous 1967 description of Christianity as funda mentally anti-environmental because of the hierarchy with humans at the top that it often provides, gaining the support of Christians for political, institutional, and personal action about the environment remains vital. That importance can be as basic as votes needed for a policy change or as broad as the cultural attitude changes needed to make a meaningful diﬀer ence on climate issues. Beyond that, religion continues to both provide important forms of ethical identity for many, and sometimes has the resources to motivate people to be concerned about goods that seem distant in time or space and that may be more about beneﬁting others. Mike Hulme’s work on conceptions of climate and weather across many cultures identiﬁes the not surprising “supernatural, the natural and the human” as reasons for climate change and emphasizes how they can “co-exist in com plex ways within and across diﬀerent cultures” (Weathered 8). The super natural and human in particular mix in opposing evangelical versions of climate change thought. Philosopher Max Oelschlaeger states the importance of religion deﬁni tively; “There are no solutions for the systemic causes of ecocrisis, at least in democratic societies, apart from religious narrative” (5). “Religion” is
used broadly in this context as a sort of community of belief and practice that has some element of common purpose with the impetus of a spiritual element behind it. This need for religious narrative is all about the resour ces for motivating people and the importance religion still plays in demo cratic societies. More broadly, Justin King Rademaekers and Richard Johnson-Sheehan argue for the importance of environment language that matches the public, stating, environmental scientists habitually adopt the frames of the environ mental movement, which often puts them at odds with the social frames familiar to the general public. As a result, even though envir onmental scientists form arguments that are persuasive to envir onmentalists, these arguments are often not persuasive to the broader public. (Rademaekers and Johnson-Sheehan 5) The frames need not be for a broad public only but can be shaped around familiar terms for signiﬁcant groups like evangelicals. The centrality of religious identity for many must be considered when trying to reach an evangelical audience. In Toward a Civil Discourse, Sharon Crowley writes of religious identity as experiential and core to overall identity. She asserts, “fundamentalist religious belief is intimate, visceral; it resonates in the very bodies of believers” (191), bringing it to a less cognitive level. Crowley also explores Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s theory that diﬀerence in belief is from our varied personal contexts, and that shifts in belief can only come “if a rhetor respects diﬀerence” (195). Understanding diﬀerences in ways of thinking about the environment, and, in this case, ways of thinking about a stewardship identity, are needed for working with evangelicals on environmental issues. Communication scholars make clear that how climate change and other environmental issues are given meaning and importance in diﬀerent forms to diﬀerent audiences and cultural groups is vital for seeing possibilities for action and encouraging possible actions (see Callison; Doyle; Hulme, Why We Disagree). Philip Eubanks’s work on the rhetoric of climate change notes the stakes in thinking about how to make a case when the world is at stake and the normal balance of priorities does not seem to apply (x). In a context of Christian evangelicalism, the issue is complicated by the sense that relative to saving souls and gaining followers of Jesus, nothing else seems to ultimately matter. It is extreme stakes working against other extreme stakes. Eubanks also rightly adds that facts are always seen through values (80), which are about readings of the Bible in an evangelical setting. Identity in rhetorical studies is frequently considered in important cate gories like race, gender, sexuality, or even religion. Alternatively, identity (or identiﬁcation) is also grounded in the work of Kenneth Burke, where
rhetoric is about interests being aligned and insiders versus outsiders (see Crable; Jordan). This chapter argues that for evangelicals and environ mental issues, the identity at stake is that of the “steward,” as in humans having stewardship over earth in some way. In this case, identity is less about aﬃliation with a particular group for a particular purpose or mem bership in an identity category. Identity, here, is more of an action term, and that activity might be understood as individual. In communication with evangelicals about environmental issues, a key is to provide action identities (or roles) that ﬁt the desired action or perspective without taking away from the religious group identity. As the following analysis of stewardship shows, one action-identity can have a variety of meanings and ways of being implemented. American evangelicalism is primarily understood to de-prioritize many popular environmental concerns at a minimum, and often to actively deny climate change and work against prioritizing environmental concerns. Nonetheless, as with any large group, there are signiﬁcant diﬀerences in opinion and approach, including about the environment. There are also examples, like Francis Schaeﬀer, a writer important to evangelical philoso phies from the 1960s and 70s, who made an explicit case for species loss and other environmental issues as moral problems that require Christian action in Pollution and the Death of Man (1970). However, in the twentyﬁrst century, the identity of “environmentalist” is not one that features prominently as a positive role one can take. Jonathan Merritt, who worked to bring some show of environmental concerns from Southern Baptists, even warns of turning into “environmentalists” by focusing too much on the verse Genesis 2:15 (about God setting people in the Garden of Eden or on earth to “take care” of it) while arguing for evangelical action on a variety of environmental topics. Genesis 2:15 and Genesis 1:28 (about “having dominion” over other creatures and the earth) are regularly set up in opposition to each other, with the former used as a Bible verse seemingly endorsing a strong care for the environment position and the latter see mingly endorsing human power over and use of the environment. Merritt attempts to appeal to both sides by holding them in tension with each other. The environmentalist can be mistrusted by the evangelical in the environmentalist’s supposed secularism that has no God-centered basis for knowledge, valuation of non-humans as much as humans—potentially going against God’s created order, and potential hypocrisy (with the ﬁgure of the rich, white environmentalist jetting about the globe). This image provides a kind of anti-steward with misplaced priorities.
What Is a Steward? Not surprisingly, religious roles stand out as the main ways evangelical groups write about taking their version of ethical environmental action. Perhaps the primary role provided is that of the steward. This is the
54 Stewardship steward ﬁgure that maintains the goods and property and perhaps even rules the people in place of the king until the king returns. A (slightly obscure) popular culture depiction of the steward is Denethor, the Steward of Gondor in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King. The steward’s power is borrowed from the king and is therefore temporary and for the good of the king. In the evangelical context, Christians are called to be stewards of the earth until God takes up that role more directly through one of a few debated versions of the end times for earth. In this case, God is not exactly an absent king, but is one who has given over many choices and responsibilities to humans as stewards, nonetheless. Many evangelicals use Genesis 1:28: And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multi ply and ﬁll the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the ﬁsh of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV Bible) as the basis for human environmental stewardship. An approach to the stew ard identity that begins with subduing the earth can easily suggest a need for active control and near-ownership of those living things. The term “dominion” comes from medieval Latin words for lord or master and for house. The human (male, in this history) is the master of the house that all creatures live within. That can be pushed in the direction of the responsibilities the master has, but the ranking and power is clear as well. Eubanks argues that eﬀective climate change rhetoric must put the issue in human terms, both for causes of change, like “climate negligence,” and eﬀects, like “threat to human habitation” (128). His argument is about poli tical eﬃcacy, regardless of beliefs about valuing nature for itself. Evangelical approaches already focus on human agency (or lack thereof) through the notion of stewardship and human eﬀects with an emphasis on those living in poverty, but there are still major diﬀerences in this human-focused language. The identity of humans as stewards of the earth, though, is not a simple thing. Very diﬀerent versions of stewardship as a religious identity about ethical environmental action show up in documents by evangelicals about the environment. A comparison of two primary versions of stewardship provides an understanding of the human-nature relationships, roles, and environ mental values under debate within evangelicalism, and may provide inroads for productive discussion for those from other religious communities or who are not religious in speaking and working with evangelicals. The issue is not whether Christians should be good stewards of the environment. That is a common assumption among many evangelicals (not all, of course). Yes, stewardship has implications about humans being separate from and possible superior to the environment they are to care for, and in this religious context it is tied up with assumptions about God as the
creator and sustainer of the world in some form. The diﬀerent theologies matter, but what is too often ignored is the radically diﬀerent notions of stewardship being used and promulgated. Quite opposing attitudes and actions come in under the guise of stewardship. To explore two ends of an evangelical spectrum on the environment and to deﬁne and understand two disparate notions of stewardship, I studied two key documents from evan gelicals about environmental action. One is “The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship” (2000), which is understood to come from a politically conservative, free-market-focused, global-warming-denying per spective that is anti-environmental according to mainstream deﬁnitions. The second is “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” (2006) from the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a group that may be seen as conservative and human-centered from the perspective of mainstream environmentalists but is much more in line with current environmental concerns (and science) about global average warming, mass extinctions, and so forth. While both groups prioritize those they call “the poor” in diﬀerent ways, and neither document gained full support from major denominations, they are primarily opposed to each other in their common use of the term “stewardship” with radically diﬀerent deﬁnitions. In Uzbekistan, stewardship of the Aral Sea served as a basis for all sorts of other goals—including helping those in economic need. The Uzbek students used helping the Aral Sea to push for international engineering educations, for which they would need further English training. The Uzbek politicians approving the program I taught in were concerned about national status and economy as it related to the Aral Sea. The missionary organization I traveled through used the Aral Sea’s needs to enter the country to promote their own ends of sharing about the Bible and converting people to Christianity. I used the missionary group and teaching English to obtain an interesting trip and to feel like I was helping others in some way. All this is not to say that concern for the Aral Sea and actual altruism weren’t part of all of these motives as well, but stewardship of an ecosystem or geographic feature is usually enmeshed with a host of other goals and desires.
The Evangelical Climate Initiative versus the Cornwall Alliance Neither stewardship document was written in a vacuum. Francis FitzGerald’s history of evangelicals in America’s political life narrates some of the indi vidual workings leading up to the ECI’s “Call to Action.” The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) came ﬁrst, organized in 1993 to represent evangelicals in the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (FitzGerald 553), and some of the signers and work for the ECI came from members of that group. The Cornwall Alliance (established 2005), formerly called the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, was developed partly in direct opposition to the EEN. While it is technically an interfaith group, its his tory is primarily that of one subset of evangelicals working against a
diﬀerent subset of evangelicals. Further, as FitzGerald notes, the “Cornwall Declaration” was primarily drafted by E. Calvin Beisner, a professor of ethics at Knox Theology Seminary (554); Beisner ﬁts well into the con servative evangelical side of the Presbyterian denomination and later founded the Cornwall Alliance. The “Cornwall Declaration” was written as a response to the growing environmental movement in the United States, which Beisner described in 2013 as the “greatest threat to Western Civilization” (Talbot). It was signed by Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders initially, but grew in importance with evangelicals and the evangelical community. Prominent evangelical signers include James Dobson and Charles Colson. So, while the Cornwall Alliance worked against a focus on climate change, in the early 2000s, the EEN and evangelicals concerned about the environment moved to focus more on climate change, including being part of a “What Would Jesus Drive” campaign (FitzGerald 553). (Jesus would probably take the bus.) The ECI emerged for a speciﬁc focus on climate in response to cap-and-trade policies being considered as global warming solutions. Climate scholar Katherine Wilkinson includes the Evangelical Climate Initiative in American Christian groups that say climate change based on human behavior is real and needs to be acted upon, and advocates using markets rather than governmental rules as much as possible. She notes that they made news in 2006 with ads in The New York Times and Christianity Today, but only had about 250 members early on (159–60). Ultimately, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which is supposed to represent a wider range of evangelical views, pushed back on both the “Call to Action” document and on the cap-and-trade plan it endorses as one way to immediately reduce carbon emissions. President Bush and Senator Inhofe (an evangelical) were both against the cap-and-trade plan, and the NAE wanted to avoid a strong stance on global warming (555). Candis Callison summarizes main issues around climate change for evangelicals, stating that for American evangelicals, climate change brings into sharp relief both relations with and belief in scientiﬁc methods, as well as a call to care for creation (the environment) and address poverty and disadvantage likely to increase globally with a changing climate. (Callison 6) This background of attitudes about science with applications to poverty weaves in and out of the stewardship identity for evangelicals as well. Ultimately, the NAE did not endorse the “Call to Action.”
Privatized, Economic Stewardship “The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship” (2000), as with a great deal of evangelical work on the environment, uses the language of
Stewardship 57 stewardship. “Dominion” is another key term that is sometimes opposed to stewardship and sometimes works with it as an expression of power or importance over what is being stewarded. Both terms come from Latin and English translations of Genesis, and the centrality of biblical texts to evan gelical attitudes is hard to overestimate (although, of course those texts can be used in a wide variety of ways). Public discourse scholar Julie Doyle asks, “if social values shape action, how is climate change being framed by such a diverse range of NGOs and networks?” (79). The diverse groups should include those whose deﬁnition of environmental action is opposed to mainstream notions of that work, because they too have socially pow erful versions of human-environment relations. But framing is not always enough. Media scholar Andrea Seclaczek argues that close discourse ana lysis is often needed for a full understanding of how the object of climate change is understood by the recipients of the message (480–81). In the evangelical context, stewardship is easy to see as a common frame, yet its use and how it may be understood can diﬀer radically. Contexts that require competition for attention and that may have resistant readers also limit framing eﬀects (Nisbet, Hart, Myers, and Ellithorpe). Stewardship is a way of linking what can be a frame to an audience’s sense of identity. The Cornwall document has the perspective of a rich American in the sense that it shows little humility about the certainty of its rightness and because it revolves around questions of wealth generation and care for those in poverty. The document is now published with the Cornwall Alli ance’s motto, “For the stewardship of creation,” on it, retaining the lan guage of safekeeping or caretaking what belongs to God—all of creation. The document itself has a brief preamble, then sections on “concerns,” “beliefs,” and “aspirations.” All of this takes no more than a couple of pages in most formats. The preamble highlights human achievement, par ticularly in quality-of-life areas like health care, as human life is set up as the main point of creation. The fact of a belief in purposeful creation by a person-like deity gives a teleological tinge to the world. Creation or the known universe is not just there, nor is it there for itself, it exists for something else, just as stewardship is a temporary caretaking for something or someone else. The purposes are always beyond nature or the environment. The Cornwall Declaration describes these quality-of-life advances as enjoyed most by those “blessed by political and economic liberty,” and the opening paragraph presents the goal of extending those blessings to the rest of the world. The political frame is one of developed and underdeveloped nations and the implied need to transmit western political values (repre sentative democracy), economic systems (free market capitalism), and technologies to others. It is an evangelical approach in the literal sense of sharing the good news to help save others, just applied to what is basically U.S. culture rather than solely to religious beliefs. While the terminology is about stewardship, it is tied to evangelism in the sense of bringing the kind
58 Stewardship of government and economics supposedly endorsed by God through biblical principles. The remainder of the brief preamble acknowledges that some “are con cerned that liberty, science, and technology are more a threat to the envir onment than a blessing to humanity and nature.” Immediately, those concerned about the environment are set up as anti-liberty, anti-science, and anti-technology. Liberty is only in anthropocentric terms, with other creatures, plants, or places not agents that could have or lose liberty. Sci ence, which is usually placed on the environmental concern side of the equation, is reversed here. Science and technology seem to mean those aspects which most directly promote human ﬁnancial and physical well being, and the preamble reminds that evangelicals are not anti-science in general but tend to emphasize practical aspects of science and keep it sec ondary to religious forms of knowledge. While I am treating this document as authored by evangelicals (who make up the vast majority of the Corn wall Alliance and the signers of the initial document), it claims to represent some “Jews, Catholics, and Protestants,” through its signatories, although no other religious groups are represented. The signers present “Our Aspirations,” as a vision of what they want the world to look like without a set of policy or personal actions per se, but additional beliefs are both implied and stated. This section gives a sense of primary assumptions and priorities, including the place of humans as ﬁrst among almost equals, as they “care wisely and humbly for all creatures, ﬁrst and foremost for their fellow human beings, recognizing their proper place in the created order.” While a secular environmentalist might scoﬀ or sneer at the notion of God creating a ranking in value and importance for creatures, the reality of putting human interests above those of other spe cies permeates all but the most fringe approaches to actual environmental policies. The third aspiration hopes for “right reason” to determine actions, where “right reason” is based on “sound theology and the careful use of scientiﬁc methods.” Theology is a guide for reason here, but the work at a tone of being the reasonable group among impassioned, misguided zealots remains. The link between reason, theology, and science is an important one, where those three tools must work in a mutually supportive relation ship, and science (like about climate change), or reason that doesn’t ﬁt in is excluded—rather than rethinking the system or the original assumptions. As the “Our Beliefs” section also indicates, those primarily theological points are the unchangeable in a closed epistemological system of speciﬁc versions of theology, reason, and science. The “Our Concerns” section, with the tone of a gentle patriarch, acknowledges the importance of an “environmental ethic”; but the concerns are about accepted environmental action and research. The document overtly mentions using reason, rather than the “passion” of activists, keep ing that calm, grown-up-in-the-room persona, while giving reason to ignore anyone who is too worked up about environmental ethics. The three areas
of “common misunderstanding,” again implying that they get it, and other reasonable people just need to calm down and take a look, are about the role of humans in the world, the value of so-called natural processes, and believing and prioritizing issues like global warming and mass extinction rather than human health-centered environmental topics. It is an approach that thinks of the environment as something by the people and for the people, if not entirely of the people; the steward has priority over what is being stewarded. The views of humans and nature presented in those two concerns are linked. The main complaint about contemporary environmentalism is that humans are portrayed as “consumers” rather than as “producers.” Humans, says the “Cornwall Declaration,” do not so much use up resour ces, they make new and valuable things from resources. The connotation is almost of a small-business owner, making the community better for every one around them by working hard and providing jobs and goods. Phrases like “increasing the earth’s abundance” further emphasize the fundamen tally economic view here, where any sort of growth in human productivity and socio-economic well-being can be justiﬁed. The solution to environ mental problems (once the right ones have been found), in this view, is more technology and human ingenuity, like a very diﬀerent ecomodernist might argue in Wired magazine. The environment itself is a commodity that humans make. “A clean environment is a costly good,” says the “Cornwall Declaration.” What better way to make that than with this form of proactive stewardship. Here I draw a distinction between proactive and responsive stewardship. Neither is passive, but some forms of stewardship talk emphasize minimal responses to deal with problems as they arise. The “Cornwall Declaration” takes a more aggressive use approach to steward ship, where materials or the environment, in fact, ought to be used to make things better for humans and to create a healthy environment. The New Testament parable of the talents is relevant here as a story well-known to those in the Cornwall Alliance. In that parable, the servants who are given talents (a form of money, with a poignant or loaded trans lation into an English term) by their master are rewarded for investing and using them and punished for simply preserving what was given. It is a biblical stewardship scenario where aggressive use (and ﬁnancial thinking) seems to be advocated, and simple preservation is morally wrong. The Cornwall approach calls for human creation of health (a constant term in the “Cornwall Declaration”) and abundance (for humans) out of the materials the environment provides and out of the environment itself. It is almost an aggressive stewardship, like a hired investment manager trying to build wealth for a client. At the same time, the desire for sharing some element of that health and wealth with other humans is real. The concern about attitudes toward nature is intertwined with the per spective on humans in the “Cornwall Declaration.” It is really about humans too, arguing against those who put nature on equal footing with
60 Stewardship humans in this clear human/nature binary. Here, the rightness of “human dominion over creation” stands out in this declaration of hierarchy that makes sense if stewardship is supposed to take this proactive or aggressive approach. The direct argument for valuing humans over other creatures takes a surprising turn, since it does not begin with the theological idea of being made in the image of God in some special way, rather, humans are the only creatures “capable of developing other resources and can thus enrich creation.” Human science, technology, and business are what make humans more important than other creatures. Putting aside arguments about how these human activities might also make creation poorer and how other creatures might be seen as enriching nature with their work (worms turning the soil), humans again must be active in their use of the environment to be ethical. Not taking and using natural gas in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge is a failure to use talents, to develop resources, and to enrich creation. All this begs the question of what it means to “enrich creation,” especially as a steward for the creator. The “Cornwall Declaration” seems to answer that humans are the high point of creation because they can make things from it, so improving their health and eco nomic well-being (wealth?) is enriching creation and following God’s will. The phrase “health and wealth” has appeared multiple times, and it is a loaded conjunction of words. The “health and wealth gospel” or “pros perity gospel” are phrases, usually used in a disparaging way, about a Christian theology that says if you are healthy and/or wealthy it is because God is blessing you or approves of you. Of course, the implication is that lack of health or wealth is one’s own fault, likely due to sinfulness in some way, as with my father’s illness and his visitors from church asking about his sin. While this sort of theology is often associated with televangelists and with some of Donald Trump’s spiritual advisors, many evangelicals would consider it highly heretical. The signers of the “Cornwall Declara tion” would likely be horriﬁed to be seen as promoting a health and wealth gospel and would readily argue all the ways that the term is the opposite of their approach. In a technical sense, this is true. The “Cornwall Declara tion” stays away from any emphasis on individual behavior as the basis for prosperity. In fact, those people in less economically developed nations are worth helping partially because their conditions are not necessarily their fault. At the same time, the emphasis on the “blessings”—gifts from God—of liberty and health and economic standing imply some positive response by God. The implication that human health and economic well-being are the end goals of the environment gives the “Cornwall Declaration” a sort of corporate or communal health and wealth gospel. If we are using environ mental resources properly, which means really developing them and using them, then health and wealth is the result. An anthropocentric view is maintained in a third concern which asserts that “some environmental concerns are well-founded and serious” and others are not. Those connected to “human health problems in the
developing world” are considered serious and well-founded, as are nuclear waste, and some poor resource use due to “perverse economic incentives.” All of this may be true, even as health and wealth are put in the spotlight again. The other way to consider health and wealth is care for the poor—a traditional Christian value—is the other main goal of this envir onmental document. There is real human suﬀering and a real desire here to alleviate some of that. But other topics, speciﬁcally “fear of destructive man-made global warming” and “rampant species loss” are listed as not well-founded. There is no space in the “Cornwall Declaration” for signiﬁcant evidence related to these issues, but there is a list of ﬁve diﬀerences between topics considered serious and those called fallacious. The diﬀerences mostly revolve around claims of scientiﬁc accuracy and, more interesting here, claims about whom the topic matters to. Non-legitimate things like global warming are associated with environmentalists from wealthy nations, while the legitimate issues like clean water matter to those in “developing nations.” Even statements of risk are about risk to human health for the legitimate topics, again supposedly better established, which is mostly a dig at climate change science. For the “Cornwall Declaration,” focusing on “exaggerated risks” not only hurts humans who do not get resources put toward environmental health issues in developing nations, it hurts “human stewardship of the environment” itself. In other words, working against species loss, for example, is anti-environment because it diverts time and money from human development of environmental resources that would beneﬁt the health and well-being of the poor on earth. Again, the environ ment is a commodity or resource, rather than something people are part of. The “Cornwall Declaration’s” aggressive stewardship for the poor puts humans ﬁrst in all contexts because they are the ones capable of doing aggressive stewardship. While there are real diﬀerences around the world in terms of personal freedoms, access to clean water, and many other issues, the idea that a current western lifestyle is best or most enriched is not questioned in the document. The listed concerns are the primary point of the “Cornwall Declaration,” but ignorance of the “Our Beliefs” section would hide the basis for the environmental policies, domestic and foreign, that the group advocates. The beliefs section also attempts to let many monotheistic people identify with their way of thinking while still asserting a speciﬁc human-centered viewpoint. It lists seven points of “Judeo-Christian heritage” that are pri marily theological, starting with the existence of a creator God, moving through the need to obey and worship that God who governs creation, and ﬁnishing with a statement that “Human beings are called to be fruitful.” This fruitfulness is presented as a kind of purpose for humanity in relation to the environment, and requires “fostering the intellectual, moral, and religious habits and practices needed for free economies and genuine care for the environment.” The “genuine care” is the sort of care addressed in
62 Stewardship the concerns mentioned earlier, emphasizing the poor, health, and ﬁnancial growth. The mention of “free economies” stands out in this theological list, since the implication is one of divine sanctioning of free economies, rather than those economies limited by governments trying to do environmental protections. It is a moment that practically calls for Scott Pruitt to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which he brought his version of an evangelical approach to seventeen years later. The implied perspectives on limited government action in general and about the environment in particular are made explicit in the aspirations, where human “liberty” is put in direction opposition to “government-initi ated management.” The eﬀectiveness or lack thereof of government envir onmental programs is not the issue here, but rather the deﬁnition of liberty as a relationship with governmental inﬂuence rather than other forms of inﬂuence—like from the environment itself. The aspirations continue with the primacy of “private, market economies,” putting the “Cornwall Declaration” squarely in the lap of free market versus the environment attitudes and making it a statement of economic values as much as envir onmental ones. Stewardship itself returns in aspiration ﬁve, with the hope for a “world in which the relationships between stewardship and private property are fully appreciated” in order to reduce group ownership and action as much as possible. The philosophy sees humans as most motivated to care for their own things or their immediate small group’s things, and that is pro moted, rather than trying to encourage further connection with others or an approach that emphasizes the public good. In one sense, it is a standard conservative idea that has been argued for and against many times. How ever, in terms of stewardship, tying it to private property shifts stewardship to being care for one’s own property. The idea of dominion and mastery and responsibility is for individuals and their possessions to care for, not a larger shared domain. That is not stewardship at all until the unstated assumption returns that all property is actually God’s. The line between my property and God’s property becomes nebulous, but the result can be that caring for me and my stuﬀ is serving God and being a good steward, therefore it is the only morally justiﬁable approach. This stewardship is less about being proactive or aggressive in human use of materials and is more about the privatization of not just goods or services, but of stewardship. Being a good steward is something individuals can do for themselves. Caring for the poor is then a form of using human ingenuity and natural resources to help others have private goods (like health and clean water) worth stewarding. Working for one’s own interests and working for God’s interests can become one and the same thing with this privatization of stewardship. And it still matches nicely with many interpretations of the individual judgments handed out to each servant in the parable of the talents. Stewardship, here, is an active identity because it relies on acting as individuals, not on aﬃliating (or being labeled) with others.
Back Street Robbery The notion of stewardship as an individual identity was part of my trip to Uzbekistan and applied in larger ways. The idea of missionary work inter twines with stewardship of the time and money resources that God has provided (for an evangelical), and I wanted to use my brief time and church donation money for the trip well. In a larger scale, dominion is one way of thinking about the Soviet Union’s former relationship to Uzbekistan, sup posedly controlling it for its own good—a false good according to many Uzbeks I met in their homes. Most of my interactions in Tashkent revolved around English or food. I was often asked over to an Uzbek family’s house for dinner, which happened frequently from dual motives of generous hos pitality and the more compelling reason of two or three hours of free Eng lish tutoring. In Home, architect Witold Rybczynski explores the fundamental cultural diﬀerence between societies that sit in chairs and those who squat or sit on the ﬂoor. Uzbekistan at home, for individual practice, was not a place of chairs. Dinners usually meant sitting on cushions at a low table and older men and women squatted to chat along the road as they waited for a bus or a friend. But the institutions, like the school I taught at, embraced chair culture. Those places had been more fully under Soviet control when Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union, and the partial move away from the Russian language after leaving the Soviet Union had not moved institutions away from Russian chairs. My own work, teaching English, could be understood as private, economic stewardship like the Cornwall group emphasized. I used resources to help individuals learn English, with goals from the organization I traveled through of improving their economic prospects and their potential connections to western Christianity. One night in Uzbekistan, I made the ﬁfteen-minute walk to the long term missionaries’ apartment. They were my American host family, and they lived just on the other side of one major boulevard, the national theater, and the market where I picked up milk or bread or vegetables on the way to their home, using the few words of Uzbek I had picked up. Already I have begun describing what my initially tourist eyes saw in this foreign place, but as the walks were repeated and became part of daily living, my way of seeing became more like a newcomer who needs comfortable patterns and less like one noticing the exotic blues on the unused mosques. Walking back late one night from dinner and an Adam Sandler movie at the Grissens’ place, I failed to see the two Uzbek police oﬃcers until they were right upon me. Clearly, they had noticed me from a greater distance, and used my clothes, skin color, and isola tion after 11:00 p.m. on a weeknight to throw me into the category of rich American. I still wonder if I was robbed in Uzbekistan in part because of a level of American cultural dominance (much less the case in former Soviet republics
at the time than many places) and a sense of travelers as commodities. I’m not very familiar with Laurel and Hardy, but they’re who came to mind. I’m not even sure which is the thin one, and which is the rotund one. But I thought I met them about that Tuesday night in Tashkent. After dinner and conversation at the Grissen’s apartment, the 30-degree Fahrenheit tem perature sent me hustling on the plaza-crossing walk back to my temporary apartment. I was staying in a third-ﬂoor room that I could always recognize from a block away by its white steel door that looked like it came from a tank with a pigmentation problem. Half of the two-bedroom apartment served as an oﬃce, with the other half as housing for visitors and temporary teachers like me. The walk back required me to dive down on an underpass beneath a wide boulevard that passed directly in front of a national theater. Earlier that day, I’d caught a taxi, which in Tashkent meant any car that would stop for you and was heading your way and joined the four marked lanes that the racing Daewoos turned into six. After I came up from the under pass, Laurel and Hardy approached. They had dark gray uniforms and matching police caps and asked to see what was in my plastic Marlboro Man bag. The bag was a signiﬁcant status symbol for me, ﬁnely calculated to try and ﬁt in. Everyone carried plastic bags—quality ones with rein forced handles. Some of the middle-aged women had hand-made cloth bags with handles, but those didn’t have the ﬂashy icons of the plastic sacks, and those closer to the upper class avoided the plastic sacks, but I interpreted the sacks as a way to be seen partially in terms other than as only a for eigner or development worker. I developed a social desire for something I would never want back home. These social desires, too, are part of inﬂu encing priorities and trying not to seem wasteful and therefore a hypocritical steward. My horse-taming Marlboro Man sack only contained clean towels in my case, nice soft ones at that. But by showing its contents to the police oﬃcers I had already made my ﬁrst mistake. Even Uzbekistan, with its limited individual freedoms, does not allow search and seizure without some sort of cause, and neither the tall nor the short police oﬃcer had a good reason. My own assumptions about the weakness, or even backwardness, of the government in a still ‘developing’ nation exposed me to a form of illegal police proﬁling. I was later told that even late at night, with no one else around, I should have acted loud and belligerent, basically like your ste reotypical traveling American. I needed to challenge Laurel and Hardy, but I was never very good at that American stereotype. The slippery slope of what they could get from me moved from looking at the Marlboro Man sack (a constantly changing object in this “contact zone”) to examining my papers. Oﬃcially on my visa I was a special guest of the president. Of course, President Karimov, who overstayed his two-term limit to remain president until his death in September 2016, hadn’t invited me and knew nothing of my personal existence. The stamps required for me to enter
Uzbekistan had not made it up to his level, but I was a special guest. Development workers with my status came because the Uzbek government saw a use for us. Being a special guest meant ﬂattery and attention for your service work, at least on the face of it. They could use me for my English skills and labor, and I could use them, even pretending the poverty and needs were worse than was the case, to fulﬁll an evangelical need to use my time for God (good stewardship of that time). Worries started to sprout for me when Laurel didn’t give my passport back right away. I saw their police ID cards for a split-second, but never out of their possession. I had visions of dirt-ﬂoor cells with rats running around, momentarily displacing my conﬁdence in the power of my status as American, special guest, and general helper. They certainly saw past the Marlboro Man bag, and I was done with trying to ﬁt in, but who hurts the Good Samaritan? As with many American development workers, I only spoke English ﬂuently. As with many post-imperialist nations, language was a point of national pride. The nearly 30% of Uzbekistan’s citizens who were of Russian descent, and spoke no Uzbek, were having a very diﬃcult time as the language of business and government, and eventually education, turned more and more from Russian to Uzbek, with English moving in as the new second language. Laurel and Hardy, however, still only spoke Russian and Uzbek, to my great relief when they indicated that my passport and other papers were not going to come back unless some cash changed hands. I picked up on this request for $100 U.S. dollars (an amount I didn’t have on me) quickly, but in a failed move of stubborn justice, pretended to be utterly confused about their request. They patiently, and then more vehemently explained the situation to me in Uzbek, while I hid behind my feigned ignorance of the language and real ignorance of what personal foreign policy would be most applicable here. Stewardship is tied up with colonialism and development, both in terms of nations and nature. In the context of a potential robbery, my role as a steward in the Cornwall sense was to preserve the appropriate use of money to help individuals as much as possible. Perhaps a diﬀerent version of stewardship for the whole trip was needed, one that might think about the Aral Sea and the non-economic too.
Limited Preservation Stewardship Evangelicalism has the resources for other versions of stewardship. The ECI’s 2006 document “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” calls for speciﬁc action to prevent worsening eﬀects from climate change and asks for that action as a special intervention. The intervention should typically be limited and managerial in the approach to stewardship pre sented by the ECI. The document works through four main points after its preamble and prior to its included list of signers. The four points ﬁrst assert the reality of human-induced climate change (a potentially signiﬁcant statement in evangelical circles in the U.S., especially at that point),
secondly claim that the consequences will be serious—especially for the poor, thirdly that “Christian Moral Convictions Demand our Response to the Climate Change Problem,” and fourthly that many types of institutions should act immediately. Lawrence Prelli and Terri Winters identify a “core story line” for what they call “green evangelicalism,” including the ECI. The story line says, “evangelical Christians must join with others to improve stewardship or ensure ‘care of creation’ through moral actions that rectify humans’ sinful degradation of creation and, thereby, reconcile humans with their Creator.” The focus on “moral actions” and “sinful degradation” actually ﬁts with both the ECI and the Cornwall document, despite their diﬀerences about which actions are moral and which sins require rectiﬁcation. But the lan guage of reconciliation is useful, as many versions of a steward should be caring for relationships too. Those relationships can include various com binations of the human, the natural world, and the divine. This steward ship is like a babysitter stepping in during an emergency, but just letting the children play otherwise. In the limited action approach, it makes steward ship less central but more outwardly focused than the “Cornwall Declaration.” The outward focus appears quickly in “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” to recognize the importance of entering the “public square” and “oﬀering our witness” there. The language of witnessing immediately connects climate change discussion with the idea of sharing the gospel or good news of Christianity. Witnessing as sharing a personal experience of and belief in God is a key evangelical act, so the preamble strongly implies that working on climate change policy is part of that evangelical practice. The content is a big shift from traditional witnessing about Jesus Christ and salvation, so it can come across in an evangelical setting as a distrac tion from the truly important witnessing that should be done. Working on climate issues is an act of general evangelism to the public sphere in the United States (primarily), while the Cornwall document’s implied evange lism is about taking certain U.S. values overseas. The messages and audi ences are diﬀerent, but the move to make stewardship also a form of evangelism remains vital in both documents and builds links between stewardship and the primary religious group identity. The document moves from religious witnessing to politics, noting issues evangelicals have acted on before. In particular, the preamble positively points out the pro-life work evangelicals have done, but at the same time moves away from the “sanctity of human life” as being too dominant in evangelical political action. The document asserts that they are not a “single-issue movement” to make space for considerations of climate change in an environment where abortion can take up most of the political attention available. The need to argue by assertion that evangelicalism is not single-issue arises because it often gets close to being focused on only one issue politically. The non-abortion sample issues listed are less directly
about poverty than with the Cornwall Alliance; they might be put in the category of relieving human oppression with the examples of “sex traﬃck ing, genocide in the Sudan, and the AIDS epidemic in Africa” (“Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action”). The attention directed to broad issues and international contexts is important in setting up the possibility of treating environmental concerns as topics for humanity rather than focus ing on individuals. Climate change not mattering as a political or social concern for most evangelicals is the worry one can infer from the preamble, as, like the “Cornwall Declaration,” it emphasizes environmental concerns as moral issues, but in a quite diﬀerent way. The assertions in the “Evangelical Call to Action” may seem rather basic in content to those already focused on environmental issues. The assertions themselves are less the focus here, while the implications for relationships between humans and nature, the climate-related moral arguments made, and the deﬁnition of stewardship stated and implied are vital for under standing environmental arguments within evangelicalism. The ﬁrst point is direct in stating that the accuracy and legitimacy of climate science is the key, and that enough time has passed, and enough work has been done to trust that scientiﬁc work (by 2006). The document implies that the signa tories have been patient and even, “have hesitated to speak on this issue until we could be more certain of the science of climate change.” Support for the science does not go into evidence or studies, but moves straight into those who might be trusted, particularly Sir John Houghton, identiﬁed as a “devout evangelical Christian” and co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This is a common combination for credibility in evangelical writing—expertise in a technical area plus evangelical bona ﬁdes. The “Bush Administration” is also cited as recognizing the reality of human-based climate change, an indirect note that Republicans, including evangelically inclined ones like George W. Bush, acknowledge it too. Throughout the brief discussion of environmental science, humans are portrayed as powerful actors on the climate. There is an assumption that humans can make a change to something as signiﬁcant as the climate. This may seem like a basic thing, but other work from evangelicals can use the assumption that God is so in control or active in the world that human action is minimal relative to the climate. Wayne Grudem is an evangelical theologian who uses a dominion approach to the environment. Grudem utilizes dominion as a divine command to “develop the earth’s resources in such a way that they would bring beneﬁt to themselves and other human beings” (325). That beneﬁt to the self and others can easily lapse into whatever suits me and mine best. Whether this comes from a theological sense of God’s sovereignty or ruling power over the earth, from a desire to avoid responsibility for climate issues, or from a psychological experience of climate change being too overwhelming to change, the notion that humans can make a meaningful diﬀerence in the climate is not a given in evangelical discussions.
The ECI asserts their concern for the poor, when the poor are described as those most likely to be harmed or displaced by intensiﬁed storms, rising sea levels, and other eﬀects of climate change. Preserving liberty or eco nomic policies is not central in discussions of the poor here, as with the “Cornwall Declaration”; rather, refugee issues stand out. The potential massive displacement of people “could lead to more security threats to our nation.” The politics of potential terrorism makes a quick appearance as preventing worse conditions for the poor (most in Africa and on islands, given the previous concerns listed) is tied to safety at home. The main point, though, returns to issues of life in a broader sense than abortion debates. In bold, the document states “Millions of people could die this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neigh bors.” More so than with the Cornwall document, people around the globe can be neighbors, with a sense of connection between people in geo graphically distant places, rather than strictly understanding someone in another country or continent as a potential recipient of help, but who fun damentally has separate and private interests. These neighbors’ lives matter, and are in the kinds of numbers, the text implies, that could start competing with abortion in evangelical calculations about life. Doyle’s study of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) shows a similar emphasis on human action to help and on disadvantaged humans as victims. She says, “[I]n summary, at the level of social values and framing processes, CAFOD place humans as the victims and saviours of climate change, activated through ‘intrinsic values’ of faith and moral responsi bility” (91). The general approach of wealthy humans having an environ mental responsibility to othered poor humans is a commonality with all the religious approaches mentioned here, but the details of that human help and environmental stewardship create major oppositions that might be less initially apparent. “God’s other creatures” even get a quick, parenthetical mention, as other forms of life that might be worth preserving and that would be negatively impacted by climate change. In this section, human (western) stewardship responsibilities are about living conditions and impacts on humans—as with the “Cornwall Declaration” to a signiﬁcant extent. Non-human ani mals come in for concern to a small degree, but preserving life is the main point, through managing or not damaging the climate further. Here, nature is not a thing to be stewarded by utilizing it as much as possible, but rather the goal is “ecological stability.” Stewardship is a balancing act of not let ting anything run too wild or out of control. If God is the parent of the world, humans are the babysitters in this approach. They need to keep the kids (like the climate) from getting too out of hand or everything can start falling apart in a serious way. The ECI document makes Christian moral responsibilities primary, list ing numerous passages from the Bible to establish authority in the most traditional evangelical manner and to show a biblical basis for their form of
stewardship. The direct point is that Christian “moral convictions” come from the Bible and that the Bible does have passages addressing creation care. The term “creation care” is an important one for American evange licalism, at is serves as a sort of replacement for “environmentalism.” Cal lison explains, “Creation Care translates climate change into the vernacular of the group by following biblical and moral dictates surrounding care for the poor and the natural environment” (9). Creation care implies human primacy, the centrality of morals, and a world that is created by a divine being, all of which work to separate it from fears of what can be seen as an overly secular, anti-human movement. Some evangelicals have worried that creation care can be a way to avoid terms like climate change that are more politically loaded, and therefore topics are missed, and false debates con tinue (see Randall). “Creation care” was a planned term for appealing to evangelicals and encouraged the idea of framing global warming as a threat to the poor (FitzGerald 554) to give environmental issues a chance at more political and ethical centrality for evangelicals. The “Evangelical Call to Action” presents three moral points related to creation, each with several associated verses listed, but not fully quoted. The ﬁrst is about acting to love God the creator who is the owner of the world and creation. Something damaging creation is “an oﬀense against God Himself,” which treats God rather like an artist creating a complete work that has some value in its wholeness, rather than as the provider of an impressive set of resources to utilize. The second point, loving your neighbor, evokes the story of the Good Samaritan where a stranger and ethnic other is treated as a neighbor with an element of self-sacriﬁce in that care. This story provides a diﬀerent biblical approach to arguing for envir onmental care than the parable of the talents does. A form of involved hospitality drives the economics of the Good Samaritan, while the talents evoked by the Cornwall Alliance are a model of growing investments. Caring for “the least of these” is a reference to Matthew 25:40 (cited in the “Evangelical Call to Action”) that refers to those low in status and power less, and it leaves open the possibility of counting non-human parts of creation in that citation. The third moral principle is where the text utilizes the term “steward ship” itself. Stewardship is “over the earth and its creatures,” so the hier archical power and sense of some level of control are part of this stewardship too. Some belief in being able to have an eﬀect and some sense of responsibility are necessary for any version of stewardship. Human responsibility for climate change, used as a frame for the mention of stew ardship, increases the need to act on climate issues in stewardship terms. If humans caused part of the issue, they should try to ﬁx it. This approach implies a sense of leaving things alone that are doing ﬁne, and provides a stewardship that is about troubleshooting problems, but with a moral imperative to do so. It is a maintenance and safety stewardship, where freedom is in leaving things alone unless there is a problem, and the quality
of the stewardship is measured by the results. Climate change issues are thus understood as “a failure to exercise proper stewardship” (“Climate Change”) The moral steward fends oﬀ systemic problems that cause human (and possibly animal) suﬀering and distress. The sense that stewardship is about systemic results, like the state of the environment, rather than primarily focusing on individual results as with the Cornwall Alliance. For the latter, intervening in systems, like trying to reduce climate change (if they believed that was important) is risky, because systems primarily cause limitations on divinely sanctioned human freedom to act. In the “Evangelical Call to Action,” systemic intervention can be useful, because it is physical settings and material conditions, not primarily governmental action that limits human moral action and quality of life. In other words, there is a version of a split between contemporary con servative limited government assumptions and more centrist political approaches. Cristophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz argue that the Anthropocene, the idea that we are living in an age where humans are a fundamental force shaping the earth, “challenges the modern deﬁnition of freedom, long conceived in opposition to nature” (40). The ECI document has a hint of that concept as their implied deﬁnition of freedom is based on working with nature and setting natural environments, even as nature can still be a limit to freedom. The “Cornwall Declaration” maintains a view against the Anthropocene concept, where human impact on nature is more limited and freedom is about using nature. Stewardship is added, by the ECI, as a third item to the two major Christian commandments of loving God and loving one’s neighbor. That linking makes stewardship a principle for all moral action for their Chris tian audience, and the three items together (loving God, loving neighbors, and stewardship) are “more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action.” Stewardship is a motivating force and broad moral principle, in this usage, that should lead to feeling and action. Feeling and action are permissible with this stewardship, providing another opposition to the presentation of stewardship as entirely about reason with the “Cornwall Statement.” The “Evangelical Call to Action” asserts the need to act immediately (in 2006) and ﬁnds a role for institutions along with individuals in taking action. Put another way, the ECI emphasizes that church and governmental actions are both appropriate regarding climate change issues, particularly regarding the reduction of carbon emissions. The speciﬁc action they emphasize is the use of “market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.” They are writing in the context of serious discussion of cap-and trade proposals that would have potentially been used to reduce carbon emissions. This section follows the Cornwall Alliance in its focus on using markets, but it is looking to adjust those markets, making carbon emissions a limited and tradable resource. The authorities cited for this approach are
energy (oil) companies and politicians. Big businesses are still basically trustworthy in this model when they slowly work to change away from carbon. The businesses are supposed to adapt, just as moral Christians should help the global poor adapt to the consequences of climate change that have already begun. Stewardship in the “Evangelical Call to Action” is a conservative ethic—in terms of conserving what exists and in terms of cautious, slow change. The call-to-action aspect is a break from that, and a declaration that the signatories see a serious problem. In a reversal of sorts, the stewardship the “Cornwall Declaration” advocates is active and interven tionist, with faster possible change in terms of the environment and use of the resources it provides. Its conservative element is solely prioritizing humans.
Stewards without Power Robbery is not stewardship, but my identity as a good steward of God’s resources was at stake. Concerns about the Aral Sea or even evangelism had faded away under concerns around physical safety and personal injus tice. Stewardship had become solely a human matter, even though I was not thinking about the Cornwall Alliance or the ECI in Uzbekistan. That night with the oﬃcers in Tashkent, they took me to a store window, which brought us further out of the light and served as a writing tablet of sorts. The isolation made it hard to not simply feel like an individual with narrow choices, rather than someone who is part of larger cultural and physical environments. The cold night made it a simple task for the taller oﬃcer to bend slightly, breathe on the window, and write the nearly uni versal “$” sign on the fogged glass. Were these gentlemen really Robin Hood and Friar Tuck instead? Was this just a friendly redistribution of international wealth on a small scale? Was this a personal corrective to systemic injustice and a form of resistance to the export of American culture and control? Or was it standard highway (or rather boulevard) robbery and police corruption? Virtue and justice as economic and systemic issues versus virtue and justice as personal behaviors is a common binary. Does devel opment or humanitarian aid work create systems of dependence, or is relief work a noble personal action that involves caring about individual others? In the refugee camps in Rwanda, not long before my trip to Uzbekistan, food aid went to soldiers, who were also refugees, perhaps sustaining their ability to ﬁght and extending the conﬂict, yet do you let them starve, even if you could identify the diﬀerence between a soldier and a refugee? My emotions were oscillating wildly while trying not to understand the two Uzbek police oﬃcers. After half an hour of intercultural anti-commu nication and hot air had passed, and “$100” had been written quite clearly in our hot air on the window I acknowledged that I understood their demands. We then did a little bit of negotiating, since I didn’t have what they were asking for, although they’d seen my cash in the same pouch as my documents and knew I had some. Apparently, U.S. currency is quite
72 Stewardship recognizable in quick ﬂashes, at night, mostly covered by a pouch. Laurel and Hardy, the Brobdingnagians, and Robin Hood and Friar Tuck walked me back across the street to a more secluded area and became a bit more intimidating. Under somewhat unfair circumstances, including their posi tions as police oﬃcers and my position as a helper, special guest and American (positions which simply make the situation unfair on both sides), we completed a cash-for-documents and leaving-me-alone transaction. I ﬂed to my third story apartment with the great white tank door and fumed myself to sleep. I had few emotional resources left, and just wanted to go home as I left my Marlboro Man bag with Dave, my American host, during the line-up, but neither my dignity nor that of the police oﬃcers was spared. After a failed ﬁrst walk through where I couldn’t positively identify the oﬃcers who took money from me that earlier night, the police chief insisted I take another round past. By this point, my position as the foreign, western, viewer with the power to name the guilty (when I likely owned little con trol over the situation—especially compared to the police chief who may or may not have had the relevant oﬃcers in attendance), made me stand out even more than my friend Christina. She’d had a homeless woman loudly groveling at her feet for money in a Tashkent subway station just days before, using guilt like an artist as her arias garnered the attention of many commuting home from work. I wondered about the morality of my time in Tashkent and what I was really preserving for others. My trip, a form of travel as service and service as travel, enacted a minor version of the more vital humanitarian aid endeavors that many westerners take on. The quite often sacriﬁcial and generous aid activities, often through non-governmental organizations like Oxfam, Bread for the World, or Médecins Sans Frontières, are a widely acclaimed attempt at ethical response to the suﬀering of others. Determin ing who is suﬀering and then describing that suﬀering to potential donors or aid workers creates a catch-22 where more people will starve if food does not arrive, but it will not come without representations of suﬀering that are limited by readers’ attention spans, money for marketing, and space for materials, so representations of suﬀering seemingly require an erasure of the history and most non-suﬀering-based aspects of the identity of individuals in need. It can be another version of the colonial gaze, where the patriarchal west creates the Orient to show what good it can and must do, and perhaps even enabling conquest-like intervention. Bombs and food were dropped almost simultaneously in Afghanistan. When it came to an issue of justice in Uzbekistan for me, my eyes literally could not see past uniforms, ethnicity, and culture to pick out the single faces I sought from a group of Uzbeks looking back at me. And the gaze back at me, where I was the object, made another issue for theorists and aid workers to grapple with. Two lines of about thirty police oﬃcers each stood at attention in a con crete courtyard in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, facing each other at a distance of six
Stewardship 73 paces, gathered to see if I could identify the two who robbed me. I waited, tingling and wondering if a cigarette would help me relax as much as my smoking friends said it would. With the highest-ranking police oﬃcers and my friend Dave looking on, I was asked to slowly walk alone down one line of oﬃcers and back up the other. I was probably 18 inches from each face, as I tried alternately to avoid and make eye contact, pausing occasionally when one looked familiar. Could I ﬁnd two individuals in a group that I had labeled as a suﬀering country through my trip there? Two individuals I had pitied and feared? Two oﬃcers who had robbed me the night before? Ultimately, my gaze was mute. Whether my counterparts were there or not I can no longer say. Each pause before another set of uniformed eyes, names and personalities unknown to me, added to my uncertainty. What if I chose wrongly? What if my humanitarian service was just selﬁshness and Aral Sea stewardship was just part of the corruption? My priorities in Uzbekistan shifted from thinking about teaching English to some indivi duals to wondering about appropriate relationships when doing caretaking or service-oriented work for others. Maybe I didn’t think in terms of what God’s priorities were, but that’s what the hierarchies of stewardship can imply. The evangelical steward is standing in for God, so the topics or concerns that stand out most to those stewards are both pressured by a sense of what God would want (see the Bible) and have an incredible authority behind them. Stewards can care, but they can be imperial repre sentatives of the real king, the deity, too.
References Bonneuil, Christophe and Jen-Baptiste Fressoz. The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us. Translated by David Fernbach. Verso, 2013. Callison, Candis. How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Life of Facts. Duke UP, 2014. Chen, Dene-Hern. “The Country that Brought a Sea Back to Life.” Jul. 23, 2018. www.bbc.com/future/story/20180719-how-kazakhstan-brought-the-aral-sea-back to-life. Accessed Apr. 15, 2021. “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.” 2006. www.wheaton.edu/m edia/migrated-images-amp-ﬁles/media/ﬁles/centers-and-institutes/cace/articles/Eva ngelicalClimateInitiative.pdf. Accessed Sep. 4, 2019. Columbia University. “The Aral Sea Crisis.” 2008. www.columbia.edu/~tmt2120/ environmental%20impacts.htm. Accessed Apr. 20, 2021. “The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship.” 2000. www.cornwalla lliance.org/landmark-documents/the-cornwall-declaration-on-environmental-stew ardship. Accessed Sep. 4, 2019. Crable, Bryan. “Rhetoric, Anxiety, and Character Armor: Burke’s Interactional Rhetoric of Identity.” Western Journal of Communication, vol. 70, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–22. doi:10.1080/10570310500305570. Crowley, Sharon. Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. U of Pittsburgh P, 2006.
Doyle, Julie. Mediating Climate Change. Routledge, 2011. ESV Bible. Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway, 2008. Eubanks, Philip. The Troubled Rhetoric and Communication of Climate Change: The Argumentative Situation. Routledge, 2015. FitzGerald, Frances. The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. Simon & Schuster, 2017. Grudem, Wayne. Politics According to the Bible. Zondervan, 2010. Hescox, Mitch and Paul Douglas. Caring for Creation. Bethany House, 2016. Hulme, Mike. Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction, and Opportunity. Cambridge UP, 2009. Hulme, Mike. Weathered: Cultures of Climate Change. Sage, 2017. Jordan, Jay. “Dell Hymes, Kenneth Burke’s ‘Identiﬁcation,’ and the Birth of Sociolinguistics.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 24, no. 3, 2005, pp. 264–279. Merritt, Jonathan. Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for our Planet. Faith Words, 2010. Micklin, Philip P. “Desiccation of the Aral Sea: A Water Management Disaster in the Soviet Union.” Science, vol. 241, 1988, pp. 1170–1176. Nisbet, Erik C., et al. “Attitude Change in Competetive Framing Environments? Open-/Closed-Mindedness, Framing Eﬀects, and Climate Change.” Journal of Communication, vol. 63, no. 4, 2013, pp. 766–785. Oelschlaeger, Max. Caring for Creation: An Ecumenical Approach to the Environ mental Crises. Yale UP, 1994. Prelli, Lawrence J. and Terri S. Winters. “Rhetorical Features of Green Evangelic alism.” Environmental Communication, vol. 3, no. 2, 2009, 224–243. doi:10.1080/ 17524030902928785. Rademaekers, Justin King and Richard Johnson-Sheehan. “Framing and Re-Fram ing in Environmental Science: Explaining Climate Change to the Public.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, vol. 44, no. 1, 2014, pp. 3–21. doi:10.2190/TW.44.1.b. Randall, Rebecca. “Understanding God’s Control When You’re a Climate Scientist.” Interview with Thomas Ackerman, Christianity Today, Dec. 21, 2017. www. christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-february/who-makes-it-rain.html. Accessed Sep. 4, 2019. Schaeﬀer, Francis and Udo W. Middelmann. Pollution and the Death of Man. Crossway, 1970. Sedlaczek, Andrea Sabine. “The Field-Speciﬁc Representation of Climate Change in Factual Television: A Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis.” Critical Discourse Studies, vol. 14, no. 5, 2016, pp. 480–496. doi:10.1080/17405904.2017.1352003. Talbot, Margaret. “Are Evangelical Leaders Saving Scott Pruitt’s Job?” The New Yorker, Jun. 8, 2018. www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/are-evangelica l-leaders-saving-scott-pruitts-job. Accessed Sep. 4, 2019. White, Lynn. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” Science, vol. 155, no. 3767, Mar. 10, 1967, pp. 1203–1207 doi:10.1126/science.155.3767.1203. Wilkinson, Katharine K. Between God and Green: How Evangelicals are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change. Oxford UP, 2012.
Evangelism Share the Good (and Bad) Environmental News
While speaking with an evangelical pastor acquaintance of mine, a friend who was then completing a PhD in ecofeminist theology came up during the conversation. The pastor, quite reasonably, asked what that was—that ecofeminist theology thing. The theology term, of course, was familiar, but ecofeminism stirred up a whole diﬀerent set of connotations. In many evangelical contexts those are two risky terms: “eco” and “feminist.” The problem is not just that “eco” and “feminist” have connotations of liberal politics, pro-choice rallies, and prioritizing spotted owls over souls, though those implications matter. The bigger diﬃculty is that “feminism” and especially “eco” imply a not just a way of seeing the world, but a higher purpose for being in the world. They can serve as something not quite like those metanarratives that Jean-François Lyotard and postmodernism deconstruct, but as meta-purposes. After all, what’s a bigger purpose than saving the world? It’s like a meta-exigence. Talking with evangelicals about the environment involves taking seriously possible competitions for people’s primary purposes and what gives them meaning. An environmental purpose may focus on humans, on species diversity, on forests, on water, or on larger ecological units, but it is powerful—powerful competition for other things that give a sense of purpose. For some evan gelicals, the biggest obstacle to prioritizing environmental concerns is the competition saving the world gives against saving the souls in the world (from hell). Environmental work tends to not keep its place as a material thing in line behind the spiritual thing. And while climate change or species loss can struggle to motivate people due to the spatial or temporal distance from daily life, heaven and hell can feel even further away, and humans only have so many resources they will dedicate to long-term concerns. Yet, some evangelicals have moved toward environmental concerns as not only valid but of major importance. How have they integrated those purposes and made that shift? A few examples appear books that I might have recommended, had they been available, back in my two-month stint DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-5
76 Evangelism working in a Christian bookstore in the early 1990s. Mostly the work involved stocking shelves, working the register, and on exciting days doing the design work to set up a Bible display. However, once in a while some one would come in looking for a recommendation. One weekday evening a gray-haired customer approached me looking for a book for her son-in-law. He was curious about Christianity but had some intellectual concerns and questions. We didn’t have any serious philosophy like Kierkegaard (not that my favorite work of his at the time would have been appropriate), but I was able to recommend some more intellectually focused work, like that of Ravi Zacharias (long before his sexual misconduct came out). She thanked me and looked on her own for a bit. Ten minutes later she came to check out with the ﬁrst book of the Left Behind series that was both ragingly popular at the time and doctrinally suspect (even among some evangelicals) pulp ﬁction full of violence and fearmongering for her son-in-law’s intel lectual concerns. I sadly rang her purchase and soon helped close the store. A certain receptiveness to a topic is necessary ﬁrst, whether it is apologetics or climate issues and religion. More to the point, the purpose of converting the son-in-law, from her perspective of what would do it, likely overrode any other suggestions. The slow dealing with questions wasn’t direct enough for her in-family evangelism. Of course, many environmentalists have that same overly direct, fear-mongering approach in their own evangelism of the bad news about hell on earth instead of hell in the afterlife. That competition between purposes and evangelistic messages of fear and change are vital to consider when talking with an evangelical audience about the environment, and the ﬁrst rule is that you must pick on Al Gore. Jonathan Merritt, along with Mitch Hescox and co-author Paul Douglas, whose books appealing to evangelicals about environmental care I consider below, all identify as evangelical Christians and dissociate themselves from Al Gore as a symbol of one environmentalist stereotype evangelicals don’t connect with. In Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment (2016), Hescox and Douglas put in their anti-Gore plugs early, like “In the late 1990s and early 2000s it was increasingly freakish weather—not Al Gore—that tipped me oﬀ that something had changed” (12). Ultimately, Gore stands in as a representative of environmentalism that is liberal, big-government, pro-evolution, suppo sedly less concerned about humans than about trees and bears, and that has made protecting the earth an over-arching human purpose. That ﬁnal point is a main one here. Purpose may be vague and hard to measure, but it can still be a driving force for political attitudes and is the basis for advocacy and evangelism. You can be saved. We all can be saved. Accept Jesus into your heart or switch away from carbon-based fuels. In questions about environmental issues, particularly climate change, a conﬂict of fundamental diﬀerence in purposes for acting and being works behind many of the dif ﬁculties in gaining the support of American evangelical Christians on those environmental topics.
Evangelism 77 And those religious folks do matter. Environmental philosopher Max Oelschlaeger argues, “There are no solutions for the systemic causes of ecocrisis, at least in democratic societies, apart from religious narrative” (5). He suggests that religion may or may not be the problem, and many since Lynn White’s 1967 “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” have argued that it is. White argued that Christianity’s notion of “dominion” over nature rather than ﬁnding a spirit-ﬁlled nature led inescapably to exploitation of nature for humans, exacerbated by a spirit/body dualism that put the spiritual over the material (1205–06). But for both White and Oelschlaeger, religion provides the motivational, imaginative, and purpo seful narratives needed to inspire real work in a way that more science or technology does not. Religion is necessary to motivate environmental con cerns. While Oelschlaeger doesn’t explicitly explain it this way, the need for religion is in part because of the kind of rhetorical problem par excellence that is something like climate change. Consider the situation. People must be motivated to take actions that involve change, often require inconvenience, sometimes mean additional cost, and that take on an ascetic tinge. Beyond that, people must be moti vated to change whole systems that are in place around fundamental things like food, transportation, energy, and consumption in general. And by the way, any positive eﬀects are hard to see, typically in the future, and possi bly more relevant for other generations. The whole sustainability game is about the avoidance of negative eﬀects, and while there is plenty of guilt available for consumption, any positive changes won’t matter unless nearly everyone contributes. The free rider problem from game theory doesn’t begin to cover it. In this context, a religious motivation, ﬁnding meaning and purpose that can persuade people to change lives and try to change cultural practices to avoid a future (environmental) hell or gain a future (environmental) heaven can seem like a minimum necessary condition. At the same time, these religious elements have, in fact, been built into aspects of the environmental movement, pushing for the sense of purpose and spiritual meaning in work to literally save the world. Some evangelicals are involved in environmental protection initiatives, of course, and others recognize the importance of tying in environmental concerns with more traditional Christian purposes. Geophysicist Thomas Ackerman, who identiﬁes as a Christian, connects climate change with caring for the poor in a late 2017 interview with the major evangelical magazine Christianity Today. He exhorts, Let’s develop a healthy understanding of what we mean by creation care, and let’s not divorce it from social justice. For example, why do we put our waste and chemical dumps in the neighborhoods of poor people? Why isn’t the Christian community saying, “Hey, that’s not right”? (Randall)
He goes on to emphasize the need to change the discussion away from one of scientiﬁc accuracy or denial, explaining, What the church shouldn’t say is: “Oh, well, we don’t want to talk about climate change because people might be upset about that.” We do need to deal with climate change. We are all too willing to sit back and allow the discussions to be framed by the deniers. (Randall) Shifting the focus to caring for the poor puts it in terms that could poten tially motivate evangelicals, but prioritizing care for distant people, possibly in the future, where causal connections to environmental issues are hard to see can be less than compelling too. The issue for Ackerman is explicitly one of framing, where the lament is that denial versus reality of climate change is the basis for the conversation rather than putting it in religious language in religious communities. Ackerman frames it in terms of caring for the poor and loving one’s neighbor. At the same time, denial can just be an easy response that is culturally available when the issue isn’t that important to you. After my conversation about ecofeminism and creation care, I went searching for how evangelicals had talked to themselves about environ mental issues. I found several authors who made book-length attempts to reframe environmental issues for evangelicals in recent years, many parti cularly related to the signiﬁcant role evangelicals seem to play in electoral politics. E. O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006) is not from an evangelical, but it is ostensibly written to evangelicals and serves as an attempt to speak across religious diﬀerences, particularly about nature’s diversity. Jonathan Merritt’s Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for our Planet (2010) goes straight to the Bible to speak with evangelicals and attempts to give greater primacy to environmental con cerns. And Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas’s Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment (2016) goes directly to climate issues using the dual threats of a meteorologist/ businessperson and a pastor/religion writer to give credence to their case. All three books are worth consideration for how they try to connect with evangelicals and how they deal with the question of purpose.
Biologist and Southern Baptists Renowned biologist E. O. Wilson thinks religious perspectives matter for the environment too. In his book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006), Wilson promotes biodiversity as a chief good, with changes in climate-impacting practices as a subtopic that greatly impacts life. Wilson, of course, is not writing as an evangelical, but he calls on his religious upbringing as a point of connection and addresses the book as a sort of
Evangelism 79 open letter to a generic Southern Baptist pastor (3–4). Wilson foregrounds points of agreement and disagreement, explicitly acknowledging the deep rifts in metaphysics between him and his supposed pastor audience. “I know we share many precepts of moral behavior. Perhaps it also matters that we are both Americans and, insofar as it might still aﬀect civility and good manners, we are both Southerners” (3). He goes on to say, “I see no way to avoid the fundamental diﬀerences in our respective worldviews. You are a literalist interpreter of Christian Holy Scripture. You reject the conclusion of science that mankind evolved from lower forms. You believe that each person’s soul is immortal, making this planet a way station to a second, eternal life” (3). It’s an accurate set-up, but Wilson seems unable to ultimately resist digs at this worldview throughout. I spent the book agreeing with many of Wilson’s points while growing more and more angry at him as the condescension to my grandfather (a former Baptist pastor) grew. Wilson seemed to regularly violate the practical communication rule about how you can criticize your own family, but an outsider better not or they are in trouble. Wilson didn’t connect enough on the Southern or Baptist angle to avoid outsider status. In contrast to my grandfather and other evangelical pastors, Wilson deﬁnes himself as a “secular humanist” who believes “existence is what we make of it as individuals. […] There is no other home. Humanity origi nated here by evolution from lower forms over millions of years. And yes, I will speak plain, our ancestors were apelike animals” (3–4). One of Wilson’s problems here is that as soon as he acknowledges evolution over creation, the game is lost. He not only loses credibility for his evangelical audience, but he also becomes an enemy of faith. His writing indicates some aware ness of this with the attempt to ﬁnd common goals for nature, even if the value systems and epistemologies behind those goals diﬀer. Strange bed fellows make sense when they want the same thing. But the assumption of ulterior motives and goals that aren’t really in common must be overcome. Wilson, however, can’t maintain the common ground approach, as he reg ularly criticizes his main audience, taking that role of a patronizing intel lectual that is all too easy for his audience to put him in. While still ostensibly writing directly to the Southern Baptist pastor, Wilson lists a series of end times and afterlife beliefs that would sound bizarre to some one not steeped in that religious tradition, and directly calls those beliefs “gospels of cruelty and despair” (6). Whether or not Wilson is right is not the point. Rather, the directness of his approach turns to bluntness and criticism, and the attempt to ﬁnd common ground is, at least temporarily, shoved aside. Similarly, Wilson uses Charles Darwin himself as an example; ﬁrst as a “young man, newly trained for the ministry, and so ﬁxed in his Christian faith that he referred all questions of morality to readings from the Bible” (7). This moment of possible connection is reversed a few sentences later as Darwin becomes the example of abandoning Christian faith, gaining
“intellectual freedom,” and ﬁnding awe in a nature without God’s hand (7). At this point, Wilson’s evangelism has gone beyond a plea for environ mental cooperation and turns to implied (at least) proselytizing for rejecting Christianity. The change depicted in might even be the primary goal of Wilson’s book. Intentional or not, Wilson’s two goals—(1) the desire to convert the Christian to a secular humanist appreciation of nature, and (2) the desire to ﬁnd common ground in preserving nature while leaving metaphysics alone—ﬁght with each other throughout the text. Wilson serves as an example of that common tension, where the other side’s values are just too weird or (un)scientiﬁc or (anti)elite or wrong to leave alone. This is not to say that those other issues don’t need to be called out and argued over in many cases, but it tends not to help arguments supposedly based on common ground. At a deeper level, making evolution central to his argument is a primary rhetorical diﬃculty. Creation means that nature is God’s, and evolution lets nature belong to itself; no permanent hierarchy of being holds with evolu tion, which for his pastor audience, means that the created can be valued over the Creator—a blasphemy. Perhaps even more important for this evangelical audience is what evolution signiﬁes about the Bible. Evolution has played a particularly poignant role in splits over approaches to inter pretation of the Bible in U.S. culture and over the Bible as an authority. With an evangelical approach that uses the Bible as an epistemologically authoritative grounding for other knowledge, evolution can be seen as rejecting a whole way of knowing. Wilson ends chapters with attempts to ﬁnd common interests between him and the pastor audience, and he isn’t wrong. Many of those interests can be in common between evangelicals and someone like Wilson, pro moting biodiversity for reasons of human beneﬁt and to match his moral system. Valuing every individual species as “a small universe in itself” that “merits careers of scientiﬁc study and celebration by historians and poets” is the basis for his moral argument that science considers nature worth while in itself (123). The issue is one of priorities. When Wilson discusses the theological notion of the fall in scientiﬁc terms, making human devel opment of civilization and technology the gain in knowledge that serves as a betrayal of nature (9–11), his metaphorical identiﬁcation with religious language can simply further the divide between Wilson and his generic Southern Baptist pastor. The fall is precisely the primary problem in the world, but for the evangelical it is a real spiritual issue of sin, which is exactly the concern of higher importance than the fate of some species of ant—or of the entire material world. In other words, the valiant appeal to evangelicals to ignore metaphysics and love creation given the possible similarity in goals for creation makes incredibly good sense precisely as much as one is distant from evangelical ism. The many moments of attempts to identify with the audience that are immediately followed by denigrating the same audience’s beliefs make hope
Evangelism 81 for creating common ground nearly impossible out of this text. Stating that work in intelligent design is not doing real science may, in fact, be correct (166), but even a gracious pastor is defensive or potentially no longer reading by that point. Wilson’s emphasis on common values over value diﬀerences is also in contrast with his three main concerns about why people don’t take care of the environment enough. His three diﬃculties, “ignorance of the environ ment, inadequate science education, and the bewildering growth of biol ogy” (13), all are ﬁxed primarily by some form of education. But acceptance of the ideas given in that education is based on values, how that information is used is based on values, and more knowledge does not necessarily change those values. Perhaps Wilson just has an optimism about education that goes beyond mine, and his book is consistent in attempting to educate his audience, but framed as it is, trying to put some values aside, it may miss his primary audience altogether. In other words, the values someone comes with to an educational setting matter, whether that setting is a hike with a nature expert, a college biology class, or a popular book explaining a new turn in genetics. Education needs to respond to learners and values who are there. Again, the fundamental conﬂict here is about diﬀerent versions of saving the world. A BBC headline after the October 2018 International Panel on Climate Change identiﬁes a “Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’” (McGrath), but what exactly is that world? Disparate ver sions of what the most meaningful “world” really is drives diﬀerent but powerful senses of purpose. The Gaia hypothesis portrays the earth as a single unit, living in its own right. It’s a way of deﬁning the world. The world, in the BBC case, is something like a network of energy and biosys tems and the individual creatures, particularly humans, are aﬀected by those systems. The world may be understood more as the earth as a planet—a watery rock orbiting the sun, or, in more anthropocentric terms, as humans and their cultures. The phrase “be in the world, but not of it” is one that can ring familiar in evangelical circles. It references I John 2:15–17, which warns against caring too much for things of this world. They will end, go away, and diminish, while “whoever does the will of God lives forever” (I John 2:17, NIV Bible). The material world, the physical world, the environmental world is a danger or temptation. Saving it is a questionable endeavor at best. If the eternal is what matters most (and why wouldn’t it?), then saving the world, in a positive sense for evangelicals, means something more like many individual souls turning to God. Following God’s will or praising God may mean some environmentally-friendly actions at times—it is at least arguable, but the diﬀerence in what the world is means a fundamental divide in purpose between, say, someone identifying as an environmentalist and someone identifying as an evangelical Christian.
Sidebar on Schaeﬀer Reading Wilson and this serious secular versus religious antagonism reminded me of some of the more intellectually oriented evangelical mate rial I read as a young adult. The homemade pine shelves that covered a small wall in our home and held most of our books included multiple volumes by Francis Schaeﬀer, who had no qualms about implying or stating his contempt for worldviews like Wilson’s. Schaeﬀer was the evangelical intellectual du jour—writing about art and philosophy and the nihilistic horrors of what came to be called postmodernism. My father encouraged me to read all the Schaeﬀer books we had, particularly relishing the “line of despair” in his work, where the growth of rational, secular philosophy from the Greeks forward led to versions of despair for those without faith. And he was right, at least in my case, where the use of Christianity as the basis of purpose and meaning in life was potent until that belief waned and a sort of practical nihilism crept in. The despair of a world without God is perhaps a modernist cliché that is particularly relevant for American evan gelicalism as a form of modernism but with a Bible-focused religious basis. Critical reading methods (within a belief in the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture), individualism (for salvation), an imperial sort of conquering of nature and the “uncivilized” (through missionary work) made it modern. But one book by Schaeﬀer we didn’t own, and I didn’t read until thirty years later was his 1970 work with Udo Middleton, Pollution and the Death of Man. Schaeﬀer introduced ecology to popular evangelical Chris tian thinking, albeit in patriarchal way with metaphors of earth as a sister that needs to be protected from attack. He tried to make environmental concerns exigent for Christians, but I never heard of this writing despite learning all about the Christian community Schaeﬀer started and hiking constantly in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge. Schaeﬀer wants the “division of man from nature” to be one of the many splits that are healed (67), even if that healing is done in terms of a gender split with his question, “What have they done to our fair sister?” (7), implying a (sexual?) assault on a separate nature that males in particular should respond to. With Schaeﬀer, the key is hierarchy. The simpliﬁed great chain of being drives his analysis, and other hierarchies like man over woman (in role, not value, he would say), and heaven over earth do as well. The problem with pantheism for Schaeﬀer is the lack of hierarchy. How can you decide when everything is of equal status? Instead of equal, the goal is to hold things in the right status or position, as determined by a particular kind of Reformation-based reading of the Bible. The problem with a hierarchical focus is that there can always be a reason to prioritize whatever is higher on the chain—thus the easy abuses of nature and of women that he identiﬁes. The idea of calling on people to restrain them selves is weak, particularly considering his own views of the fallenness of humans. That makes the focus on redeemed Christians as an example key,
Evangelism 83 because from God they might have the strength for some restraint. His torically, this tends to not work out (see the rates of abuse, divorce, and other things that are the same for Christians as for the rest of the popula tion). But he is right that some basis for making distinctions and decisions is necessary. Needs will come into conﬂict. The loggers and the spotted owl will beneﬁt from diﬀerent decisions, at least in the short term. A hierarchy of values rather than beings or creatures is one possible step. Another is a move away from the vertical, linear sense of hierarchy to more of a net work. A third option is to follow the tradition of “the last shall be ﬁrst and the ﬁrst shall be last” and set up multiple, competing hierarchies quite explicitly. The hierarchy means that all arguments for preserving the environment need to focus not on plants or animals, but on creatures higher on the chain of being. God and humans are the top two in Schaeﬀer’s abbreviated ver sion, and so the moves return to arguing for creation as valuable to God, and therefore something to take care of, plus making the case for the negative impact on human well-being, which is where Schaeﬀer starts. Yet theological emphases matter for environmental exigence too. When Chris tianity focuses on creation (of the world) and incarnation (of Christ) then material elements take more primacy (61). Nature matters more and bodies of water, of plants, of rock or ﬂesh can more easily gain a sense of impor tance. There may be a chain of being, but the bottom of that chain is worth more and the gaps between items in the chain can grow or shrink. Ecology is a moral issue, for Schaeﬀer, not a pragmatic one (19–20). Relationships between creatures and spaces matter. The move to the mate rial goes against many trends in evangelicalism, where salvation itself is often based on right belief with a level of personal commitment, but in deﬁning ecological questions in moral terms the possibilities for evangelical connection to the issue increase. At the same time, space is left open to say that the moral thing is to prioritize humans at the cost of lesser beings. If human bodies are carriers of souls, what does a body of water carry or what does an ant’s body carry? For Schaeﬀer, pantheism is a dangerous heresy, but those bodies carry the results of God’s creativity, which is why material matters. For all their diﬀerences that aren’t well hidden, Schaeﬀer and Wilson might have been able to work together on some environmental issues.
Younger Evangelicals and the Book of Nature I found a better attempt to reach evangelicals on climate issues, particular younger evangelicals in Jonathan Merritt’s Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for our Planet (2010). Merritt’s book goes straight to the Bible to speak with evangelicals and attempts to give greater primacy to envir onmental concerns within a more eternal Christian context. At the begin ning of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for our Planet (2010),
Jonathan Merritt tells the story of a seminary class with about the tradi tional two books or revelations from God: scripture and nature. He quotes his professor, John Hammett, as saying, “Both are from God, so when we destroy creation, which is God’s revelation, it’s similar to tearing a page out of the Bible” (2) This is the moment Merritt points to as the catalyst for his turn toward conservation. The argument makes the Bible central, and beyond that, it gives a form of hurting God’s word by hurting nature. God is not made equivalent with nature or nature equivalent with God. This Bible-valuing and nature-belonging-to-God approach is central to Merritt’s eﬀorts to change evangelical thinking toward pro-environment positions. One problem he can run into right away is that for most evangelical thinking, nature as a form of revelation from God ranks way below the Bible. The Bible is explicit; nature is vague. The Bible gives content to belief; nature can inspire general belief—or so goes the thinking. But the tactic is clear, connect environmental eﬀorts to God’s communication and the environment becomes valuable because it is God-breathed like the Bible. Put another way, the strategy is to make the issue theological rather than natural. God is of ultimate concern. Merritt’s approach doesn’t ask for evangelicals to move away from God as the primary focus; the funda mental competition between purposes (saving the world and saving souls) is almost avoided. Recycling, reducing consumption, and sharing the Gospel might then work as diﬀerent ways of obeying and honoring God. Merritt sets up a contrast between an earthly focus and “erroneous” ignoring of the earth through two verses in Genesis. Genesis 1:28 says to “Be fruitful and increase in number; ﬁll the earth and subdue it. Rule over the ﬁsh of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Merritt notes how the language of power and authority stand out in this verse and how it is used for “turning back environmentalists” (42). As a key contrast, he provides Genesis 2:15, which says humans are in the Garden of Eden to “work it and take care of it” (NIV Bible), so humans are around to “keep things in order” for Merritt (41). He (Merritt, not necessarily God) wants a harmony between them, not the overly environmental one versus the overly human-centered interpreta tions of the other that he sees. These verses are just part of a very high Bible verses per page ratio that Merritt maintains, letting his audience trust him as a source through which a more trustworthy source (God in the Bible) works. In doing so, Merritt critiques “sadly still inﬂuential today” theology that emphasizes “human ownership of the earth” (43). Merritt calls for dominion—a common term in evangelicalism for human rule of earth based in translations of Genesis 1:28—to be understood as steward ship of God’s “benevolent monarchy” (39, 47, 52–54). The diﬀerence between dominion and stewardship is central to evangelical debates about environmentalism, and Merritt tries to link those terms, making either one ultimately about stewardship by people. Caretaking responsibility is the power of dominion, since the real power is God’s. Perhaps this sounds
Evangelism 85 technical and obscure, but it admits the fact that power will be exercised. The point is providing spiritual motivation and reasoning to shape the way human power is used in relationship to the environment. Merritt emphasizes that God doesn’t give people “sovereignty over the earth. God retains ultimate power of the planet, as discussed in the last chapter. The entire creation is still His even though we have been entrusted with a measure of authority” (46). Authority and sovereignty are contrast ing terms for Merritt. Humans have limited authority, giving them higher ranking, or at least responsibility in the great chain of environmental impact. God, as sovereign, fundamentally owns the earth. This can be seen as a capitalist model for thinking about land and environments, but it is perhaps more feudal with a sovereign ruler of all and those with respon sible to use and care for the land under the ruler. Pinning down a common biblical debate between evangelicals, Merritt points to two oft-quoted verses in connection to contemporary environ mental concerns. Looking at only Genesis 1:28 gets us environmentalists (as a negative term) and considering only Genesis 2:15 creates erroneous evan gelicals. Merritt says to “harmonize” the two passages (44). The important moves here are the focus on the Bible, particularly in terms of considering its passages in light of each other, and the identiﬁcation with the right kind of evangelicals, as opposed to with environmentalists. The primary identity is always religious, and the way to enact that is through looking at scrip ture, to be corrected by more scripture. The sense of identity based in the Bible remains a main form of appeal to his evangelical audience. What Merritt doesn’t portray is a sense of any need to critique that separation and hierarchy of humans over nature, and without some nudge against that ranked divide (it would have to be small at ﬁrst), signiﬁcant change in practices may be hard to come by. Put another way, for Merritt’s primary audience, the argumentative options are limited to cases that pri marily value humans and promote their interests. This is both the strength and weakness of his book, as he follows that limitation with his audience, but does not push them beyond that way of thinking on their common, biblical grounds. The problem with environmentalism for evangelicals is it puts the earth ﬁrst and gives a huge purpose and ultimate value in a temporal thing. Humans are mere travelers, sojourners, temporary residents on earth. Their true home is heaven (see Hebrews 13:14) says the evangelical Christian. In other words, the planet is just a rental, an apartment to use for a little while before purchasing the real house. Of course, there is a but, and it’s an omnipotent one. But, the owner of the rental is God, so there can be a basis for taking awfully good care of it. This care is fundamentally for God’s sake, not for polar bears or redwoods, butterﬂies or rainforests (and cer tainly not just for spotted owls). The care is not even for humans primarily, although loving one’s neighbor can have strong implications for environ mental action for an evangelical. The idea that the ultimate purpose of
environmental care and action is to respect or honor God can have real implications for environmental priorities. It also makes the question of God’s priorities central—and those are easy to ﬁnd diﬀering views on. The whole notion of the Anthropocene can imply a human power that limits Christian ideas about God’s sovereignty (theologically) or God being in control (more colloquially). It’s always the Theocene—the epoch where God is the main transforming power. So, if there is a diﬃcult divide over basic purposes, but religion (and evangelical Christianity in the con temporary U.S. context) matters for the success of environmental eﬀorts, how have writers attempted to bring those cultures together? What rheto rical resources remain for talking with the evangelical community about environmental concerns? Not surprisingly, instead of identifying with Gore or any nature-related term with “ist” or “ism” at the end, a main move is to make climate change and other environmental concerns a property issue. Speciﬁcally, God’s property. That goes to the sanctity of life as well, which Merritt says is not just “the sanctity of human life, but the sanctity of all life” (66, emphasis in original). This obvious tie to abortion debates tries to let environmental concerns grab onto the emotion and vote-shaping power of pro-life stances. It also could be seen as yet another connection between evangelical Chris tianity and conservative politics and ﬁscal policy, more a result of the Religious Right movement and earlier evangelical and conservative busi nesspeople like Dwight Moody in Chicago in the late 1800s. But this time the use of private ownership principles is pro-environment, and ultimately it may be more feudalist than capitalist. The idea of the earth belonging to God and humans living oﬀ the land and keeping it for the owner, while giving a certain percentage of fruits and goods to the owner, is closer to feudalist property ideas than private land ownership. In fact, this sense of people as lords or owners over part of the earth, rather than keeping it for God, is part of the argument Merritt makes against some fellow evangelicals (43). Personal responsibility can remain central too, since the individual is the one who should act respon sibly with borrowed property (from oil reserves to water to frog species). This focus on personal responsibility remains one of the potential ﬂaws in Merritt’s book and in the Hescox and Douglas book, as they all elaborate on personal actions to take, while spending less time on major systemic changes or even on personal political action.
Prayer as (Environmental) Action One form of personal evangelical action to help evangelism and other pri mary purposes is prayer. “I’ll be praying for you” and “You’re in my prayers” are both common phrases in Christian circles and sometimes derided for their lack of action. Whether it’s a neighbor struggling ﬁnan cially after a job loss or racial divisions in America, prayer can be used as a
Evangelism 87 way for a person to feel like they are taking action with no tangible sacri ﬁce or extra eﬀort necessary, but if God acts for the faithful in the world, prayer really could be a powerful action. In other words, the situation cre ates an experiential itch that needs to be scratched, and prayer is a form of taking linguistic action to feel like something is being done. Except, it can be more than that too. For some, prayer is not without sacriﬁce, as prayer about a particular issue may be a daily commitment, perhaps with some level of emotional anguish or investment. And if an exigence is a situation in the world (see Bitzer) that calls for linguistic action that may make a diﬀerence, calling on an omnipotent God with some expectation of response is appropriate and potentially eﬀective rhetorical action—at least from the perspective of the true believer. My mother’s brother was the non-believing black sheep of the family as far as I knew growing up. He was an uncle and an object of our quiet evangelism. I’ve heard little from him evangelizing his work in sustainable design, green buildings, and renewable energy. My mother encouraged us to pray for his and my aunt’s salvation at a couple of points and doing so became a consistent incantation for me. “Dear Lord, please help Rod and Jill to know your love and accept Jesus into their hearts, Amen.” The fact they weren’t saved, according to the evangelical tradition my family was in, stood as a constant condition. The exigence never went away, so the response to it became regularized, but couldn’t be constant. Exigence here, for souls and environmental issues, is a kind of chronic condition, where there is a longlasting issue or problem, but it has moments of ﬂare-up where it comes to the fore or where more action is taken. Maybe the state of an individual’s soul is not a particularly public issue and would then be disqualiﬁed from some versions of exigence, but taken in the collective, the state of the souls of every person is the primary concern for much of evangelicalism, in a way that transcends public and private in its vast individuality.
True Conservatives While Merritt worked in terms of popular theology, Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas’s Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment (2016) takes a more practical and overtly politically conservative angle. Prayer isn’t the main action, and the public sphere is vital. Individuals loving God, saving souls like my uncle’s, and living out an American freedom are primary purposes for them. Hescox and Douglas’s book goes directly to climate issues using the dual threats of a meteorologist/businessperson and a pastor/religion writer to give credence to their case. The project is built on their credibility as a meteorologist and entrepreneur for one (Douglas—with the success in business as vital as the weather experience) and a long-time pastor and member of the coal industry for the other (Hescox). The introduction is a huge plea to be seen as real Christians and real conservatives by their
88 Evangelism evangelical audience. Douglas mentions being a “staunch Republican,” says he’s from a “military family,” and plugs three denominations all in the same paragraph. He shows a sense of perspective too in calling himself an “albino unicorn” for rarity given his background in combination with his views on carbon pollution and climate change (13). So Hescox and Douglas show themselves as evangelical Christians cer tainly, and not as environmentalists, despite the overall arguments here. But almost as central, in this case, they assert themselves as politically con servative in general, pro-human, anti-big government, and in favor of capitalist market-based solutions. Their attempt is to make an evangelical conservative pro-environment position more possible. This political per spective shows up in discussions against government subsidies (115–17), making economic beneﬁts and helping the poorest two primary arguments (125–27), and targeting pricing for carbon emissions as a strategy—because “capitalism works” if costs are accurate (133). The market is the answer, as are “faith-based solutions that elevate personal responsibility and con servative values” (17). This approach reﬂects their values, apparently, but is also given to actually ﬁnd some agreement and move forward. It’s a poli tical realism that wants more civil civic discourse, not that all agree on what would count as that discourse. Hescox and Douglas assert that the future of the North American church is at risk because of non-loving approaches to issues like climate change (78). They struggle against the notion that only heaven matters, asking evangelicals to love as Jesus commanded and “stop worrying about who gets into heaven and start building the kingdom of God on earth” (78). For some evangelical ears, this request can be misguided at best and may be heretical. It’s a priority problem. In a faith system that emphasizes conver sion to save people from eternal damnation, it’s illogical, in a way, to say anything else is more important. Climate change is all about the earth, the future of this pit-stop for humans on the way to heaven or hell, so it is fundamentally a distraction from the changes in soul that matter. Their main move is to return to the idea of sharing Jesus’ love and “steward God’s creation and care for the least of these” (81). Suﬀering people are the main point of environmental work here (and really, human well-being is the point of work on climate change for most secular envir onmentalists too, which is admitted sometimes more than others). The need to focus on salvation doesn’t escape though, as Hescox tells the story of sharing his identity as an “evangelical environmentalist” (81). The “best part,” claims Hescox, is that “on several dozen occasions” the people he has spoken with “made a commitment to follow Jesus” (81). He’s trying to have his environmentalism and eat his salvation too. To be clear, I am not critiquing this rhetorical move; it is almost necessary in the context of an evangelical audience. Nonetheless, the conﬂict in purpose, in a sense of what drives someone, is still present, despite eﬀorts to say that loving Jesus is the point and there are diﬀerent ways to show that love.
Evangelism 89 The contradictions continue with comments about the 2015 Syrian refu gee crisis, where care for those in dire need and fear of massive immigra tion from refugees are implied in the same lines, even if not intentionally (95). Philosopher Timothy Morton notes the hypocrisies that can’t help but emerge with massive systems like climate change that we live in (see Hyperobjects). Fear of immigrants may not be necessary, or part of the hypocrisies Morton focused on, and that fear may not be the position of Hescox and Douglas themselves, although it is for some of their implied audience. Perhaps it also shouldn’t be grounds for pushing work like theirs aside. To paraphrase Jesus from Luke 9:50, those who aren’t working against you (and who might know how to reach a diﬀerent audience) should be taken as on your side. In part, that is the attitude Wilson tried to bring about in The Creation. Put another way, given the context of serious conﬂicts in purpose, in what it means to save the world, the options are to ﬁnd overlapping points in those diﬀerent purposes or to reframe a partial common purpose. Wilson tries to ﬁnd a limited common purpose, while Hescox and Douglas try to bring in environmental goals to a broader Christian, evangelical sense of purpose. Freedom and an accurate free market (with carbon costs factored in) keep the appeal running directly onto conservative political grounds, showing a recognition of how much evangelicalism and conservative American politics have overlapped, while Ronald Reagan is invoked (91–93) to push for a conservatism still accepted, but slightly distant from Trumpism or some Tea Party politics. In talking about ecofeminist theology with my politically conservative pastor acquaintance, we avoided denial/reality debates. I tried to explain the ecofeminism in terms of “creation care,” a popular way of talking about environmental awareness for evangelicals, and through feminist work in the ethics of care. While my answer served to give touchstones that the pastor could identify with and perhaps put ecofeminism in a more positive light than it might have been seen, it felt paltry. My answer elided too many diﬀerences and perhaps missed an opportunity for a larger conversa tion about Christianity and current environmental topics. We certainly didn’t get to basic questions of purpose and priority about the world. I may have missed an opportunity to engage an evangelical in thoughtful conversation about the environment, but Wilson, Merritt, and Hescox and Douglas’s good faith eﬀorts at those conversations can remind readers that fundamental questions of purpose are vital to questions of religion and environmental action. Each of these cases is what communication scholar Candis Callison calls “a relationship-building and translation exercise with the scientiﬁc facts” (29). While the scientiﬁc case can sometimes be translated into language that calls on evangelical values and trusted autho rities, giving environmental issues a place of primacy is still a harder sell. The three books’ varied strategies all emphasize building solidarity with the audience in some form, but ultimately struggle in diﬀerent ways with the problem of that (false) binary of purposes—saving the physical world and
90 Evangelism saving souls out of the world—and the power of purpose for motivating action.
One Book Not for my family, but for some evangelicals, reading all these books in the ﬁrst place is the main problem. I spent one summer working for Youth for Christ, splitting my time between applying for small grants for the local chapter and helping prep and work at a summer camp for grade-school aged children. One day in the cramped oﬃce the ﬁve or so of us, mostly summer help like me, took a conversational break from teasing each other and selecting games and lessons to go with VeggieTales videos and started talking about the best books we’d read recently. I mentioned my book club with a few friends where we read Silas Marner in a strange eﬀort to explore some classic British literature. Our supervisor for the camp preparation, I’ll call him Luke, intervened with the classic one book approach. “The only book I need or read is the Bible” he explained to us. This variation oﬀ a Jesus juke shut down the conversation rapidly. A Jesus juke is when evan gelicals are having a conversation about something not directly spiritual (books, sports, restaurants, etc.) and someone turns the conversation to be about Jesus and Christian morality in a way that usually makes the other people look selﬁsh for wanting to ﬁnd the best ﬁsh taco instead of ﬁshing for souls. Luke did a Bible-focused variation of this move, perhaps related to feel ing excluded as the only person there without at least a year of college, and perhaps to get everyone else back on track for their actual work. But the point remains, reading these books about the environment and creation care isn’t so much a problem for what they have to say as it is a problem of spending my time focused on the wrong things. Why listen to humans when you can listen to God, and climate change just doesn’t get a lot of airtime in the Apostle Paul’s letters. As Mark Knoll pithily noted in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (1). The point from this evangelical scholar is not to insult his fellow believers but to push them toward an evangelicalism that doesn’t look for a simpliﬁed Bible answer and shut down conversation after that. Reading nature, reading the Bible, and reading other books struggle for diﬀerent levels of attention when it comes to evangelicals and environ mental concerns, but the question of persuasion is always a hermeneutic one. Climate for Change, a book I learned about later, by scientist Katherine Hayhoe and pastor Andrew Farley (Hayhoe’s husband), is per haps the best at explaining the actual science and relies heavily on the evangelical scientist and pastor role credibility factor. Rhetoric scholar Doug Cloud, in exploring Hayhoe and Farley’s written and oral work to combine scientiﬁc and faith-based ways of knowing and credibility,
Evangelism 91 explains that they “pivot toward shared values to minimize diﬀerence,” “use local evidence,” and “disparage ‘tree-hugger’ environmentalists” to gain the trust of evangelical audiences (59). Cloud argues against the dis paragement in favor of approaches that “strive to treat diﬀerence as a resource” (69). Climate for Change emphasizes the shared values with the audience and uses unexpected scripture verses. Speciﬁcally, it takes a diﬀer tack in using the Bible by referencing the story of Gideon who asked God for a sign and saw the results in the wetness and dryness of a ﬂeece laid out before God. Hayhoe and Farley use the Gideon story to focus on freedom to act based on the evidence before you, evidence that is both natural and spiritual in the case of Gideon’s ﬂeece, and, by implication, in the case of climate change. They work to make environmental action about love rather than guilt—a powerful motivational change (140). Hayhoe has become a major ﬁgure in climate change communication and both now and in the 2009 book works hard to decouple climate issues from other beliefs: from evolution to earth’s age to the role of government to political party (xi– xvii). While this de-coupling is easier said than done, the variety of dis agreements alluded to within the evangelical community suggest that cli mate concern could at least be another topic where climate evangelists can be heard. Evangelism that not only tries to change the hearts and minds of others but also gives the evangelist purpose and direction comes directly out of ways of reading (or not reading) these diﬀerent texts—with the Bible always primary of course. With my pastor friend and my attempts to explain ecofeminist theology, perhaps I should have gone with an emphasis on the Bible as a basis for reading nature and gender relations (even if the reading of an ecofeminist and an evangelical are quite diﬀerent). As Wilson attempted, maybe common purpose could be found somewhere. Values of caring for others and respecting creation could be a start. The redemption of relationships of all sorts might be needed, but in my conversation, making care of nature the ultimate end or goal would fail, just as saving souls from hell would fail as the main human purpose for the non-evangelical environmentalist. That summer working for Youth for Christ I was asked to meet with a grade schooler at one of our events who had connected with me a bit at the summer camp. He had expressed interest in becoming a Christian in the classic evangelical sense of saying a prayer to give his life to Christ or “ask Jesus into his heart” but wasn’t quite there yet. I chatted with him while speakers blared Christian pop music and a game of kickball sent a red rubber ball past us more than once. I asked questions about his thinking and listened to him, and he oﬃcially became an evangelical-style Christian through a prayer. This was considered a great success and highlight of the event. I was fulﬁlling my purpose in helping this boy turn his life toward heaven and away from this earth.
References Bitzer, Lloyd. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 1, no. 1, 1968, pp. 1–14. Callison, Candis. How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Life of Facts. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2014. Cloud, Doug. “Communicating Climate Change to Religious and Conservative Audiences: The Case of Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley.” Reﬂections, vol. 16, no. 1, Fall2016, pp. 57–74. Hayhoe, Katharine and Andrew Farley. A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith- Based Decisions. New York: Faith Words, 2009. Hescox, Mitch and Paul Douglas. Caring for Creation. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2016. McGrath, Matt. “Final Call to Save the World from ‘Climate Catastrophe.’” BBC News, Oct. 8, 2018. www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-45775309. Merritt, Jonathan. Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for our Planet. New York: Faith Words, 2010. Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 2013. NIV Bible. Holy Bible: New International Version. 4th ed. Nashville, TN: Biblica, 2011. Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Eerdmans, 1995. Oelschlaeger, Max. Caring for Creation: An Ecumenical Approach to the Environ mental Crises. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1994. Randall, Rebecca. “Understanding God’s Control When You’re a Climate Scientist: A Geophysicist on Balancing God’s Sovereignty over Nature with Human Understanding of Weather.” Interview, Dec. 21, 2017. www.christianitytoday. com/ct/2018/january-february/who-makes-it-rain.html. Schaeﬀer, Francis and Udo W. Middelmann. Pollution and the Death of Man. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1970. White, Lynn. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” Science vol. 155, no. 3767, Mar. 10, 1967, pp. 1203–1207. doi:10.1126/science.155.3767.1203. Wilson, E. O. The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. New York: Norton, 2006.
Knowing Creation “Bible-Science” and the Possibility of Global Warming
When my mind had matured to middle-school age and was able to do some abstract reasoning, my father’s favorite game to play with me was “dictator of the universe.” This was a made-up game, with the huge power trip in the title perhaps reﬂecting some combination of the lack of power he felt due to chronic health issues and a latent sense of “real, Bible-believing Christians” as having the most knowledge and best position to say what is right or wrong, given the connection to God and God’s answers in the Bible. For the game, my father would ask me a big, diﬃcult ethics-connected question and my job was simply to come up with the best answer. He usually played devil’s advocate for whatever I said, at least for a bit. These questions were not typically environmental ones. Some of the most popular categories were diﬃcult Bible passages—or at least diﬃcult given our evangelical, semiBaptist, supposedly literalist hermeneutic. What was meant by the “unpar donable sin” or why women at our church didn’t cover their hair, despite mention of needing to do so in the New Testament are two such examples. One other we covered was about stewardship and the directive in Genesis 1:26 to have dominion over the earth and what that might mean. In our context, it ended up meaning overseeing other creatures and the earth as resources, but treating them well, following the common evangelical gender role metaphor of a husband overseeing and caring for a wife. Questions of rights of the earth on its own (or questions of misogyny) simply did not arise in this context and in this conventional evangelical approach. My father worked in hospitals and medical research (not as a doctor though) much of his adult life, including a long stint with research on pre mature babies’ health and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Questions about when life started, when it ended, and what steps should be taken or not taken to preserve it were not strictly theoretical for him. He would concoct scenarios of a car accident where one person’s heart had stopped beating, but their brain was still ﬁring and functioning just long enough to last after a person who lost brain function ﬁrst, while a third person in the accident was knocked into a vegetative state even moments before those two but was kept technically alive by artiﬁcial means. Perhaps an inheri tance would be at stake based on the oﬃcial order of death here. It sounds DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-6
rather morbid, but the idea was about deﬁning human life and what coun ted as the edges or limits of a person’s life. When life itself is the question, and power over life, more theoretical realms come in. In Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that life is partially produced through “aﬀective labor” as one of the main characteristics of the present world governed by multinational organizations and governmentsupported capitalism. Aﬀective labor is immaterial, even if it is corporeal and aﬀective, in the sense that its products are intangible, a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, exci tement, or passion. […] [W]hat is really essential to it are the creation and manipulation of aﬀect. (Hardt and Negri 292–93) Information about life and death and responses to those are all about the creation of aﬀect, but not just in terms of satisfaction or excitement; the aﬀective possibilities are broad. They suggest that “What aﬀective labor produces are social networks, forms of community, biopower” as econom ics and human communication are linked (293). Literal life and death are not always the concern for Hardt and Negri, but the possibilities for experiencing life, particularly in terms of how the possibilities for response to an environmental issue are governed. What life and death comes with feelings of loss, relief, sadness, joy, or frustration? And this imperialism of aﬀect can apply to ecologies, animals, and other non-human elements as well. Evangelical attitudes toward environmental concerns and what is experienced as exigent are caught up in these questions of what life matters. It is hard to get past human eternal life as primary, and other life simply as a backdrop for the drama of souls to play out on. But biopower in evange licalism can also ﬁnd environmentalism vital as it is intertwined with souls. Talking with evangelicals about the environment requires considering dif ferent priorities around life itself, from which lives count more to what life is in material and spiritual sense. These life conversations, combined with environmental issues, mean trying to understand evangelical perspectives on contemporary science.
Climate Control In early 2019, shortly after the “Green New Deal” was proposed, I saw an acquaintance’s social media post about that plan and an alternative put forth as an opinion piece in the Washington Post. The various plans to respond in a thorough way to global warming are important and worth considering for their content. However, in this case, the subsequent inter action about global warming in the context of evangelical religion took center stage. The person making the initial Facebook post on February 25, 2019—let’s call him Trevor Barnes1—identiﬁes as evangelical and looks
moderate politically. His main interlocuter, who ﬁts a more fundamentalist leaning within evangelical beliefs about the Bible, based on her posts, initially wrote against both plans, ﬁnishing with the phrase, The Bible says in the last days the weather patterns are going to change and be [so] unpredictable that weathermen can’t accurately read it. God has more to do with this and the church needs to awaken to the signs around us. (Sarah Fuller, Facebook, February 26, 2019) The salient point is that in the response against all global warming-inspired plans, God is more in control of weather (or climate) than meteorologists or environmentally minded people consider. To clarify that fundamentalist/evangelical relationship as it pertains to issues of authority, Roger Olson’s Westminster Handbook of Evangelical Theology summarizes some of the debate over the terms in the context of contemporary American Christianity. The use here has to do with “the conservative Protestant reaction to the rise of liberal Protestantism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (5). Olson says this version of evangelicalism “is nearly synonymous with fundamentalism,” particularly in terms of elements like “the supernatural worldview,” “the deity of Christ,” and “the authority of the Bible” (5). In the twenty-ﬁrst century, evangelical is the broader term, with more variation on issues like biblical interpretation and a wider set of political positions available. There is no ﬁrm line between fundamentalism and evangelicalism, at least according to Olson, but fundamentalists tend to be more militant and separatist in approach (Olson 6). Communication scholar Edward Brewer notes that religious rhetoric does not have to be divisive, but the level of emotion involved tends to make it so (79). Even the supposedly objective realm of science is intertwined with emotion and identity. In this chapter, the social media conversation is between those identifying as evangelicals, while the “Bible-science” texts considered perhaps better ﬁt the term fundamentalist. The point is that many evangelicals use these texts and the Bible-science approach too—but have some alternatives available within evangelicalism. There is a live debate about the role of and authority of science in arguments about climate change. While some research (see Nuccitelli) has indicated, not surprisingly, that evangelicals are much more receptive to climate information from those within their own community, there is signiﬁcant diﬀerence and debate from diﬀerent voices within that community. Katharine Hayhoe is now my go-to scientist when talking about climate change with evangelicals. Her aca demic credentials that started with work in physics—one of the most reputable sciences—and Texas-based believer credentials with a pastor husband make her a source above others. And that’s before her simple, clear, analogy-blessed way of talking about climate issues. Megan Von
96 Knowing Creation Bergen and Bethany Mannon suggest that Hayhoe does not just use Twitter to build her ethos and an invitational rhetoric to work with evangelical audiences, Hayhoe “locates climate action and evangelical belief as adjoin ing landscapes” in a way that models an identity putting evangelical faith and accepted scientiﬁc epistemology together (Von Bergen and Mannon). It is more of a process of integrating scientiﬁc and religious identity and authority for Hayhoe and less of a struggle for authority between diﬀerent sources. Instead of the “too many variables” (Fuller) for understanding climate issues, the issue can be simpliﬁed to a dominant variable—God’s will. One rather unknowable, divine causal factor for climate is presented as more appealing than many contingently knowable factors working in a complex system. In the Anthropocene, that debated potential era of the last 12,000 years or so (or 230 years or 70 years), human impact on earth systems (like climate) are so substantial that humans are a geologic force worth naming an era after. From Fuller’s perspective, that level of human control is not possible. There can never really be an Anthropocene. The epoch is a per manent Theocene, with God in control, changing the potential role for human interaction. In the extended exchange of posts and replies that followed, a common theme was to ask for evidence of a climate-related claim in the Bible. The approach to science and Bible hinged on the story of creation, speciﬁcally, whether one believes in evolution or not and, even more to the point in this case, whether one understands the earth as approximately 6000 years old or vastly older. These debates are part of old creation/evolution arguments in the United States (including the famous Scopes trial), yet they are not old news in this context. The conversants readily recognize that thinking about the world through an evolutionary lens or a 6000-year-old earth with direct control from God lens will tend to lead to radically diﬀerent responses to a potential climate crisis. Of course, a 6000-year-old earth also throws out all the geological eras, not just the possible Anthropocene. Yet, one common ality with the Anthropocene idea is a certain centrality or importance for humanity, even if humans do not have much power over the climate. To be clear, not all evangelicals hold this young earth view. It is more associated with Christian fundamentalism, which can be seen as a subset or close relative of the broader term, evangelicalism (Noll). It was an American evangelicalism parallel to geologists arguing over epochs, like the existence of the Anthropocene and how best to date it. As Jeremy Davies points out, the Industrial Revolution is used as an alternative Edenic Fall by many environmentalists, making that turn to industry the key human moment in an alternative religious narrative (25). In a surprising way, the evangelical critique of the Anthropocene corre sponds with others who question the Anthropocene, saying it is too anthropocentric (Callicott; Chernilo). The approach to science and scien tiﬁc rhetoric is dependent on the religious epistemology. Fuller, later in the
exchange, goes on to say, “One must take a Biblical worldview to under stand science and what is happening to our earth.” This kind of claim is not new. It makes an assertion about what grounds or basic assumptions are necessary to properly understand some aspect of the world. This kind of claim can happen in many religious and secular ways. The worldview Fuller requires is described as including “Bible-science” in the main article she references (Martin). In what follows, I will explore the key traits of Bible-science as it establishes authority borrowing from both its key terms and makes arguments that are consistently more about the Bible than about science. The Bible-science approach, quietly common in American evange lical circles, implies that the Anthropocene idea is not just a question of human impact, but of diﬀering visions of time and home. I will ﬁrst examine Bible-science in the context of evangelical rhetoric, and then con nect that authority and identity-based epistemology to implications for the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene suggests a context that humans are part of including deep time, material interconnectedness, and broad ecosystems prioritized over strictly human histories. Bible-science in the Theocene is not just an approach to a speciﬁc issue like climate change, it suggests a fundamentally diﬀerent context that humans live within, including shorter historical time and spiritual histories. The rhetorical task involves understanding the competing contexts and ﬁnding ways that diﬀerent perspectives on time and change can be reconciled. While our children chased each other around, over, and through a play ground, a friend of mine mentioned that it doesn’t really matter if someone thinks the earth is 6000 years old or billions of years old. Both views are likely present at his church, entirely within a creationist point of view that would lean toward God distinctly creating separate species. He was talking about how you treat others in daily life, and rightly pointed out that loving your loud neighbor or being respectful to someone regardless of their lawn signs doesn’t hinge on the age of the earth. I tried to respond cautiously, hedging my bets by both agreeing and disagreeing. I mentioned that a 6000 year-old earth means rejecting a lot of climate science that is the basis for global warming, and some pretty concrete policy diﬀerences can come of that. Continuing the age of the earth theme, Hayhoe co-authored a book with her pastor husband in 2009 that tries to explain climate change to a pri marily evangelical audience. In a curious line early in the book, they note that one of them believes in a young earth (6000ish years) and one in an old earth (ﬁtting conventional geology). The statement is made to let the book feel accessible to evangelicals who can believe either of those things, with the Genesis creation story either understood as literal 24-hour days or as metaphorical days that are longer and indeterminate periods of time. Pro viding both time options as legitimate emphasizes that questions of creation time are not the most important thing in much scientiﬁc work, in following Jesus Christ, or in daily ethical living (regarding the environment or
anything else). At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if that diﬀerence brings tension to the relationship. What does it mean that Hayhoe’s hus band might consider a key foundation to her scientiﬁc career to be false, and what problems might arise from Hayhoe’s sense that her pastor hus band is, in fact, interpreting the Bible incorrectly? Scientiﬁc and philoso phical questions have implications for relationships and trust, and sometimes fundamental disagreements must be held aside if a common purpose can be found and a common healthy life together depends on it.
Scientiﬁc Method Controversy In Philip Eubanks’s thoughtful book about arguing in environmental crises, where winning matters and agreeing to disagree is not acceptable, he notes John Shimkus, a Republican Congressional Representative from Illinois who has cited the Bible for God’s promise to “never again ﬂood the earth” from Genesis 9:11 (17). This is the prototypical Bible-science argument in simple form. The Bible has a statement that is read as a future or past fact claim about the earth, perhaps in the realm of climate or geology. No argument over facts is possible. No evidence can overturn it without ﬁrst addressing the issue of authority and scientiﬁc knowledge in the ﬁrst place. Bible-science is a way to give divine grounding to scientiﬁc work and claims, but to also conﬁne the possibility of those claims within a particular reading of the Bible as scientiﬁc history and a way that excludes whole realms of work (like anything based on evolution). Leah Ceccarelli calls a scientiﬁc controversy “manufactured” when a media member or public setting announces a controversy when there is “actually an overwhelming scientiﬁc consensus” (196). Her three sample topics: AIDS, global warming, and intelligent design all can have signiﬁcant religious angles, and the latter two are connected issues for evangelicals with a Bible-science approach. The controversy may be manufactured relative to scientiﬁc consensus, but that can be because a diﬀerent approach to science itself is taken. The supposed controversies can lead both to gov ernment action and to delays in action, argues Ceccarelli (196), with the delays particularly poignant when it comes to climate change. While delays and being positioned as outsiders whose studies are not listened to is part of the public approach for a group like Answers in Genesis, for audiences within their own community or sphere of belief, there is an actual assertion of a diﬀerent approach to science. In fact, the set-up is of competing sci ences—Bible-science and mainstream evolutionary science. The whole approach to science itself is the manufactured controversy, but at that level the controversy is tied into larger religious identity issues. With my father, one version of his life-and-death questions game cen tered on a manufactured controversy that was very live and real in evan gelical circles. The six days of creation, before God rested on the seventh day: were they literal, twenty-four-hour days or were they symbolic of much longer periods of time? And how was there light and dark on that
ﬁrst day before the sun anyway? Now maybe a cultural historian would remind us not to read texts like the beginning of Genesis with modern, heliocentric eyes if we are going to ask these sorts of questions. Sitting at each end of the too-soft couch in our living room, my father and I knew that one simple answer was that God was the source of light. No way to test or conﬁrm it of course, but God is the source of light in some parts of the book of Revelation, so why not make a nice beginning and end paral lel—the alpha and omega after all. Geology was not our strong suit; how ever, my father had studied biology in college and worked primarily in medical-related jobs, so we brought in what science we knew as context and data to help interpret the ﬁrst two chapters of Genesis as a sort of scientiﬁc history text, placing it in the same realm as evolutionary theories as they tried to do scientiﬁc history. In all our possible answers, God was outside of time but able to act on that created system that had time. That meant God could change, mess with, or otherwise break the supposed rules of time. So, were all those dinosaur bones and geological layers some sort of plant to test our faith after carbon dating technology became available? That seemed a bit close to making God deceptive and manipulative, at least it did around 9:45 p.m. on a Thursday in July to me as a sixth grader. Did Noah’s world-wide ﬂood explain some of the massive loss of species found in the fossil record and deal with eons of erosion in a shorter time? Okay, maybe so at 10:00 p. m., but that sort of goes against the idea of saving the animals on the ark (even metaphorically). I don’t believe we came to a conclusive answer. One way of talking about Christianity is through the idea of reconciliation between people and God and just between diﬀerent people too. Our eve ning eﬀorts were exercises in reconciling what we thought of as a more sophisticated literalist approach to biblical texts with scientiﬁc information. The pressure or tension was real because we wanted both to work. The discussions weren’t anti-science in feeling, but science remained a form of secondary explanation to reconcile with our reading of what was pri mary—God’s infallible word. Ultimately, the sun not being around to be the basis of the ﬁrst day pushed us to the not literal twenty-four-hour days of creation viewpoint, at least not until the sun was made. That didn’t mean the evolution of distinct species could be brought into the fold or anything that scandalous. In terms of time periods, it was still the Theo cene, as God’s way of interacting with the world served as the primary breaks in a sort of theological stratigraphy. Maybe each day of creation could serve as the ﬁrst units of measuring periods for the earth. The geology, biology, theology, and history just couldn’t be separated. To respond to these manufactured controversies, Ceccarelli encourages avoiding the common tactic of simply shouting down or decrying the ignorance of those manufacturing the issue. That strategy appears to the public as a “dogmatic and closed scientiﬁc community,” ultimately sup porting the points made by dissenters (204). Instead, she endorses engaging
100 Knowing Creation in the debate, arguing against the most inaccurate points, and quickly shifting away from technical issues to public arena topics about what should be done or what “values should be prioritized,” allowing new moments of agreement to be found (212–13). Ultimately, showing the debate aspect of science and the work of studies arguing back and forth to develop consensus can make science appear fairer and more open, even if there is the fear that it seems less objective (214). This fairness can be a contrast to the givens of Bible-science, and the arguments against Biblescience can take grounds that are less directly about religion and more about the lack of fairness in rejecting outright whole ways of thinking. But that only works if the alternative ways of thinking can be reconciled with the evangelical’s basic values, which include the primacy of the Bible in some way.
The “Bible-Science” of Genesis The social media conversation noted earlier shifted with its own appeal to an inside authority of sorts. Fuller pointed to an article by Rod Martin entitled “A Proposed Bible-Science Perspective on Global Warming” that brought forward presuppositions about science itself. The article comes from the group Answers in Genesis (AIG), which has promoted creationism (against evolution) and Intelligent Design, among other things, since its founding in 1994. They are a powerful voice in some evangelical circles, and regularly appear at conferences and on Christian-aﬃliated radio sta tion. Ken Hamm, who gained wider notoriety for developing the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky is the founder. Their approach involves using credentialed scientists and signiﬁcant aspects of scientiﬁc methodology to establish proofs for the accuracy of their interpretation of the Bible. Science, in this context, is there to tell people about the Bible more than about the material world. The “Proposed Bible-Science” article is worth consideration for under standing how some evangelicals think about climate issues, but for present purposes, it gives insight into an attitude about the Anthropocene and how “Bible-science” works as a rhetorical tool to defend a version of God from all challenges. Gary Rogers, one of the social media conversation partici pants, shows the savvy evangelical to counter the AIG article by saying it “promotes a ‘diﬀerent gospel,” and that it “twist[s]” both the Bible and science (Facebook reply, February 26, 2019). In other words, the counter is to claim heresy on the part of the other side, and few other moves are immediately available, at least in a social media context. At the top of the web page, bizarrely or ironically, is a picture of a single polar bear on a small ice ﬂoe in a broad ocean. The classic emblem of the loss from global warming (the polar bear) is front and center in this antireality of global warming report. Perhaps it is just an association between the topic and polar bears, or perhaps the bear is seen as doing just ﬁne on its chilly raft. In either case, the visual reference to the polar bear can bring
up connotations of extremist environmentalists for some of Martin’s primary evangelical audience. It is a reminder of how environmentalism is not just something to help out with or not but is rather a misplaced priority—emphasizing animal welfare and the earth rather than eternal souls and God. The article itself starts with the notion of global warming as a myth, but before that, starts with a young-earth creationist view, which drastically changes the scientiﬁc evidence allowed. Written in 2010, it starts with “Al Gore” as the ﬁrst words (Martin), setting up the obvious opposition or automatic straw man to knock down. The speciﬁc concern is that Gore calls global warming a “moral, ethical, and spiritual challenge,” which puts the issue ﬁrmly in the realm of religion (Martin). Martin readily agrees that the global warming actions have a moral element, but the moral responsibility for Martin is limited to how humans are aﬀected and is more about human capacity for moral action than a results-based or utilitarian-leaning morality. Martin’s AIG article claims to search for a “uniquely Christian perspec tive” based on the Bible, considering evangelical principles of “creation care” as too vague and generic. More signiﬁcantly, creation care approa ches to environmental work use general biblical principles rather than spe ciﬁc passage analysis (says Martin), suggesting that global warming, too, is actually a question of biblical hermeneutics. The approach to interpretation of a text (the Bible) will then line up with treatment of that same text as full of scientiﬁc data and principles to work alongside more commonly understood scientiﬁc work. Interpretation and construction of ideas is part of the work in sociology of science. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s Laboratory Life looks at how facts are built in a scientiﬁc laboratory. They write about the “construction of a fact” (emphasis in original) even as the fact “appears unconstructed by anyone; the result of rhetorical persuasion in the agnostic ﬁeld is that par ticipants are convinced that they have not been convinced” (240, emphasis in original). This sort of analysis could be used to support the Bible-science argument that all science is biased. What Latour and Woolgar do not ﬁnd, however, is an agreed upon textual premise or identity that has to be sup ported or worked from. The idea of agonistic work in an “agnostic ﬁeld” gives a diﬀerent starting point, where the answers (perhaps about the time of creation/evolution) are not known from the beginning. Scientiﬁc work “is a ﬁerce ﬁght to construct reality” (emphasis in original) for Latour and Woolgar (243). Bible-science both embraces that notion of science as con structing reality and rejects it with a previously given biblical reality. In this sense, Bible-science understands itself as reconstructing reality, but with a bias towards positive proof rather than attempts to disprove. The Biblescience approach uses evidence, studies, hypotheses, and agonistic ﬁelds to support a particular historical, biblical interpretation of a non-Anthropocenic young earth rather than using studies to try to disprove their own hypothesis and see what stands up to the scrutiny.
102 Knowing Creation My extended family had at least two scientists, both assisting with med ical research in various ways. This sort of human-centered, practical science ﬁt easily within a Bible-science approach, where the questions about early life support or causes of mortality gave a sense of purpose to care work and technologies like incubators and practices like having babies sleep on their backs took center stage. The applied science approach ﬁts snugly with a way of reading the Bible that asks for application of the immediate under standing of the words there more than fancy philosophizing about it. Working to save infants in this way is okay because it doesn’t have implications opposing the Bible, at least as far as my father could tell. Returning to Martin, the practical aspects of global warming aren’t really the issue. Just limiting the case to the scientiﬁc realm, evolution is the issue, not global warming. What matters is the implications of evolution or anti-Bible thinking for daily life. Martin explains, The spiritual implications of accepting evolution have been eloquently and comprehensively argued by many creationist organizations. Yet, for far too long the creation-evolution debate has been viewed by many, even in the church, as an abstract, academic topic with little relevance to real life. Man-made global warming is a direct product of evolutionary thinking, and the potential impacts are very applicable to real life. Evolution and “evolutionary thinking” (Martin) are the danger, and some global warming concerns absolutely imply evolution, or at least an old earth (as opposed to the approximately 6,000-year-old earth of young earth creationists and Answers in Genesis). The problem with global warming is its epistemology and its timeline. Telling evangelicals to believe scientists in this context is telling them to reject core beliefs about religious identity in many cases. Evolutionary thinking tends toward understanding speciﬁc species as shaped by and reshaping their environments over long periods of time. Creationism can lead to a sense that species were made to ﬁt a particular environment in a beautiful or fascinating way, but the mutual inﬂuence and sense of massive change over time are left aside. Martin asserts, “Global warming is an arena where the battle between biblical truth and evolutionary untruths is currently raging, and it will aﬀect everyone in very practical ways.” So how can a conversation even begin between a young earth creationist and someone who accepts the evi dence of human-caused global warming and evolution that develops new species? One answer is to step back as far as needed to where there is some point of agreement. This gives other evangelicals (who accept global warming) a prime advantage, as there is already a greater level of agree ment to work with. But it is also a reminder that we are never just talking about the topic at hand. The issue is one of practical authority, even expertise. Martin asserts,
God is the creator of the universe. In His Word, the Bible, God has addressed every area of life (family, state, church, science, man, sin, etc.). God’s Word is truth. The revelation given to us in Scripture is suﬃcient to enable man to understand the world around him and make decisions that will honor God and beneﬁt mankind. The real expert is the person who can best interpret the Bible, and in my house, that was generally considered to be the Baptists. They had their own in-ﬁghting over interpretation of course, but the real stakes and boundaries of any scientiﬁc issue, from SIDS to climate change, needed a biblical per spective to have legitimacy. The Bible is not just literary or moral, it is historical, and it is not just historical, it can be scientiﬁc as well. Science that claims to be agnostic is just denying its real foundations, so the Bible teacher can be the real authority in almost all areas, even if not a technical expert. Martin’s paper proceeds with a formal structure, deﬁning terms and listing “primary issues” before going to the Bible. The constant concern is that work on false global warming costs “billions (probably trillions) of dollars” and asks for changes in energy usage that would be a waste themselves. Martin explains why Al Gore and his ilk are concerned: they are evolutionists who “believe the earth’s atmosphere developed O2 only as a result of photosynthesis by plants or bacteria.” So, the destruction of forests or changes in the atmosphere by human action could return us to a time where the chemical make-up of the atmosphere is poor for humans. The mix of science and religion is direct, as the brief section on biblical narrative accuracy cites a study from the Creation Research Society in conjunction with the Institute for Creation Research that claims the Genesis account of creation is historical narrative, rather than poetry or myth, with a “99.996% probability at a 99.5% conﬁdence level” (Martin, citing Var diman, Snelling, and Chaﬃn). The key points then turn on the established Genesis account. The atmosphere and plants (the two main topics of con cern, says Martin) are created and not products of evolution. The implica tion is that the basis for climate change science is wrong. A long section explains how Noah’s ﬂood buried fossil fuels and brought about an ice age, providing an alternate and supposedly biblical explanation. On top of that focus on Genesis as history, global warming is not a moral issue or mis places the moral element. The common argument of humans being given dominion over the earth is used. “Using earth resources for the beneﬁt of mankind has never been a moral issue. Ignoring God and disobeying His commands is a moral issue” (Martin). Unnecessary destruction is wrong, but so is not acting with dominion to use the earth for the beneﬁt of humans—the elevated species. God being in total control of creation is emphasized, and even when global warming events sound like the tribulation in Revelation, they are not, for that event is direct action by God as well. Ultimately, the
104 Knowing Creation purposelessness of evolution is to be fought against, as described in a table listing topics like the role of plants or the overall point of the planet and how a creationist view considers those topics (plants are for food and the planet is for people to live on) versus how an evolutionary view under stands those topics (plants are to pump oxygen into the atmosphere and the planet is without purpose) (Martin). The paper goes on to deal with numerous scientiﬁc arguments from cli mate scientists, but always addressing explanations of phenomena through the required biblical framework established beforehand. That framework serves as a lens that will reject virtually all climate change science out of hand. Something as major as CO2 levels are dealt with by saying, The hazardous level for humans is far above concentrations attainable by burning all our fossil fuel reserves. In addition, the correlation between CO2 and an alleged global temperature increase is weak at best and most likely spurious … If the CO2 wasn’t a problem in the lush pre-Flood earth, it shouldn’t be a problem now. (Martin) The scientiﬁc focus continues as methodology, data collection, and data interpretation by climate scientists are all brought into question. Ultimately, it is a pro-CO2 argument. Martin states, “Increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to improve crop production around the world, beneﬁting mankind.” At this point, the reasoning is not just arguable in terms of the results for crops and humans, it also implies the diﬀerent timescale under consideration. This is quite seriously a young earth that may not last that long before Jesus returns, so improved crop production in the near-term would be a priority. The thinking uses diﬀerent scales than geologic epochs, Anthropocene or not. The strategies here include an imitation of science, using studies, techni cal terminology, formal organization structures, and a focus on evidence. In fact, the Bible itself is treated scientiﬁcally, as the approach to interpreting is evidenced by cited studies of literal accuracy claims. At the same time, a framework for interpretation is established that rules out most scientiﬁc work, leaving space for only a few preferred or sponsored studies. Why is global warming such a big deal? For a young earth creationist, accepting human-made global warming rejects God’s sovereignty over the earth. Worse, it implies that evolution is true, therefore the Genesis creation story is poetry instead of history, therefore the Bible is no longer trustworthy for historical accuracy, therefore the whole story of Jesus Christ as savior comes into question, therefore faith is lost and God is rejected. It’s an issue of fear, of security, of protecting faith and religious identity—a modern, rationalist religious identity, where faith is not a leap of faith, but rather understood as a completely coherent and logical set of propositions that aﬀect one’s life. Of course, the key to that set of propositions is ﬁrst
accepting the historical narrative accuracy of the Bible in scientiﬁc-like terms. Some environmental issues need to be addressed so long as it is clear that the issues are from God-caused events, not from human activity. “It can be expected that several trends evident since the Flood, however, will con tinue: sea level will rise as polar glaciers continue to melt, and deserts will expand. These trends, as we have shown, have little to do with CO2, they are a consequence of a God-ordained event, the Flood,” says Martin. Humans are the primary creatures in terms of importance, but as geologic forces they have no power relative to God’s activities. These divine activ ities, again, can strangely mirror geological events, but have a supernatural rather than natural explanation. If evolution connected humans more to other species and the Anthro pocene makes humans a geologic force, then Bible-science is a rejection of these human–nature or human–environment participations. Rejecting evo lution is a touchstone of Bible-science that strives for human distinctiveness from other species. With issues like climate change, human connection to the earth itself is rejected in favor of denying signiﬁcant impact in either direction—by humans or by the earth. The commonalities humans have with other creatures are primarily in terms of both being part of creation and from the same creator. In broader terms, the question is about which relationships are primary. Bible-science works against anything suggesting that the human–divine relationship, followed by human–human relation ships are most important. The Anthropocene makes human relationships with the earth of primary importance, which works directly against the spiritual ends supposed to be primary with evangelical faith. Geologic time rather than theological time changes the terms of human experience in a way that pushes attention toward earth and away from heaven.
Radioisotopes and a Young Earth The willingness to take on big questions and starting them with an open Bible on the coﬀee table ﬁts right in with the Institute for Creation Research’s study of earth’s age that was a key reference point in Martin’s article. Their Bible-science foregrounds philosophical assumptions, even if its proponents ignore some of their own or are unwilling to question those. John Morris, in his prologue to the big Radioisotopes and The Age of the Earth research project sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research, gives a sort of defense of Bible-science that could come straight out of a Sunday night Bible education special topics class in the fellowship hall in an evangelical church basement. He starts by asserting an openness to new data and being willing to adjust understandings of the world based on that data (iii). He immediately sets up a controversy between creationists and evolutionary scientists, which is a manufactured controversy in terms of the scientiﬁc community, but less so for the public arena and private beliefs in
106 Knowing Creation the United States. Morris spends his time on “presuppositions,” noting that creationists “quickly admit that they approach science with a bias” (iii). This common tactic of breaking down any chance at objectivity or equal izing all views because they are biased calls for distinguishing between dif ferent sorts of bias or approaches to it. Instead of attempting to build experiments that speciﬁcally counter one’s own possible biases, as many scientists do, Bible-science embraces its biases and works directly from them. Morris might counter that evolution is embraced as a bias that sci entists work from, so it turns into a question of having well-established presuppositions. Creation and evolution are both called “historical sci ences,” since they deal with accounts of the past (Morris iv). His argument is that the creation presupposition explains scientiﬁc data better than evo lution as a presupposition does (iv). Even if one grants the idea that both are presuppositions for scientiﬁc work (which many would not), the issue is where the presupposition comes from. Evolution comes from other scien tiﬁc studies, while the creation approach comes from a religious text in this case. Morris also promotes Bible-science for its potential moral value, relative to evolution and its “destructive consequences in society and individual lives” (iv). No explicit events are mentioned, but issues ranging from per mission of homosexuality to racial biases are available (both immoral in Morris’s implications), depending on one’s moral points of emphasis. The scientists doing the critique of radioisotope dating show the priorities of Bible-science too. Morris describes them as each “a true professional in his ﬁeld, with research and publications in radioisotope dating” (iv). So, the idea of being legitimate according to contemporary academic standards still matters. But each is also a “mature, Bible-believing Christian, committed to young-earth Creation” (iv). The third trait is an openness to changing beliefs or ideas based on data. So academic credentials, the right kind of Christian presuppositions, and a focus on data are the three elements. The ﬁrst and third function to try and give legitimacy to an external audience, in an attempt to overcome the young-earth Creation credential. That bias was addressed earlier as one of two main approaches to science, so really it would be normal to either include that or an evolution-bias for a study. Bible-science makes the biases the ground of the study, not something to be questioned by the study. It is ultimately an argument about the presuppositions and the history, not the data or results or interpretation of the results. Morris’s perspective would sound almost obvious to much of the evangelical community I grew up in. Young-earth creation was less required, but of course someone’s scientiﬁc or political or social ideas could be thrown out as suspect if they weren’t that Bible-believing Christian. The importance of the Bible for this science cannot be overstated. Morris describes the initial meetings of the group as full of diﬀering opinions in order to show a kind of curiosity and openness. That openness to change is never exempliﬁed but is used as a sort of replacement for popular notions
of scientiﬁc objectivity, which is set up as an impossible (and deceptive) goal associated with evolutionary scientists. “Right from the start each sci entist declared his complete faith in Scripture” asserts Morris (iv). He goes on to describe their discussion of verbs used in the Genesis creation account and the implications of those verbs for the time diﬀerent processes took (vii). It is a New Critical close reading of sorts—but one used as scientiﬁc theorizing. The creation narrative is used to argue that natural laws func tioned diﬀerently during the days of creation, which opens a great deal of distance between Bible-science and anything like standard modern science. Then the story of Noah’s Flood becomes another break that changes the data and makes it hard to understand what came before. My bedroom wallpaper when I was young was covered in Noah’s ﬂood scenes, or rather, as beﬁts expectations of a child’s bedroom, it depicted pairs of jungle and savannah animals climbing a ramp into a middle-sized wooden boat. Their colorful trailing into the ark on a semi-wipeable white background gives the happy version of a destructive ﬂood. It doesn’t show the preparation like one might see in the storage “arks” in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood or numerous other science ﬁction ark spaceships heading out into the universe. I didn’t have dinosaurs to play with by my ark-boarding scene, but we thoroughly covered fossils and dinosaurs in second grade with my Christian teacher in a public school. He had been one of my dad’s best friends when they were in school and seemed to love science. At home, the dinosaur and fossil record were left open for debate within Bible-science boundaries. Did God leave those fos sils there? That didn’t seem consistent with God’s character. Were carbon dating systems wrong and God created the dinosaurs and they just hap pened to go extinct? More likely. It would condense evolutionary history (or non-evolutionary history) and the age of the earth, but that was part of the point. Or did Noah’s ﬂood have something to do with it? Did that kill the dinosaurs and potentially spread fossils and minerals all over the earth, making modern scientists who didn’t believe in a worldwide ﬂood mis interpret the data? Quite possibly. Maybe the ﬂood was regional to their known world at the time, but that didn’t help with the dinosaurs as much. We weren’t sure, but the science had to be ﬁgured out and taken into account, but within the boundaries of certain historically trusting inter pretations of the Bible, including the reality of a worldwide ﬂood about 5000 years ago. Bible-science uses biblical stories, taken as historical events, to set the rules for understanding geological and other scientiﬁc data. The earth and even the laws of physics are more ﬂuid and changing than most think, say the Bible-scientists, not because of the apparent strangeness of quantum physics, but because of God’s creative actions and historical interventions. Fundamentally, the present cannot be used to study the past. How a phy sical process works now does not necessarily compare to how it worked during the days of creation or before the great ﬂood. This move attempts to
108 Knowing Creation delegitimize contemporary studies that show evolutionary processes hap pening now and opens up the interpretation of data to allow for altered or new physical processes that can keep something like radioisotope dating in line with the predetermined timeline of the biblical creation account. In other words, Bible-science is willing to change natural laws and processes before it changes an understanding of the biblical creation story to poetry rather than history. In Larry Vardiman’s introduction to the Radioisotopes text, the age of the earth remains primary. The relationship in my father’s stories about the car crashes was between science and time, and that science-time connection is central in other ways to evangelical thinking about science. My father and I aren’t the only ones to play “dictator of the universe.” At this point, it’s primarily ill-informed adults on social media playing it, just with a bit less stoicism (although it still can be an excuse to stay up late on a summer night). For Vardiman, “a literal interpretation of Scripture and much sci entiﬁc evidence indicates that the Creation of the earth, the solar system, and the universe occurred a few thousand years ago” (1). He goes on to suggest that evolution’s need for long time periods pushed scientists toward an older earth (2). The connectedness to and separation from other crea tures is still the issue, and the Anthropocene proposal furthers that unde sirable linkage to other species and the earth. He notes a couple of ways that Christians have accommodated evolution into the Genesis creation story but is concerned that “the eﬀect is to degrade the reliability and authority of Scripture” (Vardiman 2). The primary concern of Bible-science stands out explicitly in the circular move of using the Bible to interpret scientiﬁc work so that it supports the authority of the Bible. This Bible-science is to help the weak in faith, who need more evidence against the dominant scientiﬁc culture, so they do not start questioning biblical statements about creation or, worse, about Jesus Christ. It is a science for the service of souls, and rather than opposing science and faith, treats science as evidence for faith. This faith does not want to be blind. Vardiman points out a main claim of the Institute for Creation Research study, that the large number of daughter isotopes that have decayed from other radioisotopes can be explained by the existence of a much higher rate of decay in the past than is observed now (4). Again, Bible-science says that how nature works used to be diﬀerent in other ages. These ages are not before the Anthropocene, but are times of Creation, the Fall, and the Flood. The data does not have to be changed for this. Instead, the consistency of how elements behave changes to accommodate the young-earth version of Genesis. The ICR group questions even the idea and role of development in creation, saying that all isotopes may have been created in current amounts (5). The potential rejection of process altogether works against change in creatures (evolution) and in the earth (climate change). They imply that the earth is a much more stable thing than deep time would allow, and the change that matters is in response to God, not to natural forces. Ultimately,
the group does not agree on exactly how to deal with the age of the earth issue, but their “uniﬁed premise is that observation and theory should always be subservient to a proper understanding of the Word of God” (6). The implications of a statement like this are signiﬁcant. Any creationist considered to be an appropriate interpreter of the Bible can claim, within that community, to have more accurate scientiﬁc knowledge about the ori gins and early days of earth than any secular scientist. The authority is built-in for the believer, and arguments in favor of the ethos of secular scientists are undercut from the beginning. Again, from a rhetorical angle, the insider, who is a Bible-believer of some sort, can have much more eﬀect. John Houghton, an evangelical who oversaw the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for many years, may have had the greatest eﬀect of anyone thus far on encouraging some evangelicals to take climate change seriously, simply by the combination of his IPCC role and his religious beliefs. Bible-science must deal not only with things like radioisotope data, but also with their understanding of the nature of God and the Bible. One of the main scientiﬁc obstacles to their work that Vardiman notes is “theolo gical diﬃculties with the notion of ‘decay’ prior to the Fall” (8). If creation is still perfect at that point, any sort of decay could go against the “perfect world God created before the sin of Adam and Eve” (8–9). Physical pro cesses can be tied to value judgments and even to the character of God or accuracy of God’s claims (in the Bible) for the Bible-science workers. Values are not something that potentially interfere with a study or motivate a study, they are one of the scientiﬁc problems to address in the study. Again, the moral data, interpretive data, and physical data are treated as if they are on roughly the same plane with the end goal of defending the scientiﬁc, historical, and theological accuracy of the Bible.
Religious Rhetoric To use what can be religious language, how can reconciliation take place, between powerful, unsubstantiated views like climate change rejection, coming from speciﬁc belief systems, and a perspective that takes climate change seriously? More to the point, with climate change rejection waning, how do climate or other environmental issues become daily priorities in communities where time and science are understood diﬀerently? The rhetorical work is to make the connections possible between beliefs that were previously assumed to be irreconcilable. If scientiﬁc consensus is accepted in one area, like climate change, it can inﬂuence the perspective on science itself. Those evangelicals, like Barnes, who seem to take the scien tiﬁc consensus as generally accurate, and then work to reconcile their bib lical interpretation with that knowledge are still connecting the Bible to science, but in a much diﬀerent way than an AIG-style Bible-science. Showing how that reconciliation of science and even forms of biblical
110 Knowing Creation literalism (which never takes everything literally) may not result in the sort of epistemology many academics would endorse. However, it could make conversation and collaboration across belief diﬀerences much more possi ble. Asking an evangelical to connect a scientiﬁc idea to the Bible a bit diﬀerently is a much more reasonable request than asking for the whole belief foundation of the Bible to be changed. Sharon Crowley, in her study of fundamentalist Christianity and its political rhetoric, explains that the focus on simplicity, clarity, and biblical inerrancy create a closed loop of sorts. She points out, “In rhetorical terms the ideology of clarity opens few spaces for invention” (147). New approa ches for speaking across basic value diﬀerences or to a group working deductively from uncontestable principles taken from a sacred text are hard to come by. Crowley argues for a rhetorical approach with fundamentalists that goes beyond calm, reasoned arguments and marshalled evidence. Powerful feelings, visceral experiences, and a wide range of rhetorical resources are needed, in her estimation (Crowley 3–4). Crowley uses two terms that are key for environmental issues: “apoc alyptism” and “dominion theology,” but her use is in a more strictly poli tical context. Regarding the fundamentalist story about the end of the world and the notion of having responsibility and power over civic life, Crowley asserts that The apocalyptic ﬂavor of dominion theology—the belief that Chris tians can hasten the Second Coming by creating a Christian kingdom here on earth—motivates Christian activists to convert unbelievers (Detwiler 105–11). But it also motivates them to alter the ideological underpinnings of American democracy. (Crowley 9) Apocalyptism and dominion theology take on new meanings in the context of major climate issues. The Second Coming and the sense that it might be soon removes urgency and even value in making long-term decisions about care for the earth. It is going to end before long anyway, so preventing a degree change in global average temperature is simply the wrong priority. Dominion is not just about a civic life guided by fundamentalist or evan gelical Christian values. In the context of environmental issues, dominion means humans set up over nature, having some responsibility for it, but from the perspective of nature as a tool or resource for growing God’s kingdom on earth—with converts and the right kind of laws and values. Crowley references Stanley Fish’s The Trouble with Principle to note a moment of emotion or attachment coming into sharp contrast with a belief and a possible change in who or what is seen as authoritative as two pos sible avenues for change. But these changes seem to just happen; Crowley does not use them as spaces of rhetorical action (189–90). While the impli cation perhaps should instead be that the role of the rhetor is to try to
bring about moments of contrast between emotion and belief or to put authorities in surprising new lights, Crowley is right that these are diﬃcult tasks and oﬀers alternatives. She emphasizes aﬀective or bodily responses in the passion and identity that comes with fervent belief, while also arguing that disenfranchised people in the community or those on the edges of the community are most likely to be reached by a dissenting argument (192). The goal is a change in the system of connected beliefs, breaking the assumption, for example, that evolution is anti-Bible or that climate action requires giving up personal liberty. Crowley suggests reaching out to sub alterns who can then create possible change from within the community (194). In the evangelical community, which has a broader but overlapping set of possible political positions compared to the fundamentalism Crowley writes about, Barnes is a minor outlier. His speciﬁc experience and profes sional knowledge of meteorology puts him in a community where the cli mate assumptions are quite diﬀerent than in evangelicalism. This contrast between communities is something he has seemingly reconciled with little apparent diﬃculty, so he then works as an insider who may or may not inﬂuence others. The ideas that can be brought in from evangelical’s sec ondary communities or identities are a potentially powerful rhetorical approach, as is the model of someone who has reconciled supposedly untenable positions (Bible-believer and serious about working on climate change). In the context of a single-minded belief, someone has to provide multiple perspectives, which can come from a case like Barnes’s, or can come from an outsider who is willing to seriously work with the pre suppositions of a true believer. When the controversy is about scientiﬁc epistemologies more than about a particular issue, the insider (or sympa thetic outsider) needs to provide a model of how to live that identity (such as evangelical Christian) in a way that can embrace accepted scientiﬁc approaches.
Anthropocene Time The question of when life begins and ends from my father’s dictator of the universe game took on new signiﬁcance for him and for me several years ago. After two decades of health issues, a heart attack put him on life support and led to likely signiﬁcant brain damage should he come out of the medically induced coma he was in. He survived the heart attack in the ﬁrst place partially because he was literally in a university hospital for other procedures when it hit him. Questions of time around him became both immediate and eternal (on the religious side of things). I was giving a ﬁnal in a college literature class at the end of a fall semester when my brother called. Normally my phone wouldn’t be on in class, but my father had been in the hospital for several days and this wasn’t the ﬁrst call. Thankfully, my father had worked enough in the medical sciences to be aware of some of the practical knowledge and limitations there; he made his wishes about life support clear years earlier and repeatedly. I stepped out into the hall and
112 Knowing Creation helped decide to end earthly time for my father, letting him go (according to his own sometimes tortured beliefs) into an eternal time that dwarfs geological time. The ungraspable time of the eternal makes it easier to not worry about ineﬀable geological time. And the training in biology my father had at a Christian college in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t need to focus on evolution outside of a Bible-science context, where the theory of evolu tion could be held as a useful, secular tool in all the (few) parts that didn’t directly conﬂict with a fairly literal reading of the Genesis creation stories. With Bible-science, the end of a Christian’s life never really comes, just a phase shift of sorts, while this earth will have its end. In a reverse of aca demic science and much experience, human time is bigger and longer than geological time, so climate change might as well be just a change in the weather for the weekend, In the public arena that is social media, Fuller spent signiﬁcant time on the point of weather forecasters being unable to predict that weather now, and that being an indication of God’s control and human ignorance about the climate. Besides eliding that weather/climate diﬀerence, and ignoring the improvements in meteorological forecasting, her point emphasizes the Bible’s statements about ignorance on the part of humans. What is not known should not have major actions taken on it. The move is not a total denial of climate change, but a denial of real knowledge about the climate. In all the back-and-forth, Fuller emphasizes that working from “evolution based science” will never work. It must be Bible-science or all the assump tions for looking at climate data are wrong from the start. Evolutionary time goes with the geological time in the idea of the Anthropocene as an opposition to the young earth belief and to timelines in general that focus on elements of religious stories. A brief consideration of the Anthropocene shows the temporal diﬀerences behind some diﬃculties in accepting realities of climate change. Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz suggest that the Anthro pocene can be understood as a coming together of perspectives “as the reunion of human (historical) time and earth (geological) time, between human agency and non-human agency” (32). When the whole timeline is denied, those cannot come together so well, as with the 6000-year-old earth. For that young earth idea, everything is historical time—including geology, and the Bible provides that history. What Bible-science does is speciﬁcally argue against a geologic time at all as understood by nearly all scientists. A theological timeline is the replacement for geological time, and the reunion is not between the social and the natural, but between the human and the divine. Some versions of evangelicalism emphasize a time structure called dispensationalism, where earth and human history are organized around God’s way of dealing with people and people’s changing roles in stewarding creation. Speciﬁc dispensations or periods can diﬀer, but pre-Fall in the Garden of Eden, from the Fall to Noah’s ﬂood, and the time from Moses to Jesus Christ are a few of them.
While Bonneuil and Fressoz argue that the “Anthropocene challenges the modern deﬁnition of freedom, long conceived in opposition to nature” (40), the Theocene pits freedom against human nature, with the environment as a tool used by God and humans in a spiritual struggle. The material is spiritual. The main idea for Bonneuil and Fressoz is that the Anthropocene is a narrative of awakening, where scientists have shown us our connec tions with and impact on the environment, mostly since the middle of the twentieth century (13). They critique this idea and say to get speciﬁc with climate and energy narratives, writing many histories tied to capitalism, consumption, energy, reﬂection on the environment, resistance to earth harm, and others. They emphasize politicizing the story, not just providing labels. Jeremy Davies also understands the Anthropocene as human and geolo gic time being brought together (2). Like others, he rejects ideas of sus tainability in relation to climate, and wants a focus on living in and past environmental crisis with everything from species to societies to the non living as legitimate actors (193–99). The discussions within contemporary evangelicalism are not at this level of accepting major changes. They are between denial of signiﬁcant climate issues or utilizing individual practices and market forces to sustain the status quo as much as possible. The Anthropocene, however, can still be a tool for rethinking human roles in an evangelical worldview. If the Anthropocene idea indicates that a new thing is coming—something that comes after the fairly stable climate, carbonbased capitalist civilization for Davies (145)—then it can move to language of resurrection or reconciliation. Less time- and economy-driven, Timothy Morton encourages giving up the idea of nature because it implies a human-centered view (xxxiv). The Anthropocene is human-centered, but in the sense of humans being inter woven with that nature as one major geological force among others. His preferred rhetorical strategy and general attitude is about playful care, rather than the seriousness he associates with a religious style (131, 146). Perhaps ironically, the climate-change denying evangelical perspective can still come with some concern for a healthy human environment and has a sort of freedom to care in a playful way, since environmental impact does not ultimately matter. Of course, this mostly leads to exploiting resources and further destruction of ecosystems, rather than inventing new forms of environmental care. How can one have a conversation that inﬂuences others, given the divides over scientiﬁc thinking? Is it even possible to work across these diﬀerences? And how much is it appropriate to work with assumptions (say, about Bible-science) that one might disagree with in order to make a connection? The use of secular scientiﬁc methods, but within the frame work and assumptions of an historical (not poetic) and literalist view of the Bible is the hallmark of Bible-science. Whether it counts as real science or should be debunked as not science is not the important point here. It is part
114 Knowing Creation of a group identity that can see itself as more rational and more scientiﬁc than secular approaches. The implication is that secular (most) scientiﬁc work is missing a ﬁrm ground in its starting assumptions. In the Bible-science approach, the Bible itself is taken as the most established data to work from (the authority of God is a lot stronger than peer review). Again, this is an approach that is common in fundamentalist American Christianity and is one of the options and inﬂuences in the larger realm of evangelical Christianity. Certainly, major atmospheric scientists like the previously mentioned Katherine Hayhoe, who has done signiﬁcant work to both research and communicate the realities of climate change (see Nuccitelli), serve as a diﬀerent end of the spectrum for science and climate discussion in evangelicalism. But the debate is there, and when climate issues are seen as secondary to more individualized moral concerns or the future well-being of souls, a rejection of climate change is easy when the Bible can be cited as a source. Bible-science functions as a hermeneutic, a way of interpreting of interpreting both science and the Bible. It is also a way of determining credibility, as a “godly” or respectable source is one who validates the Bible as the basis of knowledge. Science is not separate from the individual as a method or body of knowledge but rather is tied to a moral-spiritual identity. Stewardship is a primary way to talk about earth care in Christian terms, but stewards are secondary. They just take care of things until the real owner returns. The Anthropocene, in these terms, makes everything too much about the stewards and not about the real ruler—God. The problem with the Anthropocene is not just climate claims, but the centrality of humans in material terms using a geologic rather than spiritual-historical timescale. In rhetorical practice, of course trust is important, so evangeli cals hearing from their own is potentially powerful—as in the case of Hayhoe in general and Barnes on Facebook. But for Bible-science, the rhetorical task involves treating that Bible in a way that lets it still be pri mary for a person or group’s identity, while providing possibilities for interpreting it that work with accepted climate science. Because many fears are about the removal of biblical status in the ﬁrst place, and climate issues are tied to evolution-creation debates for many evangelicals, interpretive and moral questions may have to come before any discussion of science. Put another way, Bible-science puts science in hermeneutical and moral terms, and simply denying that science has those aspects just leads to butting heads, as happened with Barnes and Fuller. Creative oﬀerings of how cli mate science can be compatible with morally valuing humans and living with the Bible as one’s primary guide are a start. In other words, what might sometimes be called for is accepting that for many our period is the Theocene rather than the Anthropocene. But maybe the Anthropocene needs a new use in this evangelical context. Maybe the Anthropocene is not particular years, but rather is the time where God has given the most attention to humans, and their lives on earth have mattered to everything created as they act with signiﬁcant freedom.
My father and I never explored climate change in our “dictator-of-the universe” game. It certainly wasn’t a known topic in our circles at that point, nor was it a national issue until just after we had moved on to other topics. Our discussions of time had to do with what eternal meant and especially what it meant for the beginnings of things more than the endings. Geological time didn’t come into it because what mattered was God’s time and periods of how God worked with the universe and humans, not peri ods of change in our planet’s history. My father’s scientiﬁc training informed all our conversations, but if I read the Bible well, my interpreta tions there could set the basis for any use of scientiﬁc knowledge. A twelve year-old reading Scripture faithfully could have more authority over big scientiﬁc issues than an atheist doctor or researcher. We knew we had virtually no power or authority over life and death topics, but our scientiﬁc author ity could feel, just a little, like it came from a divine Ruler of the Universe.
Note 1 The names of the three people involved in the social media conversation refer enced in this paper (Barnes, Fuller, and Rogers) have been changed for their privacy. The Facebook posts were all accessed on March 7, 2019.
References Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Anchor, 2010. Bonneuil, Christophe, and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz. The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us. Translated by David Fernbach. Verso, 2013. Brewer, Edward C., Religious Rhetoric: Dividing a Nation or Building Community. Lexington Books, 2019. Callicott, J. Baird. “Environmental Ethics in the Anthropocene.” Transtext(e)s Transcultures: Journal of Global Cultural Studies, vol. 13, 2018. https://journals. openedition.org/transtexts/1064. Ceccarelli, Leah. “Manufactured Scientiﬁc Controversy: Science, Rhetoric, and Public Debate.” Rhetoric & Public Aﬀairs, vol. 14, no. 2, June2011, pp. 195–228. doi:10.1353/rap.2010.0222. Chernilo, Daniel. “The Question of the Human in the Anthropocene Debate.” European Journal of Social Theory, June 2, 2016. doi:10.1177/1368431016651874. Crowley, Sharon. Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. U of Pittsburgh P, 2006. Davies, Jeremy. The Birth of the Anthropocene. U of California P, 2016. Detwiler, Fritz. Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right’s Fight to Redeﬁne America’s Schools. New York UP, 1999. Eubanks, Philip. The Troubled Rhetoric and Communication of Climate Change: The Argumentative Situation. Routledge, 2015. Fish, Stanley. The Trouble with Principle. Harvard UP, 2001. Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Harvard UP, 2000. Latour, Bruno and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientiﬁc Facts. 2nd edition. Princeton UP, 1986. First published in 1979.
116 Knowing Creation Martin, Rod. “A Proposed Bible-Science Perspective on Global Warming.” May 26, 2010. https://answersingenesis.org/environmental-science/climate-change/a-prop osed-bible-science-perspective-on-global-warming/?fbclid=IwAR0Gd8- E46wT9Z uh-nrQ53skAQW-XRZOtzl2fkrAcSMd8Dc-0cOQEFVxTTY. Morris, John. “Prologue.” In Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-earth Creationist Research Initiative, edited by Larry Vardiman, A. A. Snelling, and E. F. Chaﬃn. Institute for Creation Research, 2005. Morton, Timothy. Being Ecological. Penguin Books, 2018. Noll, Mark. “Extended Interview.” Interview by Judy Valente. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, April 16, 2004. www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2004/04/16/ap ril-16-2004-mark-noll-extended-interview/11416. Nuccitelli, Dana. “Study: Katharine Hayhoe is Successfully Convincing Doubtful Evangelicals about Climate Change.” The Guardian, August 28, 2017. www. theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/aug/28/study-k atharine-hayhoe-is-successfully-convincing-doubtful-evangelicals-about-climate-c hange. Olson, Roger E. Westminster Handbook of Evangelical Theology. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. Vardiman, Larry, A. A. Snelling, and E. F. Chaﬃn, eds. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: Results of a Young-earth Creationist Research Initiative. El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 2005. Von Bergen, Megan and Bethany Mannon. “Talking Climate Faith: Katharine Hayhoe and Christian Rhetoric(s) of Climate Change.” enculturation, no. 32, 2021. https://www.enculturation.net/Talking%20Climate%20Faith. Washington Post Editorial Board. “Want a Green New Deal? Here’s a Better One.” Washington Post, February 24, 2019. www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/want-a -green-new-deal-heres-a-better-one/2019/02/24/2d7e491c-36d2-11e9-af5b-b51b7ﬀ3 22e9_story.html.
Sin and Righteousness Aﬀective Dissonance and Comparing Environmental and Political Priorities
It has felt nearly impossible since the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s to talk about American evangelicalism without talking about presidential politics, the Supreme Court, and abortion—to name a few topics. Even when the issue at hand is environmental actions and attitudes, these other political and ethical concerns don’t hide for long. Abortion, for example, stays salient in evangeli cal politics regardless of ﬂuctuations in other priorities. Like some perspectives on climate or extinction, it is a matter of life and death. Exigence is partly a question of why some issues stand out as central to a group’s experience and why others don’t. As we have already seen, sometimes a topic like environ mental concerns can be felt as competition against a particular identity, pri mary purpose, or authoritative basis for knowledge. Here, environmental concerns struggle for attention with an issue like abortion for competition. Aﬀect theory and an exploration of disgust, paired with an exploration of Wayne Grudem and Rachel Held Evans’s diﬀering evangelical perspectives on 2016 U.S. presidential election issues, zoom in on a struggle over aﬀective priorities and control of life issues. The notion of aﬀective dissonance, where felt responses come into conﬂict with each other, becomes a primary way to think about how changes in evangelical (and other) priorities can happen. Talking with evangelicals about the environment requires paying attention to aﬀective responses and the experiences shaping those responses, even outside of environmental topics. This chapter departs from direct environmental dis cussion at moments to theorize strategies for change when environmental topics are overwhelmed by other priorities. Making life topics central is a strategy for perhaps the largest and most mainstream evangelical environmental organization in the U.S., the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN; Creationcare.org). They brought together the variety of smaller movements on environmental topics within evangelicalism to attempt to create a more inﬂuential presence. Whether the issue is fracking, carbon taxes, water quality, or climate change the EEN consistently speaks in terms of life and a broad ethic of being pro-life. The notion that “water is life” is not foreign to the EEN and they pair anti-abortion ideas with environmental work like limiting fracking, cutting carbon emissions, or improving water quality as a pro-children stance broadly. Calvin Beisner, a former seminary ethics professor, argues against a broad ethic of life that includes immigration, healthcare, or environment as DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-7
118 Sin and Righteousness key issues. His approach, presented publicly before the 2020 presidential election in an online evangelical newspaper, The Christian Post, speciﬁcally responds to Christians claiming to vote for Biden on pro-life grounds. Beisner draws a ﬁrm distinction between the direct killing he sees in abor tion and indirect possible harms related to other government policies. Now, one could argue how indirect some of those harms are, in Flint, Michigan, for example, but Beisner speciﬁcally cites the title of his booklet, “How Does the Creation Care Movement Threaten the Pro-Life Movement?” Beisner rejects any sense of pro-life tying to anything other than abortion, mostly based on the grounds of previous usage of the term “pro-life” and a sense of danger from any other competing priorities. The ethical grounds are about rights against direct harm being real and rights for anything being a form of governmental control that takes away freedoms. He sum marizes, “Negative rights are the implication of true, biblical justice; positive rights are the expression of Marxist/socialist egalitarianism.” As diﬃcult as it is for me to not respond to the philosophical argument (rights language at all may not be the best way to think about “biblical justice” and his views can sound like reading libertarianism into the Bible), the point is that being pro-life remains a cultural trump card within evan gelicalism, and one that is more and more tied to or used against environ mental concerns. The politics and ethics of abortion are inseparable from the politics and ethics of environmental action when talking with evangeli cals. Sometimes abortion is in the background and sometimes, as with Beisner, it is front and center. While Beisner’s aggressive tone and sense of certainty in all views he presents may not show it, the feelings of loss and horror and sadness for many thousands of human lives are real for many evangelicals when thinking about abortion. The hypocrisy they often see in trying to preserve a near-extinct bird while advocating for allowing the killing of unborn or pre-born (to mention two terms used) children can be as confounding as the hypocrisy the non-evangelical sees in conservative Christians working for policies against refugees and the poor. In terms of environmental ethics, Beisner’s ideas reject notions like “slow violence” from literary scholar Rob Nixon’s work. Nixon calls for attention to the long-term eﬀects of nuclear testing or sea-level rise, particularly on com munities of the poor and is speciﬁcally concerned with the diﬃculties of motivation and representation around violence that takes place spread out over time and people. Beisner rejects this as a form of violence that matters and limits his values to speciﬁc, individual actions with relatively immedi ate eﬀects. The attention to individuals over systems for Beisner is con sistent with a focus on individual sin and redemption in much evangelicalism that on its own makes it more of a stretch to prioritize systemic and long-term issues like most environmental ones. Sometimes, I wish I were a fundamentalist, maybe even a touch like Beisner in his apparent certainty, a certainty that can always be pushed oﬀ the self and onto just trusting God and the Bible. Not so much the media
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images of fundamentalists always being angry or hating anyone diﬀerent or wearing weird clothes, although those elements can be part of it, and hating others occasionally comes with a sense of closeness and set-apartness for your own group. The number of times I’ve heard how few real Christians there are in a particular town (“It’s 98% unchurched”) belies what people would say about their own religious identity, not to mention the sense that the United States does, in fact, still have Christianity as the predominant religion. Being the select few is important; it’s cozy. We in this little sanc tuary are on a mission together to take care of each other and save those who can be reached in that other 98%. It’s not the Westboro Baptist sort of fundamentalism that’s appealing, it’s that sense of being so right and spe cial and full of purpose in unity with this group of others who will have your back when your driveway needs to be shoveled or you need a new roof or the government tells you that two men can get married at the venue you own. Of course, this is an idealized version of fundamentalism (not what most usually hear) and does not just apply to Christian fundamentalism. While something on the border between U.S. Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism is what I grew up with, perhaps making this desire for fun damentalism just a form of nostalgia for childhood, the principle applies to other belief systems. At times, I wouldn’t mind being an environmental fundamentalist, certain of the coming end of the world and the need to band together with the few other true believers to save us all. Maybe it’s the major parallels between truly devoted Christian and environmental fundamentalists in combination with the (sometimes true) public sense that evangelical Christians are the most likely climate change deniers and antienvironmentalists that pushed this exploration of evangelicals in relation ship to environmentalism. The simple answer is that they are competing religions or at least competing ideologies with diﬀering purposes, so of course there is conﬂict and denial. Yet, there are serious evangelical Christians who are environmentalists too, and they are not just an anomaly from the far end of a bell curve based on a large population of Christians. I could ask how such opposing views are held by the same person, but people work out ways to reconcile see mingly conﬂicting views all the time. I even met a person who liked the Red Sox and the Yankees, and the universe didn’t implode. Using logical hoops to reconcile strongly felt beliefs, like is explained in the work from Jona than Haidt presented below, preserves a sense of self and sometimes, as may be the case with evangelicals interested in environmental issues, makes more sense than either viewpoint alone. But the real question of interest here is a little more slippery. It’s about how values and priorities and adjusted identities emerge. In a setting where information and community and are constantly moving and coming into conﬂict, how do some topics rise to be central issues while others are (like the apocalyptic Christian book series says) Left Behind?
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Possible Feelings Life, particularly human fetal life, is the central topic when many think of evangelical Christianity and politics. The 2016 presidential election led to one of the moments in evangelicalism where a bit of a debate about life took center stage. As with Beisner, pro-life is deﬁned in terms of abortion stances, but the sides show how central feelings or gut responses are to evangelical ethics ultimately show how creating contrasting feelings may be a powerful tool when talking with evangelicals about the environment in connection with other political topics. Feelings of certainty and feelings about ethics and life don’t come from nowhere. In the cultural settings that help shape one gut response to be obvious and the automatic reaction over another, competing aﬀective experiences may be the main answer for any possible change—whatever individual or ecological approach to life is taken. Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem garnered a sideshow’s worth of attention in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election by ﬁrst calling Donald Trump a “morally good choice” at the end of July (“Why Voting”), withdrawing that support in early October based on Trump’s “sexual aggression and assaults against women” (“Trump’s Moral Character”), then re-reversing to support Trump based on the candidate’s policies less than two weeks later (“If You Don’t Like Either”). Some readers may ﬁnd it shocking that a person could be so split over the candidates, but Gru dem’s changes show a common problem for many white evangelicals in the 2016 election—strong feelings against both main candidates. More broadly, Grudem’s changes indicate the powerful role of visceral responses in making decisions, with his three cases for and against Trump serving as after-the-fact justiﬁcations of those feelings. This is not to blame Grudem for the fact of changing or for visceral responses playing such a large role in decisions; rather, he exempliﬁes the reality that many choices like one between two distant candidates are made from bodily, aﬀective responses, and the way to change a vote is to change a voter’s aﬀective or gut response, rather than making a clear, logically defended case. More speciﬁcally, Grudem’s ﬂip-ﬂopping on Trump indicates the importance of aﬀective responses coming into conﬂict with each other. As the editors of The Aﬀect Theory Reader express, aﬀect is a bodily impetus pushing choices, actions, changes, and reasons. They argue, Aﬀect, at its most anthropomorphic, is the name we give those forces visceral forces beneath, alongside, or generally other than conscious knowing, vital forces insisting beyond emotion—that can serve to drive us toward movement, toward thought and extension, that can likewise suspend us (as if in neutral) across a barely registering accretion of force-relations, or that can even leave us overwhelmed by the world’s apparent intractability. (Gregg and Seigworth 1)
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Aﬀect is about bodily responses and the variety of forces in the world moving people to those responses that come before reasoned argument or explanation. Theorist Brian Massumi uses the example of the weapons of mass destruction that were or were not in Iraq to explain how, The invasion was right because in the past there was a future threat. You cannot erase a ‘fact’ like that. Just because the menace potential never became a clear and present danger doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there, all the more real for being nonexistent. (“The Future Birth” 53) While aﬀect is not the only thing going on in the Iraq case, the bodily sense that someone or something is a danger led to work to justify that danger. The framework already in place for many U.S. leaders to respond to Iraq made for an intuition that needed justiﬁcation and, in this case, led to major military action. An initial aﬀective intensity that might later be named as the feeling of disgust stands out as the main response for Grudem to both Trump’s reported sexual assaults and to Hilary Rodham Clinton’s pro-choice poli cies.1 Many bodily responses move into the linguistic realm with names like disgust and have connotations and even neurochemical processes associated with them. Disgust is a powerful feeling, and one which helps bring in larger questions of taste and of how aﬀective responses may be trained or changed. In the context of a voter having a negative aﬀective experience in response to both Clinton and Trump, the conﬂict, or dissonance, between those responses is precisely where the space for possible change lies, parti cularly in cases where major value or identity issues are at stake. In other words, voting Democrat, and particularly voting for Clinton, was not a remote possibility for Grudem, given his value system around individual ism, anti-globalism, capitalism, anti-environmentalism, and abortion. However, a moment of aﬀective dissonance opened that possibility space. In the end, the dissonance was not repeated enough and personal enough to ultimately change his vote, indicating that particular features of a case of aﬀective dissonance might make it more or less likely to bring about a concrete change. The key exploration here is of the concept of aﬀective dissonance as a con cept for explaining and as a strategy for creating moments of signiﬁcant change. Speciﬁcally, I examine two white evangelical responses and arguments around the 2016 presidential election: Wayne Grudem’s justiﬁcation of Trump and Rachel Held Evans’s justiﬁcation of Clinton. These analyses call upon psychological work on cognitive dissonance, Moral Foundations Theory, and disgust as a visceral response to support the argument but shift these aﬀective and moral questions into the realm of cultural rhetoric to show experiences of what issues are important and part of a lived-within exigence.
122 Sin and Righteousness While the small, interdisciplinary ﬁeld of Aﬀect Studies already takes work on feelings and bodily responses seriously from human culture to explore politics and social life. The biology and psychology of aﬀect enter the conversation too. This exploration of aﬀect can oﬀer alternative, albeit diﬃcult and long-term, ways of thinking about persuading voters. Persua sion can be approached by thinking more about taste, not for particular foods, but for particular values, and in ways that seek to avoid traditional divides between so-called high- and low-class tastes. As Jonathan Haidt says in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, “moral reasons are the tail wagged by the intuitive dog.” Disgust may be the name given to a bodily response that leads to an intuition of right and wrong. Humans may then work hard to ﬁnd reasons justifying those responses, but those initial responses can change over time. The question is how to ethically inﬂuence that moral intuition and the disgust it is based on. Given that evangelicalism is the topic here, we must come back to the Bible. Feelings may be powerful, but they don’t have authority or a sense of rational rightness in the way an inerrancy approach to the Bible provides. Inerrant Scriptures just need to be read and acted on, and they can provide the comfort of certainty, which can even branch out to certainty about feelings of right and wrong. Despite all this feeling talk, the approach is rational if you just accept the inerrancy of Scripture and a particular evan gelical approach to reading it ﬁrst. That rationality is important to evan gelical identity too. I once greatly upset a pastor friend of mine by suggesting his response to a political topic was feeling based. This was in the context of saying mine and pretty much everyone’s response was feeling-based, but he defended all the critical thinking he’d done in many areas.
Changing Beliefs In the midst of all this biblical authority context, the question of change in relation to emotion, religion, and politics remains. In the ﬁnal chapter of her Toward a Civil Discourse, Sharon Crowley explores “how beliefs change,” particularly in the context of religious and political discourse. She cites Stanley Fish’s The Trouble with Principle for examples that show change based on a “contradiction between an ideologic and a powerful emotion,” parental love versus Ku Klux Klan ideology in this case (189). This version of changing belief and Fish’s description of people ﬁnding dissenting views from authorities, authorizing changed beliefs, do not give rhetoricians enough to work with in Crowley’s view (190). Particularly in the religious cases she discusses, dissenting voices have a hard time becom ing authorities, and ideologies are already tied to powerful emotions. In other words, one emotion is opposed to another, creating a stalemate of sorts. But her critique hints here at the importance of emotions in conﬂict.
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Those emotions can be understood as later versions of aﬀective responses, after the initial visceral intensities are given names and even formally tied to ideals. Crowley uses the language that “fundamentalist religious belief is intimate, visceral; it resonates in the very bodies of believers” (191), bring ing it to a less cognitive level. She also explores Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s theory that diﬀerence in belief is from our varied personal contexts, and that shifts in belief can only come “if a rhetor respects diﬀerence” (195). In other words, focusing on the environment, desires, and passions of the audience is often key, but whatever type of argument moves them most should be the focus. Crowley oﬀers the ideas of persuasive stories, “conjecture,” eliciting “aﬀective response,” showing the “contingency of given values,” and dis connecting some beliefs from others as ways to potentially reach funda mentalists (198–201). Dana Cloud oﬀers her own set of tools with ﬁve strategies she sees conservatives using and progressives shunning to their own harm. Those are “narrative, myth, aﬀect, embodiment, and spectacle” (38). These thoughtful sets of strategies coming out of Crowley’s and Cloud’s discussions of how to change belief both include issues of powerful aﬀective responses being tied to basic values. Reframing these discussions through the idea of aﬀective dissonance takes the question of how change can happen further, a change that is perhaps best understood less as per suasion and more as transformation. Transformation moves across a space, forming something new in the value structure or sense of self an individual has. Of course, aﬀective dissonance and the transformation it might bring is a play on the important psychological concept of cognitive dissonance. In Leon Festinger’s foundational book on cognitive dissonance, he considers moments of inconsistency between a stated belief and an action or related belief. He notes that many of these diﬀerences are dealt with by attempt to “rationalize” them, but this does not always work, leading to “psychologi cal discomfort” (2). Festinger calls this discomfort from an inconsistency “dissonance” and argues that it induces the person to try to remove the dissonance and “avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance” (2–3). Basically, cognitive dissonance is a moti vator, a catalyst for change to limit personal psychological discomfort. Rhetorical studies is regularly concerned with motivators for change, tra ditionally focusing on language and argument to create that change. Thinking of cognitive dissonance analogically, I posit that rhetorical studies could use a theory of aﬀective dissonance for seeing strategies and experi ences that change beliefs when those beliefs are strongly felt. Aﬀective dis sonance is another form of discomfort or confusion, where visceral responses can be contradictory and call for resolution, opening up a space for possible change. Moral Foundations Theory also provides possibilities for how to think about and create aﬀective dissonance. In a context of signiﬁcant political
124 Sin and Righteousness divisiveness and a seeming inability for many on opposing sides of political and social arguments to understand each other, rhetoric needs to look beyond reason or fact-based arguments. One current approach in psychol ogy has its own description of why people fail to understand each other. Moral Foundations Theory (MFT), most prominently promulgated by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, has signiﬁcant potential value for rhetorical studies. MFT argues that diﬀerent people have diﬀerent basic foundational values for their morals, and that a general liberal versus conservative poli tical split can be understood as diﬀerences in moral foundations. This emphasis on morals, particularly seen in responses to political or social issues, connects it to rhetoric’s concern with political and social argument and how change happens in those contexts. The centrality of aﬀect to MFT, as the basis for moral judgments that reason justiﬁes after the fact, invites connections to aﬀect theory as it has been used in rhetorical studies (see Edbauer; Gregg and Seigworth; Massumi, Parables). What Moral Foundations Theory does not do is explain in any detail how people shift between relying on diﬀerent moral foundations or combinations of those foundations. Based on social psychologist Dan McAdams’s work, Haidt provides an argument for the partial genetic basis of those foundations and a brief exploration of how small diﬀerences lead us to experience and nar rate the world diﬀerently (324–30), but there is a great deal of room for more explanation. That training area and moments of persuasion are where rhetoric can step in. Put another way, Haidt claims that for issues with major aﬀective dif ferences, reason does not work. What is needed is an appeal to aﬀect, and Haidt gives examples of how he would have had some Democratic pre sidential candidates in the past appeal to more moral foundations, invoking aﬀective responses from voters who rely on those foundations more (180– 82). But while Haidt gives a well-defended theory of what those value/aﬀect categories are and where they might come from, the idea of using ethos, appealing to feelings and values, and the limits of reason are not new in rhetorical studies. The real project for rhetoric goes beyond that, not to just appeal to moral aﬀects as Haidt implies, but to retrain aﬀect. Haidt identiﬁes moral groundings and possibilities descriptively, with no basis for choosing one morality or set of foundations as better. He does highlight a concern with groups cohering and not relying too solely on one aspect of the moral system (313–16). He oﬀers a few bits of advice like appealing to intuitions and emotions, starting with warmth and empathy, and in politics increasing social bonds between those diametrically opposed to each other (56–58, 361–364). Haidt does not go far in describing how one actually becomes part of one of these moral systems (beyond important genetic/evolutionary factors) in the ﬁrst place or how to move between groups. Someone’s background, training, communities, and life experiences somehow shape those moral foundations that a person responds to most powerfully. Given
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the framework of MFT, how a person’s primary foundations are developed (perhaps focusing mainly on Care/Harm and Liberty) and how someone could later change to prioritize diﬀerent foundations are related but sepa rate questions. The large rhetorical question is how to change an aﬀective baseline. How does someone who, for example, responds with physical revulsion and horror to the notion of abortion, change to approve of it as a possibility (or vice versa)? In other words, the question is not how to appeal to some person or group’s visceral, aﬀective responses. The question is how to reshape the factors that allow particular aﬀective responses in the ﬁrst place.
Disgust and Justiﬁcation Disgust is the name given to the initial aﬀective responses some evangelical voters had to the ﬁnal candidates for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That conﬂict of disgust for both main options is a case of aﬀective dis sonance, as can be seen in justiﬁcations written in favor of both Clinton and Trump. The ﬁrst of the two public arguments made by white evange licals, this one justifying a vote for Trump, is Grudem’s “If You Don’t Like Either Candidate, Then Vote for Trump’s Policies.” The title itself provides a sense of disdain for both Trump and Clinton, then implies it is taking the logical ground of looking at policies. Grudem’s case, along with his pub licized momentary ﬂips away from and back to Trump, can be contrasted with evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans’s frequently shared and read blog entry “So you’re thinking of voting for a pro-choice candidate …”, justifying a vote for Clinton. Both writers clearly know that they are deal ing with disgust at some level among their readers, but both also give an impression of writing to justify their own aﬀective responses to the candidates and the voting decisions that come out of those responses. Before exploring Grudem and Evans’s writing, disgust also deserves some attention. Disgust is a named concept, an oﬃcial basic response humans can have, important to evolutionary history, likely initially developed as a response to food or potential food (Gorman). Jonathan Haidt, Clark McCauley, and Paul Rozin at New York University have developed a dis gust scale. Disgust appears in response to smells, tastes, touches, sights, and even sounds. David Pizarro continues to research the power of disgust for changing behavior (George), including political behavior. While disgust is an object of study as a basic human response, often understood as a useful response for avoiding illness-causing substances like spoiled food, it is also nonrational. Before someone tells a disgusting story, that person has had the visceral response that comes with a potential physical recoiling, rising bile, or involuntary sound. Analyses of the 2016 election have explored myriad reasons why various groups voted as they did. The white evangelical vote was reportedly at 81% for Trump (Bailey), based on those who voted and self-identiﬁcation as
126 Sin and Righteousness evangelical, and is one of the main factors in his victory. It was also a vote that did not make sense to many commentators. Scholars have explored connections between disgust sensitivity and conservatism (Inbar, Pizzaro, Iyer, and Haidt) and the New Republic looked at Trump’s own disgust and its appeal (Hurst). Those writers focusing on cultural clashes and George Lakoﬀ’s look at metaphors (“Understanding Trump”) are two cases that explain the evangelical vote, but they still can emphasize rationality too much and miss some of the real conﬂict many white evangelicals felt. Understanding voting choices in this 2016 presidential case beneﬁts from considering aﬀective, bodily, pre-rational responses, particularly disgust in its various levels of intensity, and from exploring the written justiﬁcations that show how aﬀective dissonance was dealt with and give glimpses of the initial aﬀective responses. Like disgust, fear is considered one of the most basic responses, and it came into conﬂict with other feelings in my family history. My grand parents lived in Haiti as Baptist missionaries for two years in the second half of the 1950s. My father and uncle were young children when they stayed there around the transition to the François “Papa Doc” Duvalier presidency. The goals of building a church and saving souls, particularly struggling against Haitian Vodou, which had the double negative of being associated with Catholicism and dangerous spirits. Playing cards remained questionable in my family for another forty years because of their associa tion with Vodou. The two stories I heard most about Haiti revolved around fake weapons. My father and uncle would walk down back roads near the home they lived in and pass sugarcane ﬁelds. At least once, a man working in the ﬁelds jumped toward them, brandishing his machete and brieﬂy chasing them. Apparently, this was a form of teasing or play according to my father’s childhood memories. Certainly, the man could have caught them, and certainly he knew that trouble would come from any serious threat or harm to Americans there. Were my father and uncle trespassing? Was it all just a game? Intercultural play mixes with a child’s trained fear of a cultural and racial other in the interaction. The ﬁeld workers, from a missionary’s perspective, were the ﬁeld themselves. The biblical metaphor is one of harvest. The need is for people to go out and harvest hearts and lives for God. With a sugarcane harvest and a machete, that metaphor starts to sound violent, and at least frames people working in a ﬁeld as goals or mini-exigence targets, potentially to be reaped or feared to a ﬁve-year-old’s eyes. The fear theme continued with the other story regularly related to me. Supposedly a local Vodou practitioner had set some people against my grandparents and there was fear of a minor attack at night. Two ﬁgures appeared after dark one night, and my grandfather, a quiet and gentle person, came out to greet or confront them with a gun handle clearly sticking out of his pants. Now, it was a cap-gun, a toy, which was as close to a real gun as my grandfather had gotten since World War II. The
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implied threat of the weapon worked like an NRA member’s dream, keep ing away the threatening visitor at their Haitian home. A feeling of family safety took priority over implications for their work as missionaries.
When Disgust is Everywhere, Be Pragmatic Fear often goes with disgust and a depiction of pragmatism like my grand father’s often justiﬁes actions in the political realm too. Grudem’s published argument about his reasons for voting for Trump is full of attempts to move away from aﬀect and assert pragmatic reasoning as the basis for his decisions. Grudem is known for his role as a founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and has written extensively about the Bible and politics, including his Politics According to the Bible from 2001. As with many, the man’s reading of the Bible inﬂuences his political feel ings. He writes with the expectation of being listened to as an authority, starting with “I” language that shifts to speak for “we” and “Christians” about what will happen if Christians do not vote for Trump. This tone matches his current role as a prominent evangelical theologian who believes men to be the divinely ordained heads of households and churches. More importantly, the tone shows Grudem’s disgust. He makes the feeling expli cit when describing Trump’s sexual attitudes and actions, then goes to list moral reasons to not vote for Trump. These objections include “My con science won’t let me vote for Trump.” In other words, I ﬁnd something about him or his behavior repulsive and this aﬀective response is powerful. Grudem asks his readers to overcome this disgust due, ostensibly, to Trump’s policies. However, an equal or greater disgust for Clinton and liberal politics is apparent in a dismissive “The liberal media loved this” about his moment of un-endorsing Trump. More directly, “Voting for Clinton and her ultraliberal policies is not an option for me as an evangelical Christian,” is dis missed without further thought. Not considering Clinton as even a possibility is important here, as it indicates such a strong repulsion that something should not be looked or tried out in any way. For Grudem’s readers, the only options are voting for neither Trump nor Clinton or overcoming disgust at Trump enough to vote for him. The ﬁrst option is rejected by Grudem and many others as unrealistic or wasting a vote, making the second option necessary. The horror at a future under Clinton, for which readers voting for Clin ton can be blamed in part given the “we” language used. It is useful to quote at length to get the feeling of his argument. But the most likely result of not voting for Trump is that we will be abandoning thousands of unborn babies who will be put to death under Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court, thousands of Christians who will be excluded from their lifelong occupations because they won’t
128 Sin and Righteousness aﬃrm same-sex marriage, thousands of the poor who will never again be able to ﬁnd high-paying jobs in an economy crushed by government hostility toward business, thousands of inner-city children who will never be able to get a good education, thousands of the sick and elderly who will never get adequate medical treatment when the government is the nation’s only healthcare provider, thousands of people who will be killed by an unchecked ISIS, and millions of Jews in Israel who will ﬁnd themselves alone and surrounded by hostile enemies. And we will be contributing to a permanent loss of the American system of government due to a ﬁnal victory of unaccountable judicial tyranny. First consider your own visceral response to this paragraph. Are you overcome by relief that we are avoiding such a fate? Are you speechless and frozen with anger? While the accuracy of his predictions about the nation under Clinton are questionable at best on most counts, this language shows an attempt to express the disgust with which he views liberal policies and tries to evoke the disgust he wants his audience to feel. Grudem isn’t wor ried about persuading those who don’t already agree with him on most political and moral gut responses. He evokes fear of the future to further that disgust for Clinton. With voting for Trump as the only other possibility, Grudem spends most of his post working policy by policy through Trump’s positions, focusing on the Supreme Court, abortion, and religious freedom issues. The push here is on reminding readers of the idea that Clinton means dead babies and means Christians having to endorse LGBTQ lifestyles. Abor tion and gay rights are two issues with strong disgust responses for many white evangelicals, although the number of younger white evangelicals who are more approving of various LGBTQ rights (Alkousaa), suggests that cultural norms and personal experiences with friends and family members have trained tastes diﬀerently for the younger crowd. Environmental topics are notably missing as priority issues to take a stance on at all, their relative absence signaling the diﬃculty in overcoming the centrality of issues about the control of human-only moral life. Of course, this sort of acceptance of cultural changes is exactly what some white evangelicals fear—acknowledging the power of trained aﬀective responses. But when your theology backs up your taste, such as with dis gust for same-sex erotic relationships, the taste is diﬃcult to change. Sex and the science of disgust go together easily, with some of the disgust response related to ﬁnding a healthy mating partner (Tybur and Gangestad), then aﬀecting sexual tastes more broadly. Grudem’s work to reinforce disgust as a response to Clinton allows him to dissociate Trump from the most powerful feelings of disgust. All this works as an after-the-fact justiﬁcation of Grudem’s basic, aﬀective response, but ultimately the justiﬁcation is more important for the future than for the present. By linking Trump to policies he endorses, Grudem
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starts to acquire and promote a taste for Trump as a whole. Grudem’s readers can start to change their web of beliefs and values that underlie aﬀective responses. Sexual immorality still may lead to a negative response, but less of one when it is associated with policies against marriage rights for homosexual citizens and a voice that says to value Christian inﬂuences in culture. Of course, one must put aside Trump’s past values which seem to con tradict conservative Christian values in many ways, but that putting aside is exactly the point. The argument is a small piece in creating new connec tions for a new taste. In fact, according to PRRI/RNS and PRRI/Brookings surveys (see Stetzer), data indicates that white evangelical Christians did put aside questions of personal morality for the 2016 election. The percen tage of white evangelical Christians who said a person could act immorally in private life and still be “behave ethically and fulﬁll their duties in their public and professional life” jumped from merely 30% in 2011 to 72% in October 2016 (see Stetzer). As commentator Ed Stetzer noted in Christianity Today, a major evan gelical magazine, “With such a swing happening in a short period of time, we have to consider the surrounding circumstances. As such, it is hard not to conclude that for many this has happened so that they could justify voting for Trump.” To put that a diﬀerent way, tastes changed, and argu ments like Grudem’s serve as an attempt to justify those changes and, intentionally or not, to further those changes in taste. The use of the word “taste” is intentional here. Taste can be understood as an aﬀective response to a piece of art, to food, to a person, to a policy, or to an ethical stance. Something that is in bad taste or tastes bad can be disgusting. Taste is a trained response. Taste is sometimes seen as entirely personal, but people debate diﬀerent tastes all the time, they change, and there can be signiﬁcant agreement about aﬀective taste responses. David Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste” famously explores the problem that one person ﬁnds a scene beautiful while another ﬁnds it ugly (or disgust ing). Hume argues that all have the capacity for seeing real beauty, but not everyone gets there because of a lack of the right kinds of experiences. While Hume’s argument centers on art, we can take taste as a response about how appealing something is that a person or policy evokes as well. Edmund Burke takes the trainable nature of taste further, discussing how the bitterness of coﬀee, for example, can be acquired as a taste that is pre ferred to something sweet. The initial response, bodily turning towards or away from, is malleable. Taste can take on ethical considerations. One recent example is Nicola Perullo, who, working with food examples in Taste as Experience, shows how something doing good can be part of the positive response to that thing, and can make it literally taste better. A taste for Clinton or Trump can be gained as well. The right kinds of associations linked to one or the other of them repeatedly changes one’s gut taste response. Put another way, mixing chocolate with coﬀee can help someone
130 Sin and Righteousness acquire an initial taste for coﬀee, or sweet wines can move someone toward appreciating wine and eventually preferring red. A positive aﬀective response to a small portion of what a candidate stands for can lead to a growing positive response. Priority space may be gained incrementally for environmental issues, often by mixing them with already appreciated life issues like the EEN does. However, this can reinforce the centrality of a topic like abortion as well.
Dissonance and Change As Grudem’s distaste for Clinton pushed him to metaphorically try out bad smelling food to reshape his taste for Trump, Rachel Held Evans’s distaste for Trump nudged her to attempt to further readjust her taste for prochoice candidates like Clinton. Evans (who passed away suddenly in 2019 at the age of thirty-seven), sometimes considered a representative example of her generation of white evangelicals (see Green) and author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, was much younger and female. I emphasize the demographics because the training, experiences, and background for aﬀec tive responses like disgust can be starkly diﬀerent from those for a sixty nine-year-old male like Grudem. Age and gender, of course, are not fully determining factors, but the two ﬁgures fall on the stereotypically expected sides (based on age and gender) of this struggle over feelings. Evans is nearly explicit in her post about her arguments functioning as a justiﬁcation of a gut response. Her title, “So you’re thinking of voting for a pro-choice candidate…” uses thought as a concept but implies a felt inter nal conﬂict from voters who would normally automatically choose the most pro-life and almost always Republican candidate. The implication is that white evangelical voters need a compelling reason to justify their powerful negative response to Trump if they are going to vote against him and against their usual political values, particularly their powerful negative responses to abortion. Evans clariﬁes her bona ﬁdes as pro-life but expresses feeling a struggle between values seen as pro-life and pro-choice. Despite her signiﬁcant eﬀorts to include readers with varying viewpoints by statements like, “I believe the sacred personhood of an individual begins before birth and continues throughout life, and I believe that sacred personhood is worth protecting, whether it’s tucked inside a womb, waiting on death row, ﬂee ing Syria in search of a home, or playing beneath the shadow of an Amer ican drone,” Evans can easily alienate some white evangelicals by the implication that these other things are like aborting babies and by having any sympathy for pro-choice positions. Environmental topics can fall simi larly in the same position of being all about life, but in a way not always culturally connected to pro-life topics within evangelicalism. Her disgust for Trump, and thus the need for the post, spills out by comparing the candidates as “a highly qualiﬁed pro-choice candidate in
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Hillary Clinton and an incompetent narcissist who poses a unique threat to our American democracy in Donald Trump.” Evans includes links to arti cles from major news sources separately justifying “incompetent,” “narcis sist,” and “poses a unique threat to our American democracy.” Like many other writers, she takes a more direct and emotionally laden stance for this election than usual. The act of name-calling (“incompetent narcissist”), however sourced, is evidence of that same, strong disgust response in question here. Evans directly suggests voting for Clinton, as Grudem does with Trump, though Evans uses guilt about voting for the other candidate less than Grudem. Evans’s attempts to connect with a variety of pro-life positions takes on more of the caring parent metaphor George Lakoﬀ writes about, compared to the authoritative father role Grudem readily takes on (“Why Trump?”). She goes on to say that “voting for a pro-choice candidate in this elec tion, or any election, need not overburden your conscience.” Conscience is about a feeling or intuitive sense of right and wrong, and not all con sciences agree. Evans’s case is a justiﬁcation of listening to that internal revulsion—against voting for Trump in this case, as that disgust ﬁghts with much of her audience’s disgust for voting for a pro-life candidate. Evans goes on to make a case about how there are fewer abortions in the U.S. under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents, how Trump is not necessarily pro-life anyway, and how a Clinton presidency would support women and children in more ways that support a value for human life at multiple levels. These arguments are debatable in her context; it is diﬃcult to draw causal lines from presidents to abortion rates, and Trump was and is more likely than Clinton to appoint anti-abortion judges, for example. However, for our purposes, the point is simply the need to create a justiﬁcation or rationalization for a disgust vote already strongly felt. The second half of Evans’s post is more potentially powerful, not neces sarily in swaying voters, whose aﬀective responses to the candidates have them looking for justiﬁcations for Trump or Clinton, but rather for shaping future feelings. Evans works in more detail through four main points, that “voting pro-choice is not the same as voting for abortion,” that “crim inalizing abortion won’t necessarily reduce abortions,” that “Pro-life advo cates should support, rather than oppose, eﬀorts to help low-income families care for their children,” and that to reduce abortion rates “we must support eﬀorts to make contraception more accessible and aﬀordable.” The latter two points seem obvious to many but are regularly opposed in white evangelical circles that emphasize personal responsibility (so no gov ernment hand-outs to low-income families—individual charity is often seen as a diﬀerent matter) and value abstinence (so don’t make pre-marital sex easier by making contraception easier). These latter issues have their own visceral responses attached to them, responses which are hard to overcome. The move is to connect them very directly to abortion. The powerful
132 Sin and Righteousness disgust at abortion has the potential to reshape feelings around government aid for low-income families and contraception. If those two issues are emotionally tied to reducing abortion, the feelings and eventual positions held by individuals can change. To use diﬀerent language, the taste for those issues has changed. The main role of an argument like Evans’s, and, I’m suggesting, a great many arguments on a great many topics, is to nudge people’s taste one direction or another. It is part of building the context that future aﬀective responses come from. Changing a mind is not easy, nor is changing the gut. A whole web of attitudes and beliefs and weird preferences must be nudged and pushed by many interactions to shift something as powerful as disgust. Evans herself serves as an example of that change.
Experiencing Aﬀective Dissonance Theory Grudem works to connect Trump to “biblical” politics in order to reduce the disgust response to him. Evans works to connect voting for Clinton to pro-life values. Changes in those connections will aﬀect the disgust or pleasure or other felt experiences that pop out and then require justiﬁcation with rational arguments after the fact. Perhaps neither of these justiﬁcations should take place. It may be more honest for Grudem and Evans to take their acknowledgment of disgust at their preferred candidates further and argue for those candidates anyway, but in the conﬂict of disgust, one can didate smells worse than the other to each person, and the desire to justify an ugly choice is strong. In his exploration of how diﬀerent people, mainly liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, have diﬀerent moral intuitions and aﬀective responses to social concerns, Jonathan Haidt describes his own shift in aﬀective response. He describes himself as a clear liberal, focusing on values of care, when he went to Bhubaneswar, India, for an extended research study. Haidt describes eating “with men whose wives silently served us and then retreated to the kitchen” and being “told to be stricter with my servants and to stop thanking them for serving me” along with other actions con sidered traditional or sacred that he typically would have found horrifying (119). Haidt explains that he started with “dissonance” in attempting to be open to the culture he saw, but eventually felt comfortable due to the “empathy” he felt and generally caring for the people who were also caring for him (119). This baseline of empathy with those who had diﬀerent aﬀective frameworks was key for Haidt. As he tells it, his work as a researcher helped him come with that openness, but many people will not have that. In some cases, building that empathy will be a starting task for the rhetorician. Empathy here functions as one way of approaching a positive connection and sense of belonging. In their work on invitational rhetoric, Sonja Foss and Cindy Griﬃn give an example of pro-choice and pro-life protesters
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ending up next to each other on a bus after yelling at each other at a rally (14–15). They can talk about their own stories and backgrounds in a way that builds empathy and creates greater understanding according to Foss and Griﬃn. Their story is another example of that key work to build a connection, even if it doesn’t reach the stage of belonging. However, their goal is to create mutual understanding, staying with the linguistic and rational, while the aﬀective angle here attempts to change the baseline those initial aﬀective responses come from. Along with a sense of connection and growing sense of belonging for Haidt as he spends an extended period with the community he is working with, comes repeated exposure. Haidt has meals with many people, gets to know their friends, and sees values he might call misogynistic over and over again. Some of the power here is just repetition and exposure, but the incremental change idea matters. Haidt moves from assumptions about equality to a kind of split response, to a positive feeling about these com munities. He can explain it through the lens of cultural tradition providing a place for everyone in the community and giving stability where it might not exist. This is not to say that he should or should not make this change, but that it happens through these incremental exposures. The intimacy with the community also allows an understanding of why class or gender roles might have some use, that he would not have seen as an outsider. The insider experience allows reasons to come back in and help explain the changed aﬀective response. These justiﬁcations may be a stretch or may not be, but they serve to further allow the changed framework. Ultimately, an aﬀective contrast or dissonance spurs the change. For Haidt, that contrast started early on as he observed himself responding positively to the families he was with and negatively to some of the hier archies. That experience of contrast could come later, or even after the experience, but Haidt, like the other cases explored here, all suggest moments of real aﬀective conﬂict. Haidt ﬁnds that he “could see beauty in a moral code that emphasizes duty, respect for one’s elders, service to the group, and negation of the self’s desires” (119–20). But he also points out that the feeling of the “ugly side” (120) was still there too. This aﬀective conﬂict does not turn him into a member of some more tradition-oriented society. There is no major change in identity, but his aﬀective framework has changed. Haidt even describes how he “cringed” on his return ﬂight at some demanding, rights-based language that he would not have noticed before. Yes, this was an intercultural experience, and readers may ﬁnd his change for the better or the worse. But the point is the process of aﬀective change, which then provides new reasons and arguments for the new framework of visceral responses. Aﬀective dissonance, where old and new bodily reactions struggle against each other, can take time and interpersonal connection to create, but it also is a powerful rhetorical experience. That aﬀective experience can play out afterwards in competing ideas and argument, perhaps about the sustaining
134 Sin and Righteousness and meaning-making value of the family roles Haidt observed versus the limited equality and opportunity for many individuals in his case, or per haps in arguments about abortion and personal morality with Grudem and Evans. But ﬁrst, multiple perspectives have to be felt as both positive or both negative. This aﬀective contrast is the key to possible change as the person must either justify both feelings or work to suppress at least one. In this rhetoric, the conﬂict in the body makes space for reason to ﬁnd new justiﬁcations, creating a site of openness to change in major areas like a sense of identity, aﬃliation, or values. Rhetors can shift their work when appropriate toward the long-term, relational eﬀorts often needed to create aﬀective dissonance, and utilize reasoned argument as a support or a path provided to give someone a justiﬁcation for a change based on what is felt. Instead of setting up the other as potentially unreasonable if that person disagrees with an argument, the issue is more about someone missing the kind of experience that would provide aﬀective dissonance and alternative feelings. Reason is then a support for an aﬀective shift. For better or worse, Evans found enough aﬀective dissonance to utilize her reason to support a change in candidate perspective, while Grudem went back and forth, ultimately justifying one disgust over another. Based on a variety of examples, including those discussed above, I sug gest four elements for creating potentially eﬀective aﬀective dissonance, not only when talking with evangelicals about environmental issues, but potentially more broadly for many lived-within exigences. Written as directives for rhetorical work, they are ﬁrst, create a positive, personal sense of belonging. Creating a change in aﬀective response is very diﬃcult without a positive aﬀective connection to some person or group who has the new felt perspective. Aﬀective change then requires interaction between people who have diﬀerent gut responses to things. Belonging to a commu nity that feels diﬀerently can be even more powerful. One’s own interests become connected to the community, and as Haidt describes, strong negative aﬀective responses are more diﬃcult to have as they struggle against positive feelings toward people. As a reframing of aﬀective responses, befriending and including those who disagree with you is a key link in the chain. Second, repeat exposure with incremental growth in the diﬀerence level. The second element involves frequent exposure not just to other ideas, but to the aﬀective responses of others. The modeling provided by the families Haidt ate with gave him new aﬀective possibilities. The change must be slow, since someone responding positively to something you ﬁnd too hor rible can just intensify the negative feeling. No single rhetorical act does the persuasion. There is no “aha” moment without hidden groundwork and a slow change that makes the later feeling of a shift possible. This both takes away the importance of particular rhetorical acts and adds to the importance of all acts that help create an aﬀective environment. Third, encourage insider knowledge. This element requires a return to language and reason. Greater insider knowledge of what a community is
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like, what an individual’s background has been, and what justiﬁcations are used for a particular aﬀective response give the tools to self-justify a new aﬀective response. Inside knowledge also furthers that sense of belonging. Finally, create an aﬀective contrast. This fourth element means ﬁnding and using those moments, as Held Evans did, where someone might feel disgust with part of their own political party. Perhaps a positive feeling of joy and connection with a local forest or lake would be put together with a disliked environmentalist who works to protect that same local lake. Regardless, these four features are elements that can be used in future per suasive work or in analyzing other cases of signiﬁcant aﬀective change. Of course, they are revisable, and hopefully future work will adjust, add to, or reﬁne them. Environmental topics and speciﬁc forests, lakes, and other places evoke strong aﬀective responses too. Building the positive connections to preser ving a place, like the Columbia Gorge in Oregon that my family loves, can bring some of the aﬀective intensity to create dissonance when an environ mental issue runs into a diﬀerent life issue like abortion. The power of strong feelings on both issues may be uncomfortable, but it can create the possibility of a shift in priorities or even ﬁnding ways to not put the issues in opposition with each other.
Note 1 Grudem’s response is arguably more about Clinton, including her status as a woman playing a role with authority over men. Grudem is a founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which emphasizes God-given roles for the male and female sexes and is against women having positions of high authority in the family or in churches.
References Alkousaa, Riham. “Evangelical Christians Becoming Less Opposed to Gay Mar riage, Poll Finds.” June 27, 2017. www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-lgbt-marriage/ evangelical-christians-becoming-less-opposed-to-gay-marriage-poll-ﬁnds-idUSKB N19I2MU. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. “White Evangelicals Voted Overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, Exit Polls Show.” Washington Post, Nov. 9, 2016. www.washingtonpost. com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-o verwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.8bec0d41521b. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Beisner, E. Calvin. “‘Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden’ Is a Monumental Ethical Fail ure.” Christian Post, Oct. 16, 2020. www.christianpost.com/voices/pro-life-chris tians-for-biden-is-a-monumental-ethical-failure.html. Accessed Jan. 15, 2021. Cloud, Dana. Reality Bites: Rhetoric and the Circulation of Truth Claims in U.S. Political Discourse. Ohio State UP, 2018. Crowley, Sharon. Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism. U of Pittsburgh P, 2006.
136 Sin and Righteousness Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 4, 2005, p. 5–24. Evans, Rachel Held. “So You’re Thinking of Voting for a Pro-Choice Candidate …” Aug. 2, 2016. www.rachelheldevans.com/blog/pro-life-voting-for-hillary-clin ton. Accessed Mar. 29, 2018. Festinger, Leon. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford UP, 1957. Foss, Sonja K. and Cindy L.Griﬃn. “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invita tional Rhetoric.” Communication Monographs, vol. 62, pp. 2–18. George, Alison. “The Yuck Factor: The Surprising Power of Disgust.” New Scien tist, July 11, 2012. www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528731-800-the-yuck-fa ctor-the-surprising-power-of-disgust. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Gorman, James. “Survival’s Ick Factor.” The New York Times, Jan. 23, 2012. www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/science/disgusts-evolutionary-role-is-irresistible-to researchers.html. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Green, Emma. “Is Christianity Dark Enough for Millenials?” The Atlantic, Apr. 14, 2015. www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/rachel-held-evans-on-her-new -book-searching-for-sunday/390459. Accessed Mar. 29, 2018. Gregg, Melissa and Gregory J.Seigworth. “An Inventory of Shimmers.” In The Aﬀect Theory Reader, edited by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J.Seigworth, Duke UP, 2010, pp. 1–25. Grudem, Wayne. “If You Don’t Like Either Candidate, Then Vote for Trump’s Policies.” Oct. 19, 2016. www.townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/10/19/if you-dont-like-either-candidate-then-vote-for-trumps-policies-n2234187. Accessed Mar. 29, 2018. Grudem, Wayne. “Trump’s Moral Character and the Election.” Oct. 9, 2016. www. townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/10/09/trumps-moral-character-and-t he-election-n2229846. Accessed Mar. 29, 2018. Grudem, Wayne. “Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice (Part 1).” The Christian Post, July 30, 2016. www.christianpost.com/news/why-vo ting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-part-1-167239. Accessed Mar. 29, 2018. Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Vintage, 2012. Haidt, Jonathan, Clark McCauley, and Paul Rozin. “The Disgust Scale Home Page.” www.people.stern.nyu.edu/jhaidt/disgustscale.html. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Hurst, Alexander. “Donald Trump and the Politics of Disgust.” The New Republic, Dec. 31, 2015, www.newrepublic.com/article/126837/donald-trump-politics-disgust. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Inbar, Yoel, David Pizarro, Ravi Iyer, and Jonathan Haidt. “Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting.” Dec. 11, 2016. www.journals.sagepub.com/ doi/abs/10.1177/1948550611429024, Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Lakoﬀ, George. “Understanding Trump.” July 23, 2016. www.georgelakoﬀ.com/ 2016/07/23/understanding-trump-2. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Lakoﬀ, George. “Why Trump?” March 2, 2016. www.georgelakoﬀ.com/2016/03/02/ why-trump. Accessed Mar. 30, 2018. Massumi, Brian. “The Future Birth of the Aﬀective Fact: The Political Ontology of Threat.” In The Aﬀect Theory Reader, edited by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, Duke UP, 2010, pp. 52–70.
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Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Aﬀect, Sensation. Duke UP, 2002. McAdams, Dan. The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By. Oxford UP, 2006. McAdams, Dan and J. L. Pals. “A New Big Five: Fundamental Principles for an Integrative Science of Personality.” American Psychologist 61, pp. 204–217. Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard UP, 2011. Stetzer, Ed. “Evangelicals: This is What it Looks Like When You Sell Your Soul for a Bowl of Trump.” Christianity Today, Nov. 2, 2016. http://www.christianitytoday. com/edstetzer/2016/november/this-is-what-it-looks-like.html. Accessed Mar. 29, 2018. Tybur, Joshua M. and Steven W. Gangestad. “Mate Preferences and Infectious Disease: Theoretical Considerations and Evidence in Humans.” Philosophical Transactions B, vol. 366, no. 1583, Dec. 12, 2011, pp. 3375–3388. www.ncbi.nlm. nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3189358. Accessed Mar. 29, 2018. doi:10.1098/ rstb.2011.0136.
Evangelical Conservation A Postscript
Many people honestly care about saving what is most important to them. But what world needs to be saved? What word needs to be saved? That need is a feeling, one that diﬀerent individuals and groups live with. It can be a background sort of experience that has moments of importance like a blossom or an infection. Hearing the issues that are most important to evangelicals, or perhaps any group, is a very partial picture. The values and experiences, the beliefs and histories behind those exigences are needed to expand the possibilities for understanding across communities and across major value diﬀerences. For many evangelicals, the problem with environmental issues like cli mate change is ﬁrst about how much attention they get. They are a dis traction, a false priority, a focus on the wrong things. Denial may come as a response after that to push back. If it isn’t real or serious or nothing can be done about it, then it shouldn’t be a priority. But outright climate change denial is becoming less of an issue, while a sense of priorities and what matters to diﬀerent groups remains. Living with each other and learning enough about each other to understand a bit about where someone else is coming from is a prerequisite to many forms of analysis and cooperation across diﬀerences. “How could anyone think that?” Such a question is common in a politi cally and culturally polarized society. Telling stories that show some of the assumptions, experiences, and feelings that are normal within a group is a start towards seeing the cultural rationale for policies or positions taken in more public contexts. Understanding why identities and feelings are so tied into certain beliefs can even show possibilities for creating moments of aﬀective dissonance that can inﬂuence the norms and values behind public responses to environmental issues. None of this is to say that you have to agree with evangelicals or others who think the shocking thing that horri ﬁes you, and not all eﬀorts to move others are worth the time, energy, or potential compromise, but some are. This book has attempted to show a bit of how someone (evangelicals) could think that (a set of perspectives about environmental issues). DOI: 10.4324/9781003318293-8
American evangelicalism as observed in attitudes about science, time, the Bible, and even climate has a conservationist or even preservationist ethos. It’s just that the primary thing to conserve is a particular understanding of the Bible and some of the culture that has grown around that way of reading the Bible. If an ecosystem is a home for many creatures, the Bible is a cultural and self-concept home for many evangelicals. Environmental care and action in the typical sense is ﬁne and even worthwhile except when it comes into conﬂict with conserving the Bible as a dwelling place. Much of the tension about environmental issues within evangelicalism arises over diﬀerences about whether the Bible and evangelical identity are under threat from an environmental issue focus as opposed to caring about environmental issues becoming one part of a larger way of being evangeli cal. Is environmental concern a priority that others have that takes away from the Bible’s importance and values or is environmental concern some thing that integrates well with biblical concerns for the poor and creation? Both options are available within evangelicalism and experiences that create conﬂicting feelings, like discovering a positive response to an envir onmental action and particular place to go along with the evangelically “normal” care for individuals and their future place (hopefully Heaven), are a main way that evangelicalism’s general conservationist tendencies can include the environment in that conservation. American evangelicalism is a conservation movement, but the object of conservation is an approach to the Bible and a culture that has shaped and been shaped by that reading of a text. The eﬀort is to rescue souls more than species. As a conservation movement with very diﬀerent priorities than most environmental conservation or justice work, the conﬂicts and opposition to aspects of environmentalism are no surprise. The movements are competing in the same arena. Understanding this competition and ﬁnding common ground to work together with, as some environmentalists and evangelicals (and even environmentalist evangelicals) have done requires an intimate, experiential look at the culture of American evangelicalism as it relates to environmental issues and as it experiences priorities and poignant issues in the world. These experiences and stories help illuminate more technical explorations of speciﬁc moments and documents like the Cornwall Declaration or statements from the Evangelical Climate Initiative as those suggest speciﬁc responses to climate change, forms of pollution, species loss, and other priority topics for contemporary environmentalism. To give a metaphor, the world is an oil spill, but the oil is sinfulness that has covered everything. Evangelicals are the rescue workers taking oil-cov ered ducks and seals out of the world and giving them the soap of Jesus to cleanse them. This is not meant to be facetious. Environmentalists have the right idea but entirely the wrong problem. They are trying to sustain life in the oil spill, which is ﬁne if that’s what you’ve got, but makes no sense relative to being rescued out of it. In fact, the two approaches end up opposing each other directly.
140 Evangelical Conservation Evangelicalism as a conservationist movement implies a variety of prio rities that can become implicit doctrines of a sort, showing both evangelical perspectives and tensions within evangelicalism too. The end goal sets the stage, and reaching the real world, the true home, in heaven means earth is a stepping-stone or even tool of sorts, yet it can be a valuable tool and one made by God. Nonetheless, it is people, often understood in spiritual, rather than material, terms that need rescue and preservation out of their current natural and cultural ecosystems and into heaven. This real home of heaven and how to get there is known through a reading of the Bible. Ultimately, it is a particular approach to the Bible that is the main object of conservation for evangelicalism. If the historical trustworthiness of part of it breaks down, then the whole system can crumble, so great measures are taken to prevent that possibility.
Opportunities and Reﬂections Yet, within this biblical and earth-escaping system, there are still opportu nities for major diﬀerences within evangelicalism pertaining to the envir onment. The key word “stewardship” as an identity and ethic related to what it means to care for creation shows a struggle over how much con servation of this earth can be integrated into the larger goals of conserving the Bible and rescuing souls. There have, in fact, been signiﬁcant attempts within contemporary evangelicalism to argue for making environmental concern part of its larger concerns and integral to how evangelicals interact with others. A review of some of those books shows major tension over big ideas like the purpose(s) of humans while also returning to tensions about how environmental concern does and does not integrate with conserving the Bible. The evangelical arguments for environmental action still base much of that action around conserving evangelical culture for the long term and preserving a good witness or ability to share the Christian gospel with others. In this sense, environmentalism, like the earth itself, may be a tool for larger conservation purposes and for limiting human suﬀering now. Arguments about scientiﬁc knowledge are central to those more environ mental-action-oriented evangelical arguments, but scientiﬁc knowledge is highly contested too, and how to put the Bible as an authority together with whatever authority scientiﬁc work has is a point of contention that sets possibilities for how environmental issues are heard. Ultimately, envir onmental concerns compete with other priorities and the whole cultural backdrop shapes the experience of what is important. Conserving the priorities of the moment (like abortion issues over environmental ones) is key to evangelical identity and gets caught up as part of the feeling of ulti mate purposes. The question is not whether to conserve but what to conserve. I don’t have a ﬁnal conversion story of speaking with an evangelical and how they suddenly or slowly became more environmentally invested or
how a secular environmentalist came to connect with evangelicals. I only have moments in the tide of inﬂuences that might impact someone’s impression over time of environmental topics as they relate to Christianity. Pointing one person to Katherine Hayhoe’s website that explains the phy sics of climate change in a direct, simple way. Talking with a friend about why my household chose the heating system we did, with environmental reasons able to be part of a mix of factors. Trying to show consistent love for a local preserve and asking what places my interlocuter feels aﬀection for and wants to preserve. And not forgetting theology as environmental topics can be reframed as impacting an evangelical’s witness to the world. Maybe material environmental priorities and evangelical priorities won’t ultimately match, but a real rhetorical priority can be ﬁnding aﬀective and experiential connections that let them overlap a little—a stewardship of possibilities.
abortion 20, 32, 34, 66–68, 117–118,
aﬀect 94, 117; and biopower 32; and
exigence 7; and method 13–14; and
persuasion 122–24; theory 6, 120, 124
aﬀective: contrast 133, 135; dissonance
see dissonance; experience 6–7, 121,
133; fallacy 41; labor 94; response
Aﬀordable Care Act 7
age: of the earth 97, 105, 107–09
agency 54, 112
allies: political 45
Anderson, Ben 6, 32
animal welfare 68, 70, 83, 101
Answers in Genesis 98, 100, 102
Anthropocene 70, 86, 96–97, 105, 108;
and time 111–14
Aral Sea 49–51, 55
attention 5, 7–8, 57, 117; economics of
audience 76, 78–80, 85, 88, 91
authority: biblical 2, 31–32, 35–38, 43,
80, 108; of science 95, 98; versus
Baptist 3, 19, 25, 34
Beisner, Calvin 56, 117–18 beliefs: change of 123; as connected
belonging: rhetorical power of 5, 132–35 Bible: conservation of 2–4, 139–40; as
ﬁlter 28–29; interpretation of 24, 32,
38, 42, 47, 114; and politics 127
Bible-science 93, 95, 97–98; and
evolution 105, 112; and global
warming 100; and interpretation 108,
114; moral value of 106; as rhetorical
tool 100–02, 107
biopower 6–7, 32, 94
Bitzer, Lloyd 11–13
book of nature 83–84
Burke, Edmund 129
Burke, Kenneth 52
carbon dioxide 12, 22
Ceccarelli, Leah 98–99
“Chicago Statement on Biblical
Christianity Today 25, 77, 129
climate change 3, 56–57, 65–71, 88–89;
denial of 113–14, 119, 138; feeling of
15; human-based 25–26, 51; and
property 86; and purpose 76–78;
rhetoric of 6, 52–54, 109
climate science see science
climate skepticism 3, 30
Clinton, Hilary Rodham 20, 121, 125,
cognitive dissonance see dissonance
common ground 79–81
common sense: of Scripture 46
composing: for feel 15
conservation: cultural 4; environmental
conservatism 14, 89, 126
contrast see dissonance
conversion 7, 26, 88
Cornwall Alliance 55–56, 70, 71
Cornwall Declaration 55–62
Council on Biblical Manhood and
Womanhood 22, 34, 127
Index counterpublic 10, 44–45 creation care 5, 25–26, 49, 69, 101; and Bible 101; language of 25–26; as threat 118 creationism 100, 102 credibility 67, 79, 87, 114 Crowley, Sharon 52, 110–11, 122–23 cultural conservation see conservation culture 4, 10–11 “Danvers Statement” 35–36 Davies, Jeremy 96, 113 Davis, Diane 12 denial see climate change development work 64–65, 71 disgust 121–22, 125–28, 131–32 dispensationalism 21, 112 dissonance: aﬀective 17, 117, 121, 125–26, 130–34; and change 7, 123,
cognitive 121, 123
dominion 23, 25–26, 53–54, 57; over earth 62–63, 67, 77, 84, 103; theology 110 Douglas, Paul 76, 78, 86–89 ecofeminist theology 75, 89, 91 ecological 83; communication 12; preservation 51 ecomodernist 59 economy see attention, see also stewardship, see also markets ecopoesis 27 Edbauer, Jennifer 13 election: 2008 presidential 20, 21, 24, 28–29; 2016 presidential 117–18, 120–21, 125, 129, 131 emotion 6, 13–14, 95, 110–11, 122 empathy 124, 132–33 environmental action 54–55, 57–58, 85–86, 91, 140 environmentalist: language 10; stereotype 76; see also identity environmental resources 60–61 escape 20, 22, 25, 27–30 escapism 16 eschatology 20 ethic: conservationist 2, 31, 71; of life 117 Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission 20, 34 evangelical: arguments 140; church 1–2; culture 4, 17, 140; environmentalism 6, 16, 25, 51, 82, 119; hermeneutics
40–41, 46; language 5; politics 36, 66, 86, 117; rhetoric 7, 97; (sub)culture 14–16, 35, 44; vote 125–26, 130 Evangelical Climate Initiative 25, 55–56, 139 Evangelical Environmental Network 55–56, 117 evangelicalism: versus fundamentalism 9, 95–96 evangelism 75; Christian 44, 91; environmental 66, 76 Evans, Rachel Held 130–35 evolution 79–80, 96, 102–06 evolutionary thinking 102 exigence 4–8, 11–15, 34, 49, 87; as aﬀective experience 6–7 exposure: for rhetorical change 15, 133–34 facts 38, 52, 101 fear 76, 89, 126–28 feelings see aﬀect; see also aﬀective experience; see also climate change feminist 11, 36, 75, 89 ﬂexibility 47 Focus on the Family 33–34 framing 13, 57, 68–69, 78 fundamentalism 21, 35, 47, 119; and modernity 21, 23, 41, 47 gender 22, 36, 82 Genesis 23, 26, 38, 53–54, 84–85, 107–08 global warming 11–12, 22, 39, 56, 93; as myth 101; rhetoric of 100; and timeline 102, 104 Gore, Al 76, 86, 101, 103 government: limited 62, 70 green evangelicalism 66 Grudem, Wayne 22–24, 67, 120–21, 127–32, 134 Haidt, Jonathan 122, 124–26, 133–34 Hardt, Michael 32, 94 Hayhoe, Katherine 90–91, 95–97, 114 hermeneutics 24, 26; evangelical 46–47, 101; of security 40–45 Hescox, Mitch 76, 78, 86–89 hierarchy: of nature 51, 60, 80, 82–83 home: Bible as 42–44, 139; earth as 30; heaven as 85, 140 Hume, David 32
144 Index hybridity 47
hyperobjects 12, 89
identity 96; categories 52–53; as
environmentalist 7, 88; preservation
of 114, 139; religious 52,
85, 102–04; threat to 47, 139; see also
ideologies 36, 119, 122
inerrancy 37–39, 122
infallibility: biblical 39
information bubbles 15
inoculation 35–38, 41
Institute for Creation Research 103,
justiﬁcation 121, 125, 128, 130–34
Latour, Bruno 101
Left Behind 76, 119
liberty 57–58, 62, 68, 125
life: fetal 120; see also abortion
literalism 39–40, 110
Lyotard, Jean Francois 75
manufactured controversy 98–99, 105
markets: economic 56, 62, 70
marriage: politics of 34, 128–29
Mars trilogy 26–27
Massumi, Brian 6, 121
Merritt, Jonathan 26, 53, 84–86
method 13, 14, 98
methodology: scientiﬁc 100, 104
missionary 49–50, 63
Moral Foundations Theory 121,
moral issue 28–29, 83, 103
Morton, Timothy 89, 113
motivate 51, 75, 77–78, 109
“Nashville Statement” 34–37 National Association of Evangelicals 26, 56
negotiation 7, 15
Negri, Antonio 32, 94
New Criticism 41, 46
New Earth 22
Nixon, Rob 118
Obama, Barack 7, 20, 29
Oelschlager, Max 51, 77
opportunities: for cooperation 140
Paris Climate Accord 23
poor: and environmental concerns 9,
25–26, 55, 61–62, 68–70, 77–78 priorities 1–2, 6–8, 11–14, 23, 58, 80;
environmental 3, 47, 86, 139–40;
evangelical 2–4, 31, 34,
117; political 117–19, 138
property 54, 62; see also climate change
prosperity gospel 9, 60
Pruitt, Scott 29–30, 62
public spheres 10
purposes 75, 87–89, 140; competition
between 2, 76, 84; cooperation
between 17, 77
reason 58, 70, 124, 134
religious freedom 13, 30, 128
Republican 7, 88, 130–31
rhetoric: ambient 13; as emergent 12; as
rhetorical ecologies 4, 13
Robinson, Kim Stanley 26–27
sanctity of life 25, 66, 86
Schaeﬀer, Francis 82–83
science: and bias 101, 103, 106; climate
55, 67, 104, 114; dangers of 58; and
evolution 96–98; and fundamentalism
23; imitation of 104; and intelligent
design 81; and religious rhetoric
science ﬁction 26, 107
Scripture see authority; see also Bible;
see also Bible-science
security 32; see also hermeneutic
slow violence 118
social justice 77
sovereignty 67, 85–86, 104
“Statement on the Environment” 33
steward 49, 51–54, 59–60, 65, 73
stewardship 5, 17, 69–70, 84; aggressive
59–61; as identity 49, 52–54, 62, 140;
preservation 65–66; privatized,
economic 56, 62; of resources 50
systematic theology 1–2, 22
Index taste 37, 121–22, 128
Theocene 86, 96, 97, 99, 113–14
time: geological 112, 115; theological
105; see also Anthropocene; see also global warming; see also timescale timescale 23, 25, 104, 114
translation 2, 14–15
Trump, Donald 20, 120–21, 125–32
Uzbekistan 49–51, 55, 63–65
Vatz, Richard 11–12 Warner, Michael 10, 44–45
Wilson, E. O. 78–83, 89
Woolgar, Steve 101
world: saving the 75, 81, 84,
worldview 79, 95, 97,
White, Lynn 3, 51, 77