In this series, the Christian and the Environment, I will be discussing on the role of Christians in protecting the environment. As an environmental scientist, I am passionate about the intersection between the environment and theology. However, as an African, I live in a world where the effects of environmental negligence are part of life.
I first saw a pangolin when I was thirteen; my cousin spotted it hiding beneath a rock behind our cattle pen. It curled in the dirt hiding its head timidly. My uncle postponed the farm jobs for the day. We had to rescue the poor thing before the lions, hyenas or leopards make dinner out of it.
But that wasn’t the only reason: according to local traditions, penguins were sacred. Anyone who found one was supposed to report to the chief. Ordinary people were not allowed to eat a pangolin otherwise their family would be cursed. Pangolins remain one of the most endangered mammals; they are often mistaken as reptiles.
The African Traditional Religion is famous for blurring the lines between the physical and spiritual realm. I was taught not to use certain trees as firewood otherwise I would get sores all over my body. Some trees, rivers, mountains were an ottoman of spiritual beings, desecrating them would attract a curse on oneself or family, we were told.
But when the missionaries came, they told Africans that these customs, beliefs, and traditions were demonic – perpetuating ancestral worship. That same message remains rooted in most Christian churches. I agree with Brent Waters, “Christian theology stripped nature of any sacred status leaving it composed of inanimate objects and ignorant beasts that humans could exploit and manipulate with impunity.”
Christian theology stripped nature of any sacred status leaving it composed of inanimate objects and ignorant beasts that humans could exploit and manipulate with impunity. – Brent Waters
In Christ; you could cut any tree you want, plant your crops wherever you want, even on wetlands, and let your livestock graze anywhere you want. After all, God said (Genesis 1:28), “Be fruitful and multiply 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.”
Does your theology consider the life of pangolins? Here are four reasons your theology should be environmentally sustainable.
4 Reasons Your Theology Should Care About the Environment
1. The Problem of Sin
Henri Blocher perfectly described how sin is an enemy of the environment in his seminal work, In the Beginning. He noted that man ‘in his insatiable greed, in his scorn for the balances built into the created order and in his shortsighted selfishness he pollutes and destroys it. He turns a garden into a desert.’
Two decades ago, there was a rapid increase in gold panning in Zimbabwe. Reports of people who have become rich through gold panning filtered across the country. The gold panners used mercury, which is a known environmental pollutant of major concern. However, the gospel adequately addresses the problem of greed by offering Christ as our sufficiency.
2. Environmental Stewardship
Throughout Scripture, we are told that God created the earth and the heavens, and he gave human beings dominion over the earth. However, because of a corrupted capitalist mindset, dominion is wrongly interpreted as exploitation. For that reason, during colonial period African communities were considered primitive because they did not exploit natural resources.
Consider Psalms 24:1-2, “The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” God gave us dominion over the earth and not ownership. Christians need to consider the wise words by Peter Parker’s grandmother in Spiderman, “With power, comes great responsibility.” Thus, environmental stewardship is an act of worship that exalts the Creator above the creation.
3. Environmental Justice
A few months ago, I went for a run with my six-year-old son. We did not complete the run because a few yards from my apartment we saw a couple fighting. I walked up to the couple and took away their little girl who was crying probably shocked by the animosity. The guy had a running quarterback built, and I am only five feet nine. I took the risk because I believe children shouldn’t be left to become victims of their parents’ stupidity.
Sometimes seeking environmental justice is like that; you must stand in for the environment that is voiceless like that little girl. The little girl will not show the emotional injuries today, but twenty years from now the emotional scars will show. It’s the same with the environment. Dams in my home city are now shallow due to siltation, yet it’s our grandparents who chose to practice stream bank cultivation. The gospel requires standing up for the environment as it does for that little girl.
4. Environmental Science
Recently, a popular Christian Reformed writer questioned climate change giving no regard to available scientific evidence, but basing his arguments on his distrust of liberals. The machinations of some liberals to use the environmental crisis as an excuse for gaining political and social mileage is not an excuse for neglecting the environment. We can use the scientific process as a tool for preserving God’s voice proclaimed through his creating.
Environmental stewardship is an act of worship that exalts the Creator above the creation.
I am an environmental scientist with a PhD in Environmental Toxicology; a Fulbright fellow with a passion for understanding how the chemicals we use to improve our quality of life, such as pills affect the lives of animals that live in rivers and oceans. One important lesson I learned as an environmental scientist in the past ten years is: loving your neighbor means being mindful of what you do, what you use and what you eat.
Again, I will ask, “Does your theology consider the life of a pangolin?”