Thirty years ago, few Christians either side of the pond took any interest in the environment, and those who did were regarded as cranks, Things moved after 1990 when many in the churches went green. Until about 2010 Evangelicals were split between what may be termed Greens and Browns. The Greens followed the consensus of secular greens and were represented both in the USA and the UK. The Browns were those evangelicals who did no and foremost among them is Dr Calvin Beisner and the Cornwall Alliance
I give first a historical account which comes part from my book Evangelicals and Science 2008 and part a chapter in Religion and Environmental Change ed Gerten and Bergmann 2012. After 2010 things changed and the focus was on climate change and fossil fuels for several reasons. First this was focussed by Copenhagen 2009 and then the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico and lastly fracking which became a litmus test for the darker greens.
I then cite Beisner’s recent explanation of his stance and conclude with his reflections and regret at the resignation of Pruitt.
I have not provided much interpretation and assume that my readers have at least half a brain, but suffice it to say that I think Beisner is very very wrong and reflected where the conservative Evangelicals are wrong over the environment, and has dangerous views for the future of our planet.
[Those who know I reject divestment and support fracking (and GMOs) might be bemused by my position on the environmental spectrum. Perhaps environmental questions do not require such a binary approach which follows the fallacy of rejecting the Excluded Middle, whereby no mediating or middle position is allowed. On the environment a Christian must follow either Bill McKibbin or Beisner. There is no other alternative. Hence to dark Greens I am as bad as Beisner!!
Whereas most Christians and many Evangelicals have developed environmental awareness over the last 40 years, numbers of Evangelicals have not. Many of these are associated with the religious right in the United States and have a great suspicion of anything liberal or ‘leftie’. Since 1990, Evangelicals who are opposed to the approach of Evangelical environmentalists have been gaining strength and have formed coalitions to express their understanding of environmental stewardship, culminating in the Cornwall Declaration produced in 2000.
An essential aspect of opposition to mainline environmentalism came from free- market economics, which was linked to the upholding of conservative theological principles, both Catholic and Evangelical, with the founding of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in 1990 by Father Robert Sirico. The goal of the institute was to ‘promote a society that embraces civil liberties and free- market economics’. The Acton Institute and Calvin Beisner opposed the Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation . In 2000, the Acton Institute established the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship, whose founders included leading Evangelicals such as James Dobson (Focus on the Family) and James Kennedy (Coral Ridge Ministries) as well as conservative Roman Catholics and Jews. Their Cornwall Declaration was produced in 2000 and posted to 35,000 churches. This declaration ran counter to the Evangelical Declaration , but it was not overtly ‘anti- environmental’. First, the declaration is anthropocentric and emphatic that humanity has dominion over the earth, and it offers the criticism that ‘some unfounded or undue concerns include fears of destructive manmade global warming, overpopulation, and rampant species loss’. Then, in the section on beliefs, the fifth statement reads, ‘By disobeying God’s Law, humankind brought on itself moral and physical corruption as well as divine condemnation in the form of a curse on the earth. Since the fall into sin people have often ignored their Creator, harmed their neighbours, and defi led the good creation’. This, as we see, claims that the Fall of Adam had an effect on the whole of creation in that it was a curse and not just a fall . (The notion of a curse often includes the idea that the earth is only a few thousand years old, as no animal could have died before the Fall.)
David Kenneth Larsen wrote that ‘“the Cornwall Declaration represented the first acknowledgment of the need for environmental care” by politically conservative leaders’ .7 That in itself may be very significant for the future. In 2005 ICES was relaunched as the ISA.
To understand the Browns and the ISA, it is best to focus on their leading theoretician, Calvin Beisner, who is an associate professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Florida and has written three books on environmental stewardship: Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future (1990); Man, Economy, and Perspective (1994) and Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry Into the Environmental Debate (1997). Beisner is not a scientist and studied under the economist Julian Simon, who did not recognize the limited nature of natural resources and whose book Resourceful Earth (1984) advocated the ‘cornucopia hypothesis’ of unlimited economic growth. This is a key point. 8 Hence Beisner takes far more of a free- market approach to the environment rather than a scientific one, whether on climate, pollution or material resources. Beisner supports his understanding of environmental stewardship with his interpretation of early Genesis.
He argues that there are two different mandates in Genesis 1 and 2 and that the ‘curse’ of Genesis drastically changed the natural world. Richard Wright argued in 1995 that ‘the presumed biblical support for this position [for the emerging Christian anti- environmentalism] is currently found primarily in Beisner’s work’ (Wright, 1995). Beisner rejected the commonly held idea that the meaning of subdue and rule in Gen. 1.28 and to till and keep in Genesis 2 are essentially the same. He argues from the Hebrew, as he did in Where Garden Meets Wilderness, that there are two contrasting cultural mandates: Gen. 2.15 is gentle, and Gen. 1.28 is harsh. One is appropriate for the garden, the other to the earth outside the garden – the wilderness. Thus the wilderness must be ‘subdued’ to become a ‘garden’, a view that includes the necessity of taming wild animals. As Beisner expressed it: The incremental transformation of wilderness into garden, bringing the whole earth under human dominion, taming the wild beasts, and building order out of chaos . . . while tender cultivation is suited to a garden, forceful subduing is suited to all of the earth that has not yet been transformed into the garden. In short, subduing and ruling the earth should metamorphose gradually into tilling and keeping the garden as the earth is progressively transformed into the garden. Many reject this biblical interpretation, but it has serious implications in that it transforms Gen. 1.28 into a command to tame the wilderness, and – as McKeown put it – ‘so the logical outcome of his reading of Genesis (though he mostly avoids it) is that it is a dereliction of duty to leave any wild area untransformed or any wild creature untamed’ (McKeown, 2006). This interpretation is completely contrary to any understanding of protecting wildernesses and the ideal of national parks, for example. Beisner also claims that ‘there is a difference between the Fall and the Curse. The Fall is man’s sin, and the Curse is God’s response to man’s sin. The Curse is on the earth’. He points out that ‘most evangelical books on the environment never mention the Curse’ but only the Fall and that ‘the only degradation that the Declaration mentions occurring to the earth is all through human action’, neglecting God’s direct action against the earth by curse and flood. Beisner judged that this silence was motivated by the Greens’ desire to identify environmental problems as human- caused, but the report of the 1992 WEF meeting (cf. above) indicates that the reason was their uncertainty about whether the earth’s physical aspects were actually changed by the curse. In other words, were earthquakes, storms, predation, death and disease actually introduced after the Fall to be the curse?
This is a basic premise of creationism. 9 In his contribution to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in April 2007, Beisner wrote: ‘According to both the Bible and sound science, the great pools of oil and veins of coal formed from sudden, simultaneous deposits of vast numbers of plants and animals in a great geological cataclysm – what Christians recognize as the Flood of Noah’s time’ (Beisner, 2007 ).10 Most would not agree that this is sound science, as he rejects all geological time and claims that carbon fuels were formed in the few months of the Flood. It is not possible to give a detailed discussion of Beisner’s and the ISA’s reasons for their positions on environmental issues, but it is difficult not to conclude that they are based on three contentious conclusions: (1) there are unlimited resources on the earth, (2) that the events and time scales reported in early Genesis are a historic reality (3) the Fall also entailed a curse on creation by God. From the presentation to the US Senate on religious views of global warming (June 2007) discussed below, it is clear that Beisner has convinced a large proportion of religious conservatives, including many Southern Baptists, of the wisdom of his views. However, his whole approach has been savaged by two environmentally informed Evangelical scientists, Richard Wright and the environmental geologist Jeff Greenberg of Wheaton College in Chicago. In spite of their critiques, many Evangelicals and conservative Catholics have supported the Cornwall Declaration and, under the guise of good stewardship of the environment, reject many of the aims of most environmentalists, particularly those that are seen as ‘ junk science’. This has caused a rift among American Evangelicals, and crosses the pond.
Next is an e-mail written by Beisner for the regular Cornwall Alliance e-mail 19/6/18
What Made Me Pour My Life into the Cornwall Alliance?
People often ask what made me interested enough in environmental stewardship that teaching about it has become my career. After all, I started out mainly doing personal evangelism and the theological, historical, philosophical, and scientific apologetics that served evangelism. Why the switch—if it was a switch?
Well, first, it wasn’t a switch but an expansion of concern with the realization that evangelism introduces people not solely to justification—being made right with God—but also to a whole Kingdom-of-God way of living.
Second, that expansion came in 1981. Part of what drove it was when a pastor friend with whom I had breakfast each Saturday morning for prayer and discussion of various books on the Christian life, urged me to read Ronald Sider’s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. “It’ll change your life,” he said over and over as I resisted it because I had no interest in economics. At last I gave in and read it.
It did indeed change my life, but not quite the way my pastor friend expected. I knew nothing about economics, but I knew logic and Biblical interpretation, and I was convinced Sider had botched those badly. If he had botched his economics, too, those who embraced his ideas—a sort of “soft socialism” (from which he backed away somewhat in later editions)—could do a great deal of harm with the best of intentions.
But who was I to criticize, never having studied economics? So I bought a big stack of books on economics and studied them carefully. That study confirmed my suspicion. And that made me want to counter the influence of that book, which led to my doing my master’s degree in economic ethics, my chairing the economics committee of the Coalition on Revival, and my writing two books for Crossway’s “Turning Point Christian Worldview” series—Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (1988), and Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future (1990).’
Those books led to many invitations to speak for conferences and then to teach at Covenant College and later at Knox Theological Seminary. One of those conferences led to my drafting what became the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, which later became Cornwall Alliance’s founding document.
So, in short, what motivated me to pour my life into this work was a Biblical concern to protect the poor from policies that would slow or stop their rise out of poverty—a poverty with devastating consequences that I had witnessed firsthand in my early childhood in India.
As a geologist I simply cannot accept his view of unlimited mineral resourses and doubt whether his concerns over poverty are in the right place. incidentally we were both brought up in India!
And now his email on 6th July 2018 on Pruitt’s resignation
Cornwall Alliance Statement on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Resignation
On July 5, President Donald Trump announced the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The Cornwall Alliance was pleased to support Mr. Pruitt’s nomination in 2017, and we have valued his service to the American people since then.
He has brought to the EPA, which in past years frequently overstretched the statutory limits of its authority, a strong commitment to our Constitutional order. Mr. Pruitt has honored the separation of powers and worked vigorously to roll back needless, costly EPA regulations imposed on the American people by the Obama Administration.
Hand-in-hand with President Trump, Mr. Pruitt led the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, rolled back the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule, has taken steps to end the use of “secret science” in EPA regulatory formation, and acted to expand the EPA’s consultation of scientists other than those whose receipt of agency funding creates a conflict of interest.
We fully expect that Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, formerly Deputy Administrator, will follow in Mr. Pruitt’s footsteps, reforming the EPA according to President Trump’s agenda to improve the American economy while continuing to protect its environment. We wish him well in those endeavors, we wish Mr. Pruitt well in the next chapter of his distinguished career of public service, and we encourage President Trump to name a permanent new Administrator who will be as dedicated as was Mr. Pruitt to the agenda the America people affirmed when they elected him President.
God Bless You,
E. Calvin Beisner
Founder and National Spokesman
I don’t quite agree with Beisner but doubt whether his successor will be better.
To conclude I think Beisner’s views on the environment are fundamentally wrong on so many levels, but I do chuckle that as a Creationist he believes all the fossil fules were laid down when Noah went on a sailing trip with his 6 million insects and a few dinosaurs.
More seriously, his views on Genesis probably result in his woeful environmental views.