What would Jesus drive?

Swarthmore expert cites biblical basis for environmental protection.

provided by Swarthmore College

ome opponents of the anti-SUV “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign charge that it smacks of pagan Earth worship. But a Swarthmore College religion professor says there is ample biblical basis for protecting the environment.

    “From the story of Genesis to Jesus's words in the New Testament, the idea comes through that the goodness of creation is our inheritance, something we must preserve and pass on to the next generation – not something we possess to exploit and abuse,” says associate religion professor Mark Wallace, who is at work on a book about the relationship between Christianity and environmentalism.

    One reason behind traditional Christian apathy toward the environment, Wallace says, is a misunderstanding of the biblical principle of human “dominion” over Earth. Wallace, who is expert in Hebrew, translates the Hebrew word for “dominion” to mean “stewardship” – not “control” or “ownership” as it is often understood.

    Another reason for the disconnect between Christianity and ecology is the traditional conception of God as separate from the Earth – a “sky God,” as Wallace phrases it. But Wallace believes the widely accepted theory of incarnation argues for a God of the Earth, meaning that humans honor God by revering and protecting creation.

    Wallace finds still more biblical support for environmental protection in statements by Jesus. In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus speaks of birds and the beauty of flowers, Wallace notes. “Jesus shows a kind of intimacy with the beauty of creation,” he says. “This intimacy teaches people today to be equally loving toward the natural world. To me, that means we ought to develop appropriate and sustainable technologies.”

    Wallace says he is encouraged by signs that Christianity, at least in some quarters, is accepting responsibility for the environment. “If Christianity doesn't wake up to our environmental crisis,” he says, “it's going to be partly responsible for everything we're facing today, from pesticides in our food to global warming.”

    For background on the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign, visit whatwouldjesusdrive.org.