How can we begin to address poverty if we haven’t first ensured our planet is habitable?
Not only is this sentiment misguided, but it also shows the lengths to which people will go to ensure that their own personally approved agendas are advanced.
In light of the evidence, it is hard to deny that people are at least partially to blame for the state of the environment in the modern day. In fact, as Christians, it is actually one of our core tenants. After man’s fall from perfection, the earth itself was cursed.
To Adam he said…”Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV)
So, if for no other reason, Christians must admit at least partial responsibility for a damaged earth simply because the Bible says that we damaged it. As a result, it is, at least partially, our responsibility to reverse the effect that our first parents’ fall had on the planet. But should this be priority number one?
Simply put, no.
In a statement mirroring numerous commandments from the Old Testament, Jesus once said,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37b-40 NIV)
Priority number one for the Christian, and indeed all of humankind, is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Human beings are called, first and foremost, to love God, serve Him, and live for Him.
On an equal plane, we are also called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving God and loving our fellow people is to be the heartbeat of the Christian life.
Keeping Jesus’ own words in mind, what do we do in the case of a human-induced climate crisis, assuming that there is one?
We must, of course, do our part to reverse what we have done. But should we put this before something like extreme poverty?
I would say, again, no.
For the poor of the world, a warming globe is the least of their concerns. In fact, I am willing to bet that many of those living in extreme poverty are unaware of the science of global warming and wouldn’t understand it if they did hear about it. For the poor of the world, food, shelter, and providing for their loved ones is first on their list. We are not showing them love if we ignore their plight and focus, instead, on a debatable issue like global warming.
For those in a developing nation, global warming is low on the list of priorities. What they are focused on is getting out of their poverty and becoming competitive on the world stage. (Ironically, these are the same people who are forward-thinking enough to invest in sustainable energy sources to begin with, so teaching them about climate change is really a moot point.)
Ultimately, we as a race should be more concerned about helping those in need than in whether or not an animal species goes extinct. At the same time, we are called to be stewards of this planet we call home.
And this raises a new question, which we’ll discuss at another time.