Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Week of 10.26.07

Uniting to Protect the Creation

Read an essay by Dr. Eric Chivian and Rev. Richard Cizik about their eye-opening journey to Alaska, including what each man learned from the other

Rev. Richard Cizik
Reverend Richard Cizik, M. Div., M.A., is the Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Dr. Eric Chivian
Eric Chivian, M.D., is the Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Medical School. In 1985, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize for Co-founding International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
In mid 2005, the two of us met and became close friends, and we soon began talking about the high levels of enmity and distrust that existed between many scientists and Evangelicals. We saw this historic schism as increasingly dangerous in today's world, because, despite having differences on some well-known issues, our two communities clearly shared a deep and fundamental reverence for life on Earth and a profound concern about what human activity was doing to it, and together, had an enormously powerful role to play in helping to reduce the threat from escalating changes to the global environment. And yet scientists and Evangelicals were hardly speaking to one another.

The two of us decided that our respective organizations would convene a meeting of prominent scientists and Evangelicals, and last December, 30 of us met. The group reviewed the science, about which there was no disagreement—that the natural world (which everyone agreed to call the Creation) was imperiled by human behavior, especially by our unsustainable burning of fossil fuels and our degradation of living systems, and that human beings were particularly at risk, with the poorest among us, those least able to defend themselves, being the most vulnerable. It became clear to us that there was no such thing as a liberal or conservative environment, or a secular or religious environment. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and rely on the same organisms we share this planet with for our health and our lives. And it soon became obvious that whether one believed God created life on Earth in an instant, or that it had evolved over 3.5 billion years, we all felt deeply that it was sacred and that it was our responsibility to protect it.

"It became clear to us that there was no such thing as a ... secular or religious environment."
A smaller group of us—10 leading scientists and Evangelicals—accompanied by a NOW film crew, has recently returned from Alaska, where some of the Earth's most dramatic and easily seen changes caused by global warming are occurring. Glaciers are melting rapidly, contributing to sea level rise; sea ice and permafrost are fast disappearing, threatening many species like polar bears with extinction and exposing some Native Inupiat coastal communities to massive erosion and great human suffering; streams and rivers are becoming too warm for salmon to spawn; and million of acres of spruce trees have been dying, infested by bark beetles whose populations have exploded secondary to the warming.

We left changed people, more convinced than ever that scientists and Evangelicals had to speak with one voice and do everything in their power to save this indescribably beautiful and precious gift we have all been given.

What We Learned from Each Other

From Dr. Eric Chivian:
What I have learned from Richard is that our similarities are so much deeper and more important than any differences we might have, and that our great friendship and respect for one another has made everything possible. Richard, as a young man, planted and tended an orchard, and I now manage one that grows heirloom fruit. A central part of our bond with each other is that we share a deep love for the natural world. We also share a core belief that guides our lives. From my tradition, it is embodied in the words of Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, who counseled us in their Einstein-Russell Manifesto, which dealt with preventing the use of nuclear weapons, "Remember your humanity, forget the rest." From Richard's, it is the great wisdom of the Bible—"Love thy neighbor as thyself." We are all neighbors on this small planet, and we must put aside whatever divides us to address together the global environmental and human health crises we face. That is the only way we will be successful.

From Rev. Richard Cizik:
What I've learned from Eric is what every Evangelical would learn from an honest, get-to-know-each-other dialogue with scientists: a new understanding of stewardship. How so? As a biblical Christian, I've always looked forward to seeing a "new heaven and a new earth." In so doing, that "vision" never included being a protector or steward of this earth. Seeing the real threats to this earth, Creation, has given me a different frame of reference. That new frame of reference is to see life from God's perspective. (After all, His frame of reference is much more expansive than my own; God loves the whole Creation, and wants us to do the same.) On our expedition to Alaska, for example, we could actually see the melting of glaciers and Arctic sea ice, the destruction of habitat, and other variables that are altering human life on earth. For these, as well as other impacts, there is, right now, overwhelming empirical evidence. And, tragically, we humans are causing it. This new vision has changed me, profoundly. I now can "see" what God intended all along. In my judgment, there's no way to warrant a commendation as "thou good and faithful servant" without such stewardship. Ironic, isn't it, that it took a scientist and his colleagues to open my eyes? As the Scriptures say, God works in marvelous and wondrous ways.