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June 18th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

My Take: How should Christians respond to the oil spill?

Editor's Note: Jonathan Merritt is the author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. He blogs at www.jonathanmerritt.com.

By Jonathan Merritt, Special to CNN

What was your first response when you got news that a catastrophic explosion had caused a leak at a BP oil rig? Did you grab your wallet and bemoan the impending gas price spike? Or did you shrug your shoulders because you didn’t think it would affect you? The worst environmental crisis in our nation’s history has elicited a gamut of responses from Americans—especially Christian Americans.

Unfortunately, most of their responses have been wrong.


For nearly nine weeks, hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil have been gushing into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico every day. Eleven men and untold numbers of marine wildlife have died. The already suffering people in the Gulf region are looking at an even dimmer immediate future. And an entire summer tourism industry on which hundreds of communities depend has been nearly destroyed. BP is now in a full-on panic, and the Obama administration is increasingly frantic as it scrambles to keep the president’s approval rating from slumping into the oily abyss.

The Christian community, in which many remain skeptical of the environmental movement, appears to have come down with a case of PR schizophrenia, with reactions ranging from complacency to indignation. Most of their responses leave us asking: How should Christians respond?

An overview of those responses so far:

Ignoring it. Perhaps the most confounding reaction coming from some Christians is apathy. Many Christians seem unconcerned with what is going on in the Gulf, or at least preoccupied with “more important” political issues like Arizona’s new immigration law. Searching the web sites of major Christian groups for “oil spill” returns few or no results.

Capitalizing on it. Some Christians, particularly those who have taken a laissez-faire approach to environmental regulation in the past, have seen this tragedy as an opportunity to attack the President. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition have both lobbed bombs, and Sarah “drill baby, drill” Palin has been clobbering the administration everywhere from Fox News to Facebook. They are hoping to tar this administration with the legacy that Hurricane Katrina left for the Bush administration.

Apart from being inflammatory, this tactic is distracting. In his book Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman argues that responding with anger to the BP situation actually subverts the changes most of us long for:

By imagining some disembodied power that has victimized us – "those greedy corporations" say – we avoid having to examine our own impacts. It's a convenient arrangement, one that lets us deflect our discomfort at facing the ways in which we add to the onslaught against the natural world.

These folks smell blood, not oil, in the water. But in their desire to tear down the president they are actually harming us all. Rather than attacking others, perhaps we should look inward at ourselves.

Extolling it. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, about one third of America’s 60 million white evangelicals believe that the world will end in their lifetime. Some of them, it seems, believe the oil spill is a sign of the end times. As Lisa Miller wrote in a recent Newsweek article, “A growing conversation among Christian fundamentalists asks the question that may have been inevitable: is the oil spill in the gulf a sign of the coming apocalypse?”

One Louisiana Pastor named Theodore Turner told CBS he was sure of it. These Christians are so focused on future prophecies that they aren’t helping solve our present problems.

Prayerfully Mourning it. As the slick spreads and the situation worsens, a few Christians—most surprisingly, conservative evangelicals—are responding with prayer, contrition and a reconsideration of their environmental positions. These Christians realize that the world needs a thoughtful Christian community that helps the hurting, protects God’s creation, and cares more about people than politics.

An example of someone who got it right is Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He visited the Gulf region and responded tearfully on his blog:

For too long, we evangelical Christians have maintained an uneasy ecological conscience. I include myself in this indictment . . . Because we believe in free markets, we’ve acted as though this means we should trust corporations to protect the natural resources and habitats. But a laissez-faire view of government regulation of corporations is akin to the youth minister who lets the teenage girl and boy sleep in the same sleeping bag at church camp because he “believes in young people.”

Rather than ignore the situation or channel his energy into a political attack, he paused to mourn the loss of life, pray for the hurting, and reconsider his own positions. Moore continues, “Will people believe us when we speak about the One who brings life and that abundantly, when they see that we don’t care about that which kills and destroys?”

With the precision only a pastor and theologian can achieve, Moore hits the Christian community in the heart. How can we expect people to believe our message of hope and life when people see us responding to devastation with apathy, self-interest, or fanaticism? Should not our callousness be replaced with compassion, our apathy with action?

Now is the time for the Christian community to open up our deep coffers and provide assistance to those in need. We should spend some of our political capital to call politicians to the table to implement safeguards to prevent another catastrophic oil spill. Individuals should pray, churches should send cleanup teams and all of us should reflect on those habits in our lives that have contributed to this mess.

If Christians fail to rise to this occasion, Americans won’t only lose faith in big corporations and the ability of the federal government to manage environmental crises. They’ll lose faith in us.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Merritt.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Environment

soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. Andrew

    Heya great publish , Many thanks sharing these details

    September 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  2. beatsdrea8

    Hello,happy to know everybody for the very first time! It is good discussion board, I had been looking for something similar to this particular.

    July 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  3. Canister Set ·

    gas prices will always increase that is why we should focus on alternative energy sources ""

    November 8, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  4. Ashley Martinez

    gas prices are still on the rise today, we should go Alternative Fuel"*:

    October 1, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  5. Rachel H

    How should Christians respond? Let's start by using phrases to describe the situation that don't hurt other people in the process. "PR schizophrenia" is a totally inappropriate and hurtful term that only perpetuates the stigma that people with mental illness can't be successful, stable, contributing members of our society. A Christian response would be to choose your worlds with compassion.

    June 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  6. John D

    How should Christians respond to the oil spill?

    Well, it wouldn't hurt them to learn a thing or two about sedimentary geology.
    That's really more a personal betterment thing than a social responsibility, though... Although I suppose engaging in an in-depth empirical inquiry into what petroleum is and where it comes from might lead a certain subset of the Christian community to stop combatting the teaching of science in public schools.

    I'm aware that's an out-of-order broadside, but what the hell.
    I'm feeling saucy today.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  7. matt

    Now everyone has an opinion about what Christians should be doing. Christians help, give and donate more time, money and energy (as they should) to more people than any other group on this planet ever has. Making generalized statements about how Christians are using this to go after the president is unfair and simply wrong. For all of those who now seem to think they know what Christians should be doing, why don't you pray about it and see what God lays on your heart.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  8. atheistamongus

    The Christian club is just like any other club out there (pick your religion, pick your poison). Some of its dubious attributes include: strength in numbers, ultimate lobby group, mind control over the faithful voting block, simplistic explanations of the unknown. I suggest that American religiosity has contributed against our evolving a modern energy policy (see Republicans/Rampant Capitalism/Religious right/End times/Anti-environmentalism/pro-Big Oil). After all, Jesus would want us all to drive Hummers and pick-ups not pansy electric cars..

    June 21, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  9. Dr RatstaR

    Promote the two child family. Allow tax deductions for the first two children, and then levy heavy school taxes for the rest of the brood.

    Tax religious property. Use the money to fund Planned Parenthood, and to educate the world about the dangers of overpopulation.

    It is a sad mistake to subsidize the flesh-farmers of religion in a time when natural resources are shrinking and demand is growing at an exponential rate. This practice hurts all of us and our future generations.

    Think oil shortages are bad? Here on CNN there have been many articles about the looming water shortage.

    Dr RatstaR – Viet Nam Era Vet – Drafted – 1972 1976 – Devout Pagan and worshipper of Mother Nature, who is the Creator and the Creation, and the only source from which all blessings flow. When she is tired of us she will wipe the slate clean, and all the gods and goddesses created in (hu)man's image will cease to exist.

    May the Flying Spaghetti Monster reach out and touch you with His noodly appendage.

    rAmen.

    June 21, 2010 at 2:27 am |
  10. Cindy Merrill

    The answer is to return to farming- the number one occupation in the bible: If every household had a vegetable garden, our carbon footprint would be reduced by 25%, childhood obesity, diabetes, other ailments would decline as well. Just two acres of land, if carefully tilled and tended, will feed a household adequately.

    June 20, 2010 at 6:29 am |
    • Lola

      Although many of us don't have 2 acres to farm, I encourage even apartment dwellers to look into urban-homesteading. There are different levels of commitment for self-sufficiency....some people are sustaining families almost totally handmade/homemade. Starting a small edible garden is a great place to start.
      Followers of Christ know the Lord called us to be good stewards....let's seek His will and leading to take steps to be better stewards of the resources He has entrusted to us.

      June 20, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  11. Joe G

    If people spent as much time volunteering and giving back to the community as they did praying to a man made god, the world would undoubtedly be a better place. I can't fathom being so naive as to think that there is some god out there who A cares what we do and B. plays an actual role.

    Grow up

    June 20, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • Paul Ronco

      Apparently, then, Albert Einstein would be one of us naive folk. He believed in God too.

      June 20, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
    • Joel3

      Joe G – If God never gave us His Word, this world would be completely out of control. No one would know who we are, where we're from, where we are going, or what our purpose here is. Hence, do whatever "feels" right. Can you take a clear look at that scenario, coupled with the darkness of man's heart, and honestly believe yourself?

      June 21, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Sonia

    Please lets help each other. The end days are here. All the more reason to help our fellow man. God be with us all !!!

    June 19, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Sonia, sadly, the end of days are coming faster for most than others. But we are seeing the prophecies being fulfilled.

      June 19, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
    • nonesuch

      Oh, please. The "end days"? And you think "most" are facing them before you are, Heisgod? What makes you so special?
      If God were going to preserve the best of his creation, he'd pick people with brains. That would be...not you.

      June 20, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  13. KellyinCA

    Our response to the oil spill should be to 1) pray for those who have lost loved ones in the initial disaster and for those whose losses we cannot predict but will result from the spill; 2) examine through prayer and discourse our roles in the disaster as consumers of natural resources and our performance as stewards of this bounty; and 3) act on our findings in ways that help restore the relationships among us, with the natural world and with God. One thing I have learned in my relationship with God is that reason and faith go hand-in-hand. Good stewardship of the planet and cultivating good relationships with others will bring their rewards. As a Christian, I feel called to exercise my trust in God by caring for the environment and by caring for and giving dignity to those around me.

    June 19, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  14. Bob

    Why would the responce from christians be any different than from any other person in the world. This ,that and the other groups make me sick. How about everyone doing the right thing at all times and forget about all these seperations.

    Bob

    June 19, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  15. Tellurian

    According to biblical scripture the LORD is responsible for the oil spill. From Isaiah 45:7
    I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the LORD, do all these things.
    Apparently an oil spill is what the Jewish god wants.

    June 19, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      If you say that the Lord is responsible for the oil spill, can you ask yourself why God allowed it? Just take a few minutes and think about it.

      June 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  16. zaza

    Since Christianity as well as any other religion has many answers or beliefs for one question that no one knows the answer to perhaps Christians as well as others should react to the oil spill as some deliberate action (BP doing anything for profit) that ruined the home they live in, that would be novel for religion – actually looking at an action based on realistic expectations etc.

    June 19, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  17. HeIsGod

    @ Eric G – This 2000 + year old book has brought so much to life for many of us who have trusted in Truth, than only this book that is 2000 + years old can bring for life. I can care less if my argument is important to you or not, that is the least of my worries. You divinity is just but a few years of your life and you will not even exist, once your are dead. It is impossible to worship something or someone that will no longer exist. God, in the other hand is an everlasting God who reigns from heaven above and earth is His foot stool. Only God is to be worshiped and many people have even worshiped mankind and have had faith on them, but where are they now? DEAD....and probably in H3LL!!!

    June 19, 2010 at 1:44 am |
    • nonesuch

      Yup. You tell 'em. They either have to believe everything you do about the only God you believe in, or they'll BURN.

      And remember, God is love.

      What a crock.

      June 20, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  18. Lou

    @ joel3...think about this quote " 2 working hands accomplish more than a thousand clasped in prayer".... people pray everyday for millions and millions of things...they pray for the hungry, they pray for the sick, they pray for starving & homeless children...and yet there is still disease, still homeless, still cancer, still natural disasters and prayer does nothing absolutly nothing. so god is either incompetent or non existant..and what would be the point in believing in an incompetent god?

    June 18, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Lou, people who refuses to let go of sin and prays to God, will most likely not have their prayers answered. Why? God doesn't hear a "SINNER'S" prayer that just keeps sinning. If we want to see God move by His Spirit, we must be willingly to obey His voice:
      Deuteronomy 7:12-15
      If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young. The LORD will keep you free from every disease.

      Deuteronomy 28:1-12
      If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you. The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you. The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. 14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.

      June 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm |
  19. james

    "All things are permisable, but not all things are benificial." Every choice we make has a consiquence, good or bad. Each action has a reaction. So who do we blame when we make our next choices? Money has always been the object of power for those who control it. And they will always make up the laws that protect their choices , good or bad. And this is the freedom God gives humans to make. But their is a right way and wrong way, it all depends on where you are getting your source of information from. If we obey Gods word and his instructions on what action to take, the probibility increases that others will benifiet in a positive and constructive way for the overall good of humanity. But when self interest, motivated by personall gain, is the only objective, then the domino effect is unleashed to those who stand in the way of their obsesion for power and control. My advice to all who want to contribute to the good around them, continue to do your part within your sphere of influence and be ready to give an accout when you stand before the judgement seat of "CHRIST". For those who are standing before the judgement seat of God, you will expieriance the punishment for all eternity, for your momentary life of selfishness.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Amen!!!

      2 TIMOTHY 3

      2 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
      6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

      June 18, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  20. rk624

    I am a Christian and I hear God crying because I am crying and I was made in his image.....Oh, Jerusalem......his beautiful dolphins and fish and the birds and the marshes and the sweet smell of salt spray destroyed by man's greed and making false idols before Him – He cries because we have reaped what we have sown and he cannot help us but offer us salvation when we will come to remember that all of this death in pursuit of comfort was wrong. God's blessing for all of those at the front line fighting to save our beloved Gulf and who stand washing the oil from the creatures... carrying their dead bodies to a final rest.....we should all be weeping.

    June 18, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
    • Eric G

      If you were made in his image, you would be invisible too.

      June 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      God is not invisible, it is just that we can't see Him because He is out of our sight. He has created human beings in His image and that is an honor for us. He created us in the best image.
      On the lighter note, rk624 is pretty invisible because we can't see him (or her) 🙂

      June 19, 2010 at 1:01 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.