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Elk herds, environmentalism and the modern church

A bearded, barrel-chested man with a black eye-patch and a gruff voice stood like a rock at the entrance of the Wheaton College dining commons telling me tales of elk herds, mountains, Caribou hunting Alaskan Natives, cannibals from South America, llamas and the book of Proverbs.

Down the hall, leaning back in an easy chair, sat a clean-cut man with a neatly tucked in shirt sipping coffee and discussing strategies on attracting the press. These two men that I met at the Wheaton Creation Care Summit represent two different strands in the rising evangelical environmental movement.

Peter Illyn, the one-eyed, tree hugging preacher and environmentalist, invokes images of the wild as he talks. His devotion to the environmental cause wells up from a deep, painful, romantic relationship he has with the wild as part of the realm of God’s glory.

Representing the other strand of Christian environmentalism is Jim Ball, head of the Evangelical Environmental Network. He talks about the political process, the scientific evidence of global warming, news stations, CEOs, mega-church pastors, best selling evangelical authors and Christian college and university presidents. Ball’s evangelical Climate Initiative has succeeded in shifting the conservative Evangelical culture from environmental negligence to environmental concern. Ball has not raised up rare, radical specimens of the evangelical church for this movement but has captured the heart of the conservative evangelical church.

At this conference, I was able to witness this movement at an early stage. Evangelicals singing praise songs on power point presentations, saying “Father God” repeatedly in prayers and dressing like mannequins in a mall were also speaking passionately about protecting nature from destruction.

I must confess, I feel rather distant and sometimes alienated by the culture of conservative evangelicalism, even when I share views concerning the environment. While I can’t always identify with this conservative evangelical culture, I am pleased that I can stand beside them as a fellow Jesus-lover and a fellow advocate for nature.

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