Environmental issues have been at the forefront of cultural change in North America for a long time and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. Evangelical churches have missed a great opportunity to be part of this change and help direct its course. This failure has been a significant driver in the decline of organized religion over the past 50 years.
While environmental issues are not the primary focus of Scripture they are present in Scripture and occupy a place of prominence they do not have in evangelical churches today.
In the Old Testament it is clear that Israel was a leader in taking care of the earth, not a reluctant follower. The foundational stories of the Old Testament indicate that the entire creation was good, that human beings were to take care of the creation as their primary work and that problems with the creation are the result of human sin. The jubilee regulations in Leviticus require radical practices of Israel designed to refresh the whole created order, human, animal and earth. On the basis of these and other passages in Scripture the church should have always been working against environmental exploitation as part of its mandate.
However, when the Church failed to lead in this way the cause of environmental care was taken up by groups without a Biblical foundation and whose ethos is secular or even pagan in some cases. Environmental concern became associated with anti-Christian sentiment and so has been opposed or ignored by most Evangelicals. There exists now in the culture of our churches a prejudice against and resistance to most things environmental.
While there are some Evangelicals engaged in caring for creation, there is a great need today for the majority to turn in this direction. Not only is it important that we take care of what God has created, but our prejudice and apathy about environmentalism has created a cultural barrier to the Gospel. Many younger people raised outside the church write it off as irrelevant because of its failure to lead in this area. Many young people raised in the church are embarrassed by the anti-environmental prejudice of their parents and grandparents.
The leadership challenge today is how to move the body of Christ toward Biblical stewardship of creation. We must avoid simply following the lead of secular environmentalists and must speak revealed truth into the debate. We must move fast enough that change is perceptible to the younger generations and at the same time avoid radical moves that would alienate older Evangelicals and cause disunity.