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Why Recycle if the Rapture Is Near?

Rev. Jim Ball is convincing his evangelical peers that environmentalism is the Christian thing to do
by Maura R. O'Connor

There's no doubt that evangelicals are an ever-expanding demographic in the United States—seventy million and counting, according to the latest surveys. With this expansion comes a growing fascination with the end times as promised in the Bible. Evidence for this fascination can be found in the statistics surrounding the Left Behind series, the equivalent of John Grisham suspense novels for the Christian crowd. Written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, these novels (there are twelve in all) explore in riveting detail what happens to those people who are left behind after the Rapture and are forced to suffer “the great tribulation” of God's wrath. Since the first book of the series was published in 1995, sixty-two million copies have been sold, and the video game, children's book, and comic book offshoots are worth one hundred million dollars. In the past four years, three movies have been made based on the books, the first becoming the bestselling video and DVD in America in 2001–02. Instead of using a distributor to release the third movie in theaters, authors LaHaye and Jenkins organized a nationwide screening at 3,100 churches across the country. Although there are few statistics that directly connect the popularity of the Left Behind books and movies with an increase in belief in the Apocalypse, according to a survey taken by the BBC, fifty-nine percent of all Americans believe that the events described in the Bible's Book of Revelation will come to pass.

Considering all this, it's not really any wonder that many American evangelicals aren't inclined to become environmentalists. Not only is the environmental movement generally seen as the realm of secular, nature-worshipping leftist liberals, but why fight for the survival of the planet when, as Tim LaHaye has said, “The most significant single truth in all biblical prophecy is the certainty of the second coming of Jesus Christ”? The widespread environmental apathy among evangelicals was perhaps best summed up in the words of James G. Watt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan, who said, “My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures, which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns.”

However, this mentality seems to be slowly changing with the growing popularity of something called “creation-care,” a movement within the evangelical community largely spearheaded by Rev. Jim Ball, the executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. In an evangelical spin on the so-called stewardship ethic advocated by many Christian environmentalists in the past, Ball believes that “until Christ returns to reconcile all things, we are called to be faithful stewards of God's good garden, our earthly home.” To this end, in 2003, Ball drove his Toyota Prius from Texas to Washington, DC, asking Christians along the way what they thought Jesus would drive and encouraging them to trade in their SUVs for fuel-efficient vehicles. Ball's foundation is responsible for helping the Endangered Species Act's renewal, and as result of his work getting evangelicals to wake up to global concerns like climate change and mercury poisoning, nearly thirty evangelical leaders representing forty-five million congregants are banding together with him to issue a landmark statement on the environment calling evangelicals to action. In fact, five hundred evangelical leaders endorsed the Evangelical Environmental Network's initial guiding statement of faith outlining the theological and ethical basis for creation-care. Ball, a native of Texas, has a doctorate in theological ethics, and it was in graduate school that he began learning about climate change. He told Rolling Stone magazine last year that “climate change isn't just an environmental problem—that's low-balling it. Millions of poor people could die in this century because of global warming, and millions of others are at risk of hunger and malnutrition. The poster child of global warming is a poor child. And Christians are supposed to look out for the poor, because God loves them.”

As for those evangelicals who believe the second coming of Jesus Christ lets them off the hook in caring for the earth, Rev. Ball says, “With most of these folks, it takes me about two minutes to punch a huge hole in [the Rapture] argument.... I also say, 'Well, you take care of your body, don't you?' It doesn't take that much to win people over.” Indeed, even Billy Graham, arguably the most notorious fire-and-brimstone evangelical alive today, recently admitted that “the growing possibility of our destroying ourselves and the world with our own neglect and excess is tragic and very real.”


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This article is from
Our Ken Wilber Issue


June–August 2006