Reverend Stan LeQuire Talks About The Evangelical Environmental Network
From the Environmental Review Newsletter
Volume Three Number Six, June 1996
The board of directors of Evangelical Environmental Network held a press conference in January 1996 in Washington DC to announce their plans to work against efforts in the U.S. Congress to weaken the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws. We spoke with the Reverend Stan LeQuire, outreach coordinator and director of EEN about its activities and purpose.
ER: Reverend LeQuire, what is your background?
SL: I have been a missionary in Africa, Asia and Europe for stints of up to two years. I have been a pastor of a church and also an associate pastor. I have done christian education work; I have also done what we call church planting, which is starting a church in a community that does not have one. As a Baptist pastor in the state of Maine in the early 1990s, I became concerned that Christians were not involved in taking care of creation. So I began looking around, heard about the Evangelical Environmental Network, and here I landed. I began here in June, 1994.
ER: Where was your theological training?
SL: I got my Master of Divinity from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, which is an evangelical school on the north shore of Boston.
ER: Why are evangelical Christians becoming more active in the environmental movement?
SL: I can confess that evangelicals have come lately upon environmentalism. That is somewhat to our embarrassment and I do want to affirm that we owe a great debt of gratitude to environmentalists who have worked many years without much support from the evangelical community.
I think part of the reason why evangelicals are becoming involved is that we are reaching a point where it is just unavoidable any longer. I imagine how the first settlers on the shores of North America must have felt with all the trees and all the game. There were unending opportunities, but now all that is gone. We are losing so much that there is no way to shrug it off anymore and we have to take a stand. This is a practical evaluation. In addition we have our biblical perspective. As the planet changes around us, we go back to our scripture to see if scripture says anything about this and we find that indeed it does. There are wonderful statements about how to live a different lifestyle and how to worship the Creator and honor and care for what he has made. It is those scriptures, which in the midst of an environmental crisis, provide comfort.
ER: How does scripture apply to environmental issues?
SL: At each point in human history there are various factors that come along which cause us to go back to scripture and ask questions again. For example with slavery in the 1800s, there were Christians who said, Wait a minute, is this really right? So they returned to scripture and found out this just can't be. So you have Christian opposition that arises to slavery in the 1800s. William Wilburforce an evangelical Christian, almost single handedly turned political opinion against slavery. It had been accepted but he knew that slavery was wrong and waged a campaign, often completely alone. He has become a historical figure because of his biblical commitment.
With the women's movement too; women were beginning to ask, Isn't there more for us in life? Christians are going back to scripture and saying, Wait, maybe the Bible doesn't have anything to say that puts down women.
It is happening now with environmental concerns; people are going back to scripture and saying, Let's take a look at the Bible for what it really says. The Bible says, Thou shalt have dominion not domination, over the Earth. The Bible does not say, Thou shalt be dictators over the Earth. Biblical dominion is a loving service toward creation.
So we evangelicals are returning to passages like that and reconsidering what all of scripture says about dominion. Scripture talks about the good kings of Israel, how they serve and cared for God's people. Those were good leaders; their dominion was kindly. We look at the example of Jesus Christ who lovingly served us, gave his life for us; he is king Jesus; this is good dominion. So yes scripture does say you will have dominion but it is not a dictatorial domination.
We evangelicals are returning to Genesis 2:15 where it says, "You will tend and keep the garden." Well does that mean to run roughshod over it, destroy it? No. What does it mean, to keep? You come across the blessings in the Old Testament where it says, "God preserve you and keep you." Or Psalms 121 where it says, "God will keep his people." Just as God lovingly cares for his people, so we are to lovingly care for the Earth. So keep does not mean amass wealth from nature and stick it in your bank account. Keep means to steward the Earth. Perhaps if we had been following scripture from the beginning, maybe we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today.
We go back again to Noah's ark. We all studied that as Sunday school children; many people are familiar with this wonderful story. We are losing animals; where in scripture does God tell us what he thinks about the animals? You immediately think of Noah. And you go back there and sure enough, God said, "Noah, take them all into the ark, every one of them to be kept alive." God does not say to Noah, Take in the ones that have medicinal value; take in the ones that are cute or photogenic. No Noah, take them all because I made them. This is how demanding the biblical message is. Not the utilitarian message of standard environmentalism, God just says, They are mine, save them. And then after the waters go back down, God says in Genesis 9, "Noah I am going to make my covenant with you and all living things, never to destroy them again." In our discussions about endangered species, we look to a passage like Genesis 9 and see God makes a covenant with non-human creatures as much as he does with Noah, thereby revealing his will that all animals be saved. God has revealed his will, and it is that all creation flourish.
ER: Creatures have worth aside from their utility to man?
SL: That is the core of the biblical message. It is very radical: These animals have worth, period. If we discover that a plant has a medicinal value, that is fine, that is okay. But what if a plant does not have such a value? Is it up for extinction? No. It still belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 says, "The Earth is the Lord's and everything in it." We are often asked, Well you evangelicals must be against private property? We are not. There is nothing wrong with having property. But we would say to all private property owners, remember there is an Owner with a capital O, and it is all his. He has entrusted it to us.
ER: What can you say about stewardship?
SL: I see the biblical message as being very demanding here. The idea of stewardship is based on the fact that the whole planet is owned by God, all of creation, and we have been given a special verbal mandate from God: Take care of it. And the exalted position of humankind granted by God means that we have a particular duty to care for all creation.
We don't necessarily share all the planks of an environmentalist platform. We are thankful for all that has happened through the years, and feel like we are now beginning to come of age and ask the right questions and hope that we can make our mark for the future of our children and our planet. I am very concerned with what some environmentalists say when they talk about specieism; I even read one writer who called humankind a cancer on the face of the Earth. This is contrary to biblical teaching. If the environmentalists who believe this are correct, then there is no reason to take care of the planet. If we are less or no better than Furbish's lousewort then why have an Endangered Species Act? Why care? The reason we care is because deep in our gut I think we know that we have been created by God and given a special place to take care. This is who we are; this is our calling as human beings: to love one another and all of creation. We are the stewards of God's creation.
ER: What are the practical applications of EEN?
SL: Early in 1994 we drafted the Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation, which has been signed by more than 300 key evangelical leaders; presidents of colleges, seminaries, executives of Christian ministries. We have a pretty broad base of support from evangelical leadership. They are saying in this declaration, Yes this is the biblical message. Yes, let's be about the business of caring for creation.
We mailed out more than 30,000 kits to evangelical churches across the United States. We called these starter kits; they were designed to determine if there were any evangelical churches who were interested. We did receive responses from 1,200 churches saying, Yes we are interested, send us more. We have sent them a curriculum of bible studies, children's art projects, a cassette of music, a package of peas to encourage a church garden, an energy audit workbook so a church could do its own audit and figure out how to best save money in that way and be a better steward of our energy resources.
ER: What was the follow up with the 1,200 congregations that responded.
SL: Because environmentalism is a new issue to many evangelicals we are leading these congregations through a process of deeper and deeper commitment. The next step is what we call the Noah Congregations Program. Taking a cue from Noah's example, we are asking the churches to enter into a convenental relationship where they decide to do eight activities appropriate for their congregation, and then they are awarded the special recognition of being a Noah congregation. We are trying to lead them through the process of becoming interested and active in creation's care.
In addition, we circulate radio scripts to religious radio stations to highlight the activities of Christians who are active in creation care. In regards to public policy, we did address the Endangered Species Act this past January with a press conference in Washington D.C. This was the culmination of a year's study and planning on the part of our leadership council, which is called the Christian Environmental Council. They, in their advocacy committee, started to look at a broad range of laws in our land that are under attack and tried to decide is there any reason why a Christian would want to voice a biblical opinion about these laws. We landed upon the Endangered Species Act, first because it seems to be under immediate attack, and also because we find the Act as being very biblical. It makes sense that God would want all creatures to thrive. So our leadership council unanimously passed a resolution, and we took that resolution to Washington D.C..
In addition, we have been circulating televised and radio public service announcements, print service announcements, op-ed pieces for papers. We did a special issue of our magazine, Green Cross. We printed up 24,000 copies of those normally our print run is about 6,000 and sent that out to our leaders across the nation saying, Here give this to pastors in your town, to Christian college campuses etc. We mailed that magazine to every member of Congress too.
ER: The media present the religious right as pretty conservative, and evangelicals taking issue with anti-environmentalists was a pleasant surprise to me.
SL: The press focuses on a few extreme evangelicals it is probably more accurate to call them fundamentalists who capture media attention because they have interesting opinions. They get called evangelicals and so the world thinks this is what an evangelical is. The truth is much broader. Many evangelicals are not so extreme and do support environmental protections.
It is the same way with the Muslim religion; you have terrorists who capture world headlines but the vast majority of Muslims are decent people. It is the same way with evangelicals: there is a large chunk of evangelicals who are right in the middle, who do believe in environmental protection. Unfortunately they are the quieter ones, they are not the ones who attract media attention but we are hoping to change that. We don't want to sit back and watch the trashing of our environmental laws.
ER: What is the relationship of EEN to the National Religious Partnership?
SL: The EEN is one of the four member groups of the National Religious Partnership. The other three being the U.S. Catholic Conference, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the National Council of Churches. World Vision was one of the founding groups of this evangelical network along with Evangelicals for Social Action. These two organizations saw the need for evangelical involvement.
ER: You mentioned mainline Protestants; are evangelicals sideline Protestants?
SL: (Laughing) I hadn't heard it put that way. Attaching labels is tricky. Basically an evangelical is anyone who believes that God has spoken and this message is recorded in the Bible. We call it God's word and we believe that it is God's revelation. Also we are so enthused about this message and find it so life changing that we want to tell other people about it. We evangelize, we tell the good news. Those are the two defining hallmarks of evangelism.
Many mainline Protestants are evangelical. For example, the United Methodists may have a congregation in Iowa that would consider itself evangelical and may have more of an affinity with us than with the National Council of Churches in which United Methodists officially participate. That is where the labels start to break down. But we don't compete; the partnership is a wonderful movement of four faith groups, all about the same business of raising up a religious voice about creation care. We meet together to collaborate and talk and brainstorm together; but each of us can develop programs for our own community. For example, what would fly in the Catholic Church may not in an evangelical church. It is a wonderful partnership.
ER: Did EEN grow out of Evangelicals for Social Action?
SL: Right. They and World Vision were the two parents. At present, the EEN offices are in the same building with Evangelicals for Social Action.
ER: What is their agenda?
SL: Evangelicals for Social Action seeks to raise a variety of issues before evangelical Christians and to encourage a practical response and a compassionate approach to the needs of the world. They focus on welfare reform, poverty, family issues, a variety of things, whereas EEN is uniquely focussed on the environment.
ER: What goes on in conferences you organize?
SL: We try to facilitate things on a local level. Any kind of help we can extend to the people, we attempt to provide. One of our most exciting projects takes place in Chattanooga Tennessee. You wouldn't think that the South would be a hotbed of environmental activity. But Chattanooga did declare itself an environmentally friendly city and the Christians there said, What does that have to do with us and our faith? They have for two years now organized Earth Day conferences, Earth Care for churches and Christians in the area. This is no small thing for a southern location. As a Tennessean myself, I am thrilled that this would happen right in the middle of the Bible Belt.
ER: What is the most important thing you want to say about EEN?
SL: Evangelicals are completely devoted to scripture. And we find in scripture a message of overwhelming hope and joy in the midst of environmental degradation. I think all of us pause from time to time to think what the future might be, where we are headed, what kind of a planet our children will grow up in, and we shudder. But when we look at scripture, we see a God who made this planet and all of its peoples. He will not watch it languish; his justice will be done. So we look forward to a day when creation will be renewed and restored. This is a Biblical message that you do not hear in the environmental community. There is hope. That is something the world really wants to hear. And I think in the biblical message we have the only hope for the future. The Bible tells us how to take care of the planet. The Bible tells us how to worship the Creator and in the end that God is going to remake all of creation; it will be redeemed and restored. This message can inspire evangelicals and it is moving us to action, albeit later than would have been ideal.
ER: One of the environmentalists greatest bogeymen of the last couple decades was James Watt, Secretary of Interior under President Reagan. He is remembered for saying he did not have to worry about stewardship because the world is close to the last days.
SL: There are still people out there who believe that. For some this is a joke, but it is an embarrassment for us in the Evangelical Environmental Network because it is a wrong approach to scripture. A close look at scripture shows, on the very last pages of the Book of Revelations, a redeemed creation. This is what scripture teaches.
Throughout history there have been people who have misused scripture or based wrong opinions on it. I mentioned earlier about slavery and how people looked at scripture and said we have to stop this. They rallied and turned back the tide. But there were other people who used scripture to support slavery. That will be our problem to the dying day. But our challenge and our mission at the EEN is to hold up the refreshing, wonderful truth of the biblical message and rally as many people around us as we can. Because we have a mission and we have a vital message that we want the world to hear.
I think when you look at the environmental movement you see an awful lot of spiritual hunger. I think environmentalists who are in touch with such beauty on a daily basis, and who are so wonderfully committed to saving creation, know in the core of their being there has got to be something else out there. And we hope they will look again at the Bible because we feel that is where the answers are to be found, that is where the hope is, that is where the grounding can be found for a successful movement.
I would not encourage anybody to go to the Bible to be a successful environmentalist. We go to the Bible to find our right standing with God. It is not a utilitarian book that is going to make all environmentalists successful, it is a book that teaches the true values that are needed. And as we get our lives right, as we get our hearts right with God, then we will be enabled in a powerful way to take care of the planet, but more importantly to know and serve God.
I have many friends in the environmental movement. I have served on a board of directors of a local Audubon society for years, and I know these people and they work very hard, but I fear for them and my heart hurts for them and I would want them to know the Creator. I think also the spiritual grounding is needed because the very roots of our problem are spiritual. Greed is simply sin. When we look at what is happening to the planet it is not that we are consuming too much or we should have thought a little more before we cut down all those trees; it is sin and greed. It is the evil that is in the heart of the human creature that causes this. Therefore all the more reason to go to the Creator who can forgive us our sins, help us to get our act together so we can serve him. Again, I call you back to Noah. Noah who had a very clear environmental task. Why? Scripture says in Genesis 6, he was a righteous man.
Copyright 1996 Environmental Review