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Interview with Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan is a faith and culture writer who has published over 100 articles in respected outlets such as USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post's “On Faith," BeliefNet, The Huffington Post, and Relevant magazine. He is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (2010). As a respected Christian voice, Jonathan has been interviewed by ABC World News, NPR, PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Fox News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

Jonathan, you are very gifted writer. Briefly tell ConversantLife, why you wrote this book?

I felt compelled to write this book after having an epiphany in a theology class. It’s funny, really. I became an environmentalist at a Southern Baptist seminary. I was sitting in class and we were discussing the revelation of God, that God speaks to us through both the Bible (2 Pt 1) and nature (Rom 1). It occurred to me that most Christians don’t live a life of reverence towards God’s revelation in nature. For the next year, I scoured the scriptures writing down every time I read something about God’s plan for our planet. This became the beginnings of Green Like God.

Why do Christians, specifically need to read your book?

Because these things are rooted in the scriptures. Many Christians are completely oblivious to the creation care mandates throughout the Bible. We need to rediscover these forgotten truths. Additionally, we live in a world where people equate living an others-focused, sustainable life with being a good person. If Christians are seen treating the world and those who depend on earth’s resources in callous ways, it hurts our witness.

To the Christian, what are a couple significant passages in Scripture that speak of God’s love for creation?

In Genesis chapter 1, God created the earth. And we could just stop there. The fact that God made it is reason enough to care for it. But in the same chapter, God ascribes value to the planet by recognizing that it is “good.” In Genesis 2, God places Adam in the garden to “cultivate it and care for it.” In Genesis 7-9, God enters into a covenant “with every living thing…the whole earth.” In Psalm 19 and Romans 1, we see that the earth is here to declare God’s glory. Jesus asked us to love our neighbors and care for “the least of these,” and as we know, environmental problems disproportionately affect the poor. Finally, in Revelation 11 we find that God has set aside a time of judgment for “destroying those who have destroyed the earth.” And … this is just to name a few. We should never do anything that could be construed as worshipping the creation. But we should always honor the Creator who made a “good” creation and asked us to steward it.

For the most part, I agree with your ethical solutions. However, a page that caught me off guard, was page 66 that said in the margin, “The Bible doesn’t teach the sanctity of human life, but sanctity of all life.”  You write, “Is human life sacred because it is human? No.” Jonathan, I disagree with this statement, but perhaps you could expound on your thoughts. I do agree with you that God is the creator of all life, but don’t believe that all life has intrinsic ‘sanctity’ (even though God did create it all). How do you define “sanctity of life?”

By sanctity, I mean sacredness imputed by a blessing from God. As we learn from the scriptures, God “loves all that he has made” (Ps 151). The Bible says he watches over deer and mountain goats during their pregnancy until they give birth. It says that he has given every star a name and he notices if a single sparrow falls from the sky. While we affirm that a human is worth more than many sparrows, we also realize that what makes something sacred is not “humanness” but rather that it has been created by God and is the object of his love.

On page 83, you say that one of the most common names you find in emails is ‘Al Gore.’ You provide a brief biography of Gore. What is your evaluation of Gore’s environmental philosophy of man made global warming?

I am not a scientist, and I have never done any research on climate change. I didn’t really address climate change in Green Like God except in an appendix. In that appendix, I build an approach to the issue based on Christians virtues (honesty, integrity, justice, and prudence). In the face of conflicting evidence like we are seeing on climate change, we should act prudently. As far as Gore, I believe he is probably a sincere person, but I happen to disagree with him on several things especially when it comes to some of his proposals to curb climate change.

How well has the Obama administration responded to the Oil Spill in the Gulf?

I’ve been disappointed at how the Obama administration has responded. The response was slow, foreign countries that offered assistance were turned down, and the willingness to meet with BP executives has been weak. I believe the American people are going to remember the administration’s failures for some time.

What are your thoughts on how churches could help this particular crises?

I think we should begin with mourning and prayer. Then we need to begin providing relief for the hurting people of the Gulf region. Finally, we need to require government officials to make sure the proper regulations are in place that will keep this type of problem from recurring. The eyes of America are focused on this tragedy. We have a great opportunity to turn their gaze on the Creator who stands behind the creation. I hope we do.

To what extent, do you believe the role of government should play in the protection of the environment?

I like what Russell Moore, Dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently said in response to the oil spill:

“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.'”

The government exists, in part, to restrain humans from doing evil. At the same time, we have to remember that over-regulation or over-taxation is not an appropriate use of governmental power. There is a fine line between proper regulation and governmental overreach. I am not a policy expert, but we need some good Christian political minds helping us think through this.

 

Comments

Thank you so much for this, it really enlightens me and help me understand the concept of being Christian. - James Stuckey

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About
Dave Sterrett is the author or co-author of six books, including the Christian best-seller, “I Am Second” and “Why Trust Jesus?” He teaches philosophy and theology at Rivendell Sanctuary in Minnesota.


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