The Common Good

Planting Trees on Good Friday

After a hard winter in the Eastern United States, spring offers a resurrection. Particularly here in the Appalachian Bible Belt, we're looking toward Easter.

Good Friday will find my little conservation group planting trees. It's our way to dig in and pray for the world: the vanishing songbirds, our Virginia mountains getting pulverized by coal corporations, the living streams buried in rubble. We could use a resurrection around here.

I say this as a Christian conservationist. That term is still an oxymoron for the Christian Right, of course, long known for its anti-environmental stance.

"Environmentalism is a sacrificial cult," Chuck Colson warns, on his "BreakPoint" Christian radio broadcast.

Ecologists ask Americans to "sacrifice themselves" for a living earth, Colson notes. Is this not "human sacrifice to an idol"?

Colson believes Jesus is interested in free-market values, not endangered species.

Ken Ham, of "Answers in Genesis," agrees. Ham's "Creation Museum" offers visitors displays of plastic species and automaton dinosaurs to prove that God made Creation. 4,500 years ago, Ham concedes, God did ask Noah to save all species from mass extinction.

But Christians mustn't save those species today. Why?

For one thing, endangered species occupy habitat desired by industries that help sponsor -- and steer -- the Christian Right.

Climate action poses a similar threat.

"Issues in Education," a Christian radio homeschooling broadcast I sometimes hear, warns parents that climate change -- a "heresy" -- is being taught in schools. It also urges listeners to lobby for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to home-school kids with textbooks that praise deregulation and depict climate change as a hoax.

Who underwrites these messages? Various industries with little interest in Christianity. It's called "coalition-building."

Just before his sudden death in 2007, Reverend Jerry Falwell launched a massive ad campaign warning Christians to ignore global warming as a dangerous distraction from our focus on heaven.

"For what will it profit us to save the whole world and lose our souls?"

The ad mangled and inverted Jesus' famous warning against materialism, but effectively supported its energy industry sponsors.

Falwell wasn't working for big energy. He was simply doing the bidding of Ralph Reed, as he'd done ever since Reed organized the Christian Coalition in 1989.

Reed is the political and business strategist widely credited for engineering today's "Values Industry." His ingenious, microtargeting strategies made "Values Voters" the political force they became by 2004, when Reed was hired to herd Christian pastors and their flocks to the polls to re-elect Bush.

By then, Reed had left the Coalition amidst finance scandals and started a consulting firm, Century Strategies -- taking his Christian contact list with him.

That list allowed him to mobilize Christian groups not only for political clients (like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Virginia's Governor Bob McDonnell), but corporate giants Enron, Koch, Microsoft, and various oil, coal, energy, big auto and timber interests.

These clients hire Reed to turn public opinion against regulatory policy, including climate action, EPA standards and the Endangered Species Act. Hence, disdain for environmental protection becomes a new Christian Value.

It's preached not only through certain Christian broadcasters and ministries, but Reed's longtime friends Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity -- whose persistent, widely aired efforts to wed Jesus to materialism have ironically made them the loudest representatives of "Christianity" on the planet.

It's an effective, values-added product to offer special interests -- media coverage, a ready-to-go lobby, a real "pulpit." But does it have hidden costs?

Well, the weird marriage alliance between "God and mammon" is a turn-off, say my agnostic conservation friends. They say the vitriol expressed by Pat Robertson, Coulter and Limbaugh, combined with a bizarre reverence for greed and self-interest, makes the Christian message sound unappealing, if not insane.

Some Christian leaders agree. Why, wonders evangelical minister Richard Cizik, should "pro-life" defend nine months for the unborn, but not human adulthood on a livable planet?

I myself think about the trees. Up until his death, Falwell often exhorted us Christians to defend the endangered Christmas tree. Not live trees, he warned -- for that would be pagan. No, we must instead save the dead, sawed-off Christmas tree from those who would destroy it.

Well, there's no chopped-off Christmas tree in the Bible. There is a tree of life, however -- rooted from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelations.

Jesus said we would know a tree by its fruits. If Christians can no longer discern between real fruit and fake, live trees or dead, perhaps we've been cut off too long from our own roots. Maybe a return to the humble earth, this spring, could bring Christians -- and other species -- back to life.

portrait-liza-fieldLiza Field is a hiker and conservationist. She teaches English and philosophy in the Virginia Governor's School and Wytheville Community College. This column is distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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