Would Jesus Drive a Mercedes?

In 2002, the Evangelical Environmental Network launched a campaign asking “What would Jesus drive?” Though my Amish ancestors would be pleased if I answered “a horse and buggy”—or maybe a bicycle—I’ve come to depend on a car for running errands, visiting family, and hauling around carless friends. So when my trusty ’88 Toyota Camry wagon was stolen a little more than a year ago, I scanned Craig’s List for a replacement, trying to find a Christ-like car.

At first, there was Prius-envy. All the cool kids have hybrids; they get a million miles to the gallon and their exhaust smells like fair trade coffee—or so I hear. But I was on a waiting list to buy affordable housing, and saving for a down payment (still am). So a more modestly priced listing piqued my curiosity: 1985 Mercedes Benz 300TD station wagon. Green. Biodiesel compatible. $3,700.

Biodiesel? Pull up to McDonald’s and pump out their deep fryer? Totally renewable fuel with lower emissions? Though they were asking more than twice what I’d spent on my last two ’80s station wagons, it was justifiably affordable for a car that cared for creation. And the exhaust would smell like french fries. Literally.

But would I need to study diesel mechanics in case an errant McNugget got lodged in my catalytic converter? Would dedicating all that extra effort to a car be good Christian stewardship or simple living—the very principles guiding my choice?

Then I learned the best-kept secret of biodiesel: This Mercedes didn’t have the special conversion needed to burn waste vegetable oil like the “grease cars” that get all the press. But, like any diesel engine, it could, without modification, burn commercially refined biodiesel made from soybeans. Renewable fuel without the mess? I was sold. When the police recovered my stolen Camry a few weeks later on Thanksgiving Day, I counted my blessings...and began to covet every diesel I saw.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2006
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