In politics near as I can tell there has been a long philosophical divide on questions related to the role and the size of government. Among these philosophical differences are questions related to the extent of government regulations. Some, typically more conservative people, believe the scope of government needs to be extremely limited, leaving it largely up to individuals or corporations to make their own rules and govern their own practices. The hope, I suppose, is that left to their own devices, people will tend to do the right things, make largely moral choices. But whether they do or don’t, government shouldn’t always be in their faces.
On the other side is a belief that the government should have a much larger role in making sure that behaviors are regulated and safeguarded both individually and corporately. The thought in the background on this model may or may not go as far as to say that left to their own devices individuals and corporations will do wrong and selfish things but there would seem to be an assumption they might just do so. Or at least they might not know which course of behavior might lead to a greater good and so need to be regulated into going that direction after all.
Without a doubt there are pros and cons to both approaches and for all I know—as is so often true in life—the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But as is also so often true in the world of modern-day politics it seems that each of America’s two main political parties represents one of two extremes. Many cringed at what they perceived, for instance, to be the Obama Administration’s over-regulation of most anything you could name even as many are now cringing at what is being perceived as the Trump Administration’s abiding rollback of multiple regulations (starting with whatever Obama did).
There are doubtless scores of regulations—and maybe even whole categories of regulations—I have no idea about. But for my whole life one area about which I have been deeply concerned as a follower of Jesus relates to the natural world, the creation of our wonderful Creator God. In various books and other things I have written over the years I have tried to make the case that good environmental stewardship—as well as an enthusiastic embrace of the wild diversity that sprang from our Creator God’s imagination—are proper parts of discipleship.
To my heart, that means celebrating something like an experience I had last month when a bird I had seen only one time before in my life—the warbler species known as the American Redstart—became a regular late-day visitor to an arbor of trees just off the porch of a house we used in Northern Michigan for a week of vacation.
Conversely, though, it also means experiencing heartfelt sorrow over the diminishment of God’s creation like the dying of coral reefs or the endangerment/extinction of any species. It seems that there are some things we cannot do much about in such matters but whenever we can do something positive to celebrate or to preserve, we should. I think this is part of Christian vocation as followers of the Christ of God who, as Colossians 1 makes abundantly clear, is the one by whom and for whom and in whom the entire creation exists and through whom the whole shebang has been redeemed, too.
For all these reasons and more beside, I have been saddened by both the drumbeat of environmental regulation rollbacks by the Trump Administration as well as by the relative silence of many in the wider church world in the face of such things. According to the New York Times this summer, there have been at least 83 regulations related to birds, animals, clean drinking water, air quality, and the like that have been either rolled back, cancelled, or are in the process of being rolled back and cancelled. A few have been reinstated after legal challenges, a few more might yet be. But the list that you can read here is distressing. Some of it is also confusing to me. The Endangered Species Act has had demonstrable positive effects and a minimum of inconvenience to the average person or industry. Why roll it back or weaken it? Things like the Clean Air Act and regulations for clean water were started by the Nixon Administration. Human lives are at stake in these matters as is the case when it comes to letting coal factories dump toxic waste into streams and rivers. People, including children, can die from some forms of modern pollution in a way that had never before been true in human history before industrialization.
A lot of what you can read in the Times list linked to above looks suspiciously like trying to help businesses make and keep more money no matter what the human, animal, avian, or larger environmental cost. Some will assert that is a cynical way to look at all this but the pattern is a little hard to miss seeing. We already know that the results of global Climate Change will affect everyone eventually but it will hit the poor first and hardest, including globally in Third World countries where millions live in low-lying areas bordering on oceans that are demonstrably rising and becoming more acidic. There really are human reasons to exercise stewardship and to combat Climate Change.
But there are divine reasons too. Throughout Scripture God seems to take great delight in creation. God apparently thinks about it more than you might guess, which is partly why when the Book of Job concludes, God rather surprisingly answers that book’s overarching question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” with a grand tour of creation, including everything from stork nests to donkeys cavorting in the desert to the strength of the hippopotamus. What does all that avian and animal stuff have to do with Job’s questions? A lot apparently. God sees more in his own creation than we usually do it seems.
When it comes to caring for creation through rules and regulations, I suppose each issue and angle needs to be considered on its own merits. Not every regulation is helpful but then again, not every one is an evil to be eliminated in the hopes that corporations and individuals will do the right thing (which, as a matter of fact, my Reformed theology of sin suggests is probably a woebegone hope in the first place).
If there is a chance to help sustain a creature like my friend the American Redstart by my having to pay a little more for a fuel efficient car or by forcing a coal factory to get creative about its toxic waste, that all just strikes me as part of what it means to look forward to joining that very first heavenly chorus John heard in Revelation: “’You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’”