The Space Between Progressive and Evangelical ~ Is There Anyone Out There?

The other day I heard an aspiring clergy person argue that mainline progressive churches are doing our earth stewardship just fine, that it’s the evangelical conservative churches who are the stumbling blocks to the care of the earth.

This budding young church leader is not alone. Among people in progressive churches I hear often that the plight of the earth is directly related to an evangelical theology or conservative theology which posits the return of Jesus as so immediate as to be on the calendar; these are people so swept up with gleeful anticipation at the world’s end that they can find no earthly reason to care for non-human life forms; how we actually leave the state of the earth herself of no concern whatsoever. So we progressives are off the hook, right? Really, how can we begin to make a dent in the problem up and against such conservative thinking?

First, the assumption is false, as witnessed by the Evangelical Environmental Network charter On the Care of Creation. Second, progressive mainline churches aren’t making much of an impact regardless of a certain measurable pridefulness. After all, we recycle; we include a prayer for the earth even as we pray for the church and the nations; we bless our animals; we add an extra prayer for Earth Day.

All glibness aside – and with a nod to GreenFaith ~ Interfaith Partners for the Environment, the major theology that comes closest to what follows below is the Hindu understanding of Dharma as it relates to a web of life understanding. But, digression aside, and returning to the illusory distinctions between mainline progressive churches and evangelical churches with regard to their environmental theologies, I am asking just one question.

Is there no one who understands that the differences in our theology are far outweighed by the similarities of our common anthropology which – even in the face of all the science – continue to posit humans at the center of planetary life and concern? I don’t intend this as a rhetorical question. It’s our common anthropology, not our differing theologies, that stands as obstacle to doing the reconciling and healing work of the earth community – which, as the earth sciences has been telling us for decades, includes humans within its intricate, interconnected, and interdependent web.

This anthropocentrism is not only characteristic of people in churches but equally so of those not who have no church relationship. We’re not listening to the science. The universe is in fact not unfolding according to an anthropocentric anthropology, although most humans insist that it is. We also insist that we could fix the earth’s desolation with our technologies, if only we would.

The truth is, we can’t fix any of it from an anthropocentric perspective, that very perspective that insists we can fix anything. Only when we are willing to release our human sense of privilege and entitlement, only when we can relocate ourselves within the earth community, according to evolutionary reality, can we hope to be about the business of healing and reconciliation.

This holds true as well between human and human. As long as we insist on our anthropocentric place in the universe, a place of human privilege and entitlement, not only do we continue to live under the illusion that humans are more important than all other life forms, and that the world exists for our sakes, but we understand and act out of the illusion that some humans are more important than other humans. We are deluded. Witness Occupy Wall Street.


  1. Marjorie Power on November 19, 2011 at 2:38 am

    A fine essay. Thanks for pointing out and publishing the illusory distinction between evangelical and mainline progressive churches re their environmental theologies. There are other illusory distinctions as well and I am relieved to see a progressive cleric mention one of them.

    One thing confuses me: your last two sentences. “We are deluded. Witness Occupy Wall Street.” Who are the deluded here?

    • Caroline Fairless on December 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

      Marjorie, it’s been a long time since I promised a reply to the cryptic “We are deluded. Witness Occupy Wall Street.”
      The deluded are those who think some humans are of more value than others. Guess which they are??

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