Resolve to Be Green in 2012: Plastic Bags, John Stott, and the Reign of God

Apr 28, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Going Green, Ministry Musings

by Kurt Willems

In honor of Earth Day this week, we have the privilege of another guest post by local writer and Fresno Pacific Student Kurt Willems — sharing a post previously published on his own blog.

Kurt Willems

Recently in Seattle, Washington a city ordinance was passed which bans the use of single use plastic bags. In other words, if you go to the grocery store to purchase food in Seattle (and other cities) you will not be given a plastic bag to carry it out. Plastic bags are banned. I personally think that this is a great law and a wonderful idea. This is something that Christ-followers ought to applaud and take to the next level in their personal choices. Consider these stats:

• 500 billion: Number of plastic bags consumed worldwide every year (1 million per minute)
• 500: Years it takes a plastic bag to decay in landfill
• 4.175 million: “Average” person’s plastic-bag legacy, in years (Source: USA Today)

So why is this a good idea? According to NPR, the new law (which goes into effect in July 2012) will have some great results. The ban is expected to reduce pollution, free up landfill space and improve the environment.

Seattle’s residents use 292 million plastic bags and 68 million paper bags a year. About 82 percent of paper bags are recycled, while only 13 percent of plastic bags are recycled.

In my own life, I’ve chosen to use cloth bags when shopping. On the days when I forget, I carry my stuff out to the car without a bag…and sometimes this can be quite the juggling act! But, if we are going to treat this world, God’s good world, in a way that reflects the intentions of the Creator, then we ought to be willing to make small gestures of this sort. Small acts can become a drastic movement for change.

In his final book called The Radical Disciple, the late John Stott says this:

The [Biblical] assertions that “the earth is the Lord’s” and that “the earth he has given to humankind” complement rather than contradict each other. For the earth belongs to God by creation and to us by delegation. (51)

Following this statement, Stott goes on to demonstrate that the proper relationship between human image-bearers and the earth is one of cooperation with God. Christians are charged with taking care of creation, reflecting God’s stewarding love to all things. This doesn’t mean that we deify nature, but it equally doesn’t mean that we can trash it. We partner with God to cultivate the cosmos into a place that reflects God’s reigning activities. When we fail in this vocation, we fail to image God into the world. This world is not disposable, it is groaning toward its redemption (Romans 8.18-28).

Stott continues his exploration of the importance of Christian creation care by listing four areas of “The Ecological Crisis.” These include the following:

1. Accelerating Population Growth–We’ve gone from 1 billion people (1804) to 6.8 billion (2000). By 2050 we are on target to be a global family of 9.5 billion. He asks: “How will it be possible to feed so many people, especially when approximately one-fifth of them lack the basic necessities for survival?” (55)
2. Depletion of the Earth’s Resources–“For example, fossil fuels are capital; once they are consumed they cannot be replaced. The appalling processes called deforestation and desertification are examples…Others include the degradation or pollution of the plankton of the oceans, the green surface of the earth, living species and the habitats on which they depend for clean air and water (ibid).”
3. Waste Disposal–“The average person in the UK throws out his or her body weight in rubbish every three months” (56). Just think of all of the wasted plastic bags that contribute to our waste and landfill problems!
4. Climate Change–“Of all the global threats that face our planet, this is the most serious” (ibid). The plastic bags that are produced and wasted (and often burned into the atmosphere) contribute to global warming significantly.

So, next time you go to the store and make a purchase, what if you resolved to refuse to use a plastic bag? Often the person at the check-stand begins to bag something and I awkwardly interrupt the process and invite them to please “save the bag for the next person.” The first time felt weird. Now I feel like I’m doing something small to reflect our Creator’s love for humanity and the world.

Certainly some folks don’t believe that taking these sorts of action matter for Christian discipleship. I couldn’t disagree more–and the same could be said for the late great John Stott. He closes his chapter on Creation Care with this quote from Christopher JH Wright:

It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth, and indeed by their wasteful and over-consumptive lifestyles they contribute to it. (59, as quoted from: Chris Wright, The Mission of God, 416)

I pray that more and more Christians (especially those who grew up in the evangelical church) will catch the way in which our actions toward the earth reflect our God for either good or for ill. Maybe refusing that plastic bag, like the city of Seattle, could be the first step in a journey of creation care! As we resolve to be green in 2012, the reign of God might show up in small and surprising ways.

Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting next year by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He writes at the Pangea Blog and is also on Twitter and Facebook.


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