Michelle Bachmann has drawn some
alarmist reactions recently for her acknowledgement that Presbyterian missionary and apologist Francis Schaeffer influenced her life and thinking. One article reports:
Schaeffer “was a tremendous philosopher,” Bachmann told me. “He wrote marvellous books and was very inspirational.” She said that Schaeffer “took Christianity beyond the Bible,” and that he showed “how the application of living according to Christian principles has helped the culture for the better.” She added, “He really tried to call Christians to do more than just go to church, to have an application to how they live their lives, to have Christians think that whether they are called to be a dentist, or whether they are a doctor, or whether they are an artist, or whether they are a sculptor—whatever it is that they’re called to do—to give it everything that they have and to have a bigger purpose, a bigger meaning in all of it.”
She is reported to have said of Schaeffer:
“One thing that Dr. Schaeffer said is that [God is] not just the God of theology. He’s not just the God of the Bible,” Bachmann said, according to the Des Moines Register. “Since he is the Creator God, he’s the father of biology, sociology, of political science, of you name the subject. … And that altered our way of thinking, that God had something to say about our career.”
“Francis Schaeffer also said that life is the watershed issue of our time, and how we come down on how we view human life will impact all other issues,” she said. “And so Marcus and I decided we didn’t want to be pro-life only, just as speaking… We wanted to live a life of being about pro-life.”
Francis Schaeffer played a large part in the development of my thinking as well. Schaeffer mostly called upon Christians to think Christianly about every area of life: in his words, to have a “Biblical world and life view.”
As Romans 12 teaches, we should: “be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
There should be no concern with Rep. Bachmann that she has read some of Schaeffer’s books. If you disagree with her positions, attacking her religious motivations and convictions will not rebut her arguments nor convince any independent and evangelical bystander of her errors of her positions. In fact, such reactionary tones will only calcify the partisan a divide.
We should actually encourage her embrace a more full-orbed vision of her Christian convictions and beliefs. Although with less dogma, we should want her to more thoroughly and broadly apply her worldview. From what I have seen so far from her campaign, she selectively limits her “biblical worldview” to abortion and homosexual marriage. This is unfortunately the pattern of many activists of the “Christian Right.” They usually limit their Christian principles to just a few social and sexual-moral issues while wholly ignoring the demands of their Christianity concerning economic and public justice. While those social issues are very important, our Christian principles must have a broader application than a narrow set of concerns. On almost all other areas, the “Christian Right” has merely baptized the partisan Republican agenda. Whether the issue is taxes, treatment of workers in the workplace, racial reconciliation, consumer protection, victims’ rights in civil courtrooms, immigration reform, foreign and military intervention, or criminal justice, the Christian Right’s response mimics the GOP party line.
For instance, let”s consider Rep. Bachmann’s response to modern ecological problems? She has made elimination of the EPA and environmental protection a prominent plank of her platform. She even opened her campaign with pronouncements such as:
What we need to do is pass the mother of all repeal bills, but it’s the repeal bill that will get a job killing regulations. And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.
Acting as a “Rachel Carson-in-Reverse,” she argued
‘The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It’s all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”
On the House floor she argued:
Carbon dioxide, Mister Speaker, is a natural byproduct of nature. Carbon dioxide is natural. It occurs in Earth. It is a part of the regular lifecycle of Earth. In fact, life on planet Earth can’t even exist without carbon dioxide. So necessary is it to human life, to animal life, to plant life, to the oceans, to the vegetation that’s on the Earth, to the, to the fowl that — that flies in the air, we need to have carbon dioxide as part of the fundamental lifecycle of Earth.
As a matter of fact, carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful!
But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas. There isn’t one such study because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas. Carbon dioxide is natural. It is not harmful. It is part of Earth’s life cycle.
And yet we’re being told that we have to reduce this natural substance and reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occuring in the earth. Well we’re told the crux of this problem is human activity. It’s humans that are creating more carbon dioxide!
As evidenced by the tenor of her rhetoric, her opposition to environmental protection and supervision is dogmatic and ideological; it is no mere concern with the misapplication of rules or over-zealousness by the EPA officials. Her visceral objection to environmental regulation and public health law has been consistent across her career. Granted, there may be regulations which are overly-burdensome and those need modification; however, Bachmann’s believes any such regulations are principally illegitimate.
Should Christians be concerned about environmental justice? I think that Rep. Bachmann would be surprised to learn what her mentor Schaeffer taught concerning the Christian’s response to environmental crises and ecological problems. He certainly called for more than apathy and willful ignorance. In his book, the “Church at the End of the Twentieth Century” (1970), Schaeffer addressed the “population explosion and the ecological problem:”
One would think that in the Alps where I live there would be peace, but everywhere you turn the mountains are being ripped up to make roads across them so that it is getting harder and harder to find a quiet place. We know the problem in the United States. So we make national parks, and pretty soon the national parks are destroyed because so many people come into them that the trails are covered with asphalt to keep them from being worn away, and they are no better than Broadway. The population explosion applies tremendous pressure.
Along with this goes total ecological destruction. We must not kid ourselves. We are in trouble. Not only Lake Erie is dead. Lake Geneva is sick. The ocean is dying. There is ecological pressure and the thinkers of this world are frightened about what is coming next. . .
I doubt Rep. Bachmann would be willing to admit such “trouble” or especially not its human causes. Can anyone imagine Bachmann or the Tea Party employing such language as Schaeffer does?
Francis Schaeffer addressed environmental issues more exhaustively in “Pollution and the Death of Man”(1970). He generally argued that a consistent Christian worldview and philosophy provides the only sound foundational reason and logic for sustained protection of the Earth. In contradistinction to merely pragmatic and technological motives, Schaeffer presented the moral basis (in fact, moral obligation) for dealing with the ecological problems. He positively agrees that:
Our contemporary moral crisis, then, goes much deeper than questions or political power and law, or urban riots and slums. It may, at least in part, reflect the American society’s almost utter disregard for the value of nature.”
He based our moral responsibility upon several Christian concepts such as the Goodness of Creation and its Ultimate Redemption through the preaching of the Good News.
The value of the things is not in themselves autonomously, but that God made them – -and thus they deserve to be treated with high respect.
In addition to its created status, Christians must view the Earth as God’s possession, according to Schaeffer:
It is the same when we have dominion over nature: it is not ours. It belongs to God, and we are to exercise our dominion over these things not as though entitled to exploit them, but as things borrowed or held in trust. We are using them realizing that they are not ours intrinsically. Man’s dominion is under God’s dominion.
But he further taught that we live in a sinful world with sinful men. Consistent with thought of James Madison, “if men were angels, we would not need laws,” Schaeffer saw that:
Man was given dominion over creation. This is true. But since the Fall man has exercised this dominion wrongly. He is a rebel who has set himself at the center of the universe. By creation, man has dominion, but as a fallen creature he has used that dominion wrongly. Because he is fallen, he exploits created things as though they were nothing in themselves, and as though he has an autonomous right to them.
Did Schaeffer believe these moral concerns and obligations trump the pursuit of profits by corporations? Absolutely! He answers using strip-mining as an example:
Why has strip-mining usually turned the area where it has been used into desert? Why is the “Black Country” in England’s Midlands black? What has brought about the ugly destruction of the environment? There is one reason: man’s greed.
If the strip-miners would take bulldozers and push back the topsoil, rip out the coal, then replace the topsoil, in ten years after the coal was removed there would be a green field, and in fifty years a forest. But as it has usually been practiced, for an added profit above what is reasonable in regard to nature, man turns these areas into deserts and then cries out that the topsoil is gone, grass will not grow, and there is no way to grow trees for hundreds of years.
It is always true that if you treat the land properly, you have to make two choices. The first is in the area of economics. It costs more money, at least at first, to treat the land well. . . .
The second choice involved is that it usually takes longer to treat the land properly. These are the two factors that lead to the destruction of our environment: money and time – - or to say it another way: greed and haste. The question is, or seems to be, are we going to have an immediate profit and an immediate saving of time, or are we going to do what we really should do as God’s children.
. . .What we, the Christian community, have to do is refuse them the right to ravish our land, just as we refuse them the right to ravish our women; to insist that somebody accept a little less profit by not exploiting nature.
As Christians we have to learn to say “Stop” because after all, greed is destructive of nature at this point, and there is a time to take one’s time.
I wish Bachmann talked like this. I wish the Tea Party would see being pro-life is much more than being anti-abortion as Schaeffer did. I desire Christians, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, to apply their Christian principles across many areas.
Perhaps a complete reading of Schaeffer can help us unmask the fact that our activities and “environmental sins” are not just private, amoral, inconsequential, and limited; these acts, mediated through changes in our environment and communities, affect, not only our lives, our neighbors, and the generations to come but also our violate our covenant with living God.