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Barton GingerichJune 26, 2012
During the second annual Wild Goose Festival outside Durham, participants endured the North Carolina heat to hear defenses of the environmentalist agenda from liberal evangelicals. Borrowing from evangelical “creation care” and pantheist tropes, activist Peter Illyn and professor Randy Woodley portrayed mankind’s sins against the environment as meriting the wrath of Mother Nature. Although they tended to avoid particular policy recommendations, they affirmed their listeners’ pro-green sentiments.
Sporting a traditional ponytail and earrings, George Fox Seminary professor Randy Woodley drew from his Native American heritage in his talk on “Beginnings: the Land Cries Out for Justice.” He warned: “The earth is spitting out its inhabitants.” And he explained: “When we use and misuse something, it wears out. Our medicine people say our herbs and remedies are about ten times less powerful than when they were growing up.” After his conversion experience, Woodley entered training under televangelist Jim Bakker’s controversial school for evangelism and ministry. His mentors told him to cut off his ponytail and buy an expensive suit. He admitted, “I felt cut off from the earth, because that’s what society does.” After ministering on the street for some time, Woodley began to question these evangelical views. “I looked at Jesus and realized He wasn’t all about that,” he proclaimed. He languished that, when he ministered to Native Americans as he had learned from the evangelists, he was engaging in “evangelical oppression.”
After embarking on a path that “reconnected” him to the earth and his indigenous heritage, Woodley recounted various obstacles (including racist opposition) to his ministry endeavors. He then shared a synthesis of Native American myths and Scripture: “We are all related...Science is starting to find out what our ancestors knew...Our purpose is to maintain harmony and balance...in the earth.” Woodley reinterpreted the Fall much more narrowly: “[Adam and Eve] misuse the land...in my understanding, that’s what original sin is.” He then argued, “‘To dominate the earth’ doesn’t make sense in that poetic context.” He added: “If I’m right, the colonization is the original sin on steroids,” And he complained: “It’s very difficult to make a new theology [of creation] on stolen land.”
The George Fox professor then took on a near-pagan view of causality to warn his listeners. “Why are all these tornadoes, wildfires, and hurricanes happening more frequently,” he asked in an ominous tone. He asserted that the earth was warning: “If you’re going after me, I’m going to fight back.”
Echoing Woodley’s views stood Peter Illyn, founder and executive director of Restoring Eden, an organization devoted to evangelizing evangelicals with the Green Gospel of environmentalism. He discussed various conceptions of earth in his talk “Goddess, Garden, or Gearbox?,” held in the Wild Goose Festival’s “Peace Garden.” Illyn’s own story belied his political biases: he experienced a “faith crisis” during the Reagan years, especially with the “endangered species battle.” He complained, “There were all these arguments about the origins of creation, but not the viability.” He also worried that “Christians have developed this view where God has made creation for us and we take what we will.” He encouraged his listeners to view the earth neither as a goddess nor as an exploitable mechanism, but as a place where life comes from. “God created the land, and the land brought forth life,” he stated, “Do machines speak up for themselves?...Do they have rights?” He linked the mechanistic view with theological Dispensationalism: “The earth is a machine, and machines wear out and need to be replaced.” He intoned, "We have the right to take the fruit of nature; we don't have th right to take the fruitfulness of the earth."
Illyn then condemned the pro-free market Acton Institute, which he described as “hierarchical right-wing.” He disdained the oranization's creation theology which focuses on man's role in the renewal of creation. He also claimed, “One of the guys that leads Acton got his start with asphalt [accenting on the first syllable]...There is a reason it’s called that.” He also expressed disdain for the Cornwall Alliance’s “Resisting the Green Dragon” film. Presently, he worries about the cause of “creation care” since the Republican-majority House of Representatives is filled with “pawns of corporations.” As for moderates, Illyn worried, “Some evangelicals are ‘green,’ but it’s born out of a sense of duty, where it’s for the use of future generations.” He also insisted: “Environmental laws don’t stifle economic growth.”
Once again, the Wild Goose Festival landed squarely along the progressive line when it came to climate and environmental issues. Tired of careful statements in which economic and environmental creation stewardship are combined, liberal evangelicals are pushing for much narrower policies and creeds regarding creation. During his talk, Peter Illyn proclaimed: “This is the time for the moderates to be radical.”
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