Driving from Vancouver, Canada to Waco, Texas USA is no easy chore. Last week, when I made the 4 day, 40 hour epic road trip, I nearly hit a deer, errantly ran a stop sign while looking for gas, and drove through a rainbow during a lightning storm. New Mexico is also much prettier than what I expected since my mental images of the state had been stereotypically formed by watching several episodes of Breaking Bad.
My station wagon and I made it in one piece, thankfully, but I was struck by the culture shock the move gave me. I spent two years attending Regent College, and moved now to Waco, TX, where I’m set to continue studies in sociology at Baylor University. While the two schools share much in common—both promote rigorous academics and encourage uncompromising commitment to their Christian heritage—the two cities couldn’t be further apart. For one thing, Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t visited, suffice it to say that the city is surrounded by sandy beaches and snow-capped mountains. The view from Jericho Beach, with Vancouver’s downtown skyline across English Bay with a snow-capped mountain backdrop will leave you dumbfounded. Nowhere else in North America, Texas included, can you get a view like this.
Second, whereas Vancouver is the most unchurched city in North America, Waco is situated smack dab on one end of the Bible Belt. While less than 5% of all Vancouverites attend church, it would not be surprising for a resident of Waco to ask, “So what church do y’all go to?” Contrast that Texan assumption with the fact that scores of Vancouverites have little to no knowledge of the Bible or Jesus. In Vancouver it’s surprising to meet a stranger who goes to church; in Waco, it’s the opposite.
Third, perhaps the most striking difference between Vancouver and Waco is the overall approach to nature. My time in Vancouver taught me a great deal about the importance of taking care of the environment. Despite its lack of a major Christian presence, Vancouverites take earth keeping and environmentalism very seriously. Recycling, for example, is not an option. At the house where I lived, the recycle bins got picked up twice as often as the garbage cans, so recycling and composting were pretty much necessities unless we wanted to drown in our own trash. In the grocery store, I noticed that cage-free eggs often sold out before the regular mass-produced ones. Local, organic, sustainable, and fair trade were the buzzwords. By contrast, when I drove past legions of trucks and SUVS in Amarillo, I couldn’t help but notice a restaurant billboard advertising its highly celebrated 72 oz. steak. That’s 4 ½ pounds or 2.04 kilograms for you metric meat lovers out there!
Predicting this culture shock that I’d soon experience, one of my Seattle friends spoke aptly when he said, “What the rest of the world thinks of America, America thinks of Texas.” Yep, my time in Canada showed me that Vancouverites are generally polite, eco-conscious, pedestrian-friendly, healthy and active cosmopolitans. Texans, on the other hand, just don’t care about some of that stuff. Having lived in Houston for 6 years prior to my Canadian adventure, I can confidently say that we Texans like to guzzle gas, eat red meat, and avoid recycling if at all possible. And interestingly, there are also more Christians in Texas than just about every other state in the U.S.
So this makes me wonder if there’s a discrepancy. Why does Texas not place as much concern on the environment? Of course, a massive sociological study would need to be done to account for all the variables, but since I haven’t started my program, I’ll hold off on that for the time being. But still, what explains Vancouver’s obsessive preoccupation with taking care of the earth? Is it that the city’s geographical surroundings—beaches, oceans, and mountains in every direction—serve as a daily reminder that we should not take for granted the beauty of the Earth? Or maybe it’s the fact that Vancouver’s city planners had the vision and foresight to implement policies that take environmental issues seriously? Whatever the reason(s), it’s pretty clear that with such few churchgoers in Vancouver, no apparent theological motivation exists.
And on the other hand, I wonder what explains Texas’ relative dismissal of earth keeping. Do Texans not think these things are moral or biblical issues? It’s true that many Texas Christians in the trenches of the culture wars spend more time focused on abortion and textbooks. Plus, the economy has long depended on oil and gas revenue, but what about all that stuff in the Bible which talks about humans being God’s caretakers? Are my Christians friends in Texas skipping over these fundamental parts of Genesis?
At least one possible hypothesis is that Christians in the great state of Texas have somehow inherited a bad environmental ethic. The historian Lynn White argues as much in a now famous piece called, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” White contends that Western Christianity’s influence on the environment has been devastating, for it teaches people that we are the pinnacle of creation and have the God-given right to exploit and control the resources we find here.
Another possibility is that those who shirk their stewardship responsibilities have bought into a bad eschatology. Yes, that fancy theological word for the Christian doctrine of the end times does matter outside academia and relates importantly to the way we treat the environment. If someone believes that s/he will be whisked off to Heaven after death because they’ve trusted in Jesus and believed in the atonement of their sins, then even though that makes him a Christian, there’s no immediate reason why that person should take care of the planet. Put bluntly, if life is about becoming Christian, converting others, and then dying and going to go to Heaven, then it simply doesn’t matter whether I recycle, litter, or burn tires in my backyard for fun.
Despite the presumed logic of these positions, I’d argue that neither accords well with the tenor of Scripture. From Genesis onward, Christians are given the amazing responsibility and mission to take care of God’s good creation. God puts Adam and Eve in the Garden so that they may tend and cultivate what He creates for them, but this work is fraught with difficulty and frustration when we rebel against God. As Paul writes later in Romans, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Like us, then, even creation itself awaits the coming of the One who will put the world to rights again, and until that day, our ethics and eschatology matter greatly because they define our relationship to our Creator. So until that day, let’s get these in sync with what Scripture teaches about caring for creation, and in doing so, avoid any unnecessary culture shock.
 Romans 8:23