Serve God, Save the Planet

Former emergency room doctor J. Matthew Sleeth has seen much trauma and heartache in his day, but if you want to see him get really agitated, tell him that the environment is not a valid topic of concern for evangelical Christians.

Dr. Sleeth is bold about his Christian faith and sees as his primary responsibility to bring others to faith in Jesus Christ. He is also one of the emerging leaders in the creation care movement, a position that is growing with the publication this month of his new book Serve God, Save the Planet (Chelsea Green).

On the heels of the Evangelical Climate Initiative that came out with its statement on global warming in Feb. – a statement signed by 86 prominent evangelical leaders – Sleeth’s book provides an alternative to big-government “solutions,” and shows how voluntary, reasonable creation care can save money in the family budget (Sleeth’s monthly electric bill is around $20), limit environmental damage, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Sleeth also takes to task hypocritical environmentalists whose actions do not match their words.

He writes in Serve God, Save the Planet:

“There is plenty of hypocrisy among environmentalists. I was invited to visit a woman who writes about the effects of fossil fuel consumption. I pulled up to her rural Maine home one day. Two SUV’s were parked in the drive. The Maine house is one of three that she owns. All are heated year-round…As we talked, I thought to myself, ‘May the Lord save us from well intended, wealthy environmentalists who want to save the planet.'”

Serve God, Save the Planet is not about politics or the political battles over global warming. It is a deeply personal book with far-reaching ramifications for evangelical Christians and all those who take their devotion to God seriously. A moving personal story that is practical, the book presents a gripping account of Dr. Sleeth’s personal and spiritual journey to creation care. It lays out sobering rationale for life changes, a “how-to” guide for lifestyle adjustments that will help protect God’s creation, and a greater understanding how creation care serves others whose life and health are affected by our pollution.
Sleeth’s unique book tackles this divisive issue from a conservative evangelical perspective – one that urges the reader to focus on small changes each person can make that will have a substantial impact on the environment, rather than waiting for the government to devise “solutions” that intrude on personal freedom.

Ø “It’s tempting to point to a self-serving lobbyist or a power-hungry elected official and blame him for one of the sixty-four thousands annual deaths from airborne soot,” Sleeth writes. “ But what about me and what about us? By changing light bulbs,… carpooling, and owning more modest homes, Christians can save lives.”

Earlier this year, 86 evangelical leaders released a Call to Action on climate change, signaling a notable shift in the Christian community and a growing concern among evangelicals about the moral questions surrounding environmental stewardship. A poll released in Feb. 2006 by Ellison Research showed that 84% of evangelicals agreed that reducing pollution is a form of obedience to the biblical command to love your neighbor.

Now, they have a handbook they can trust to guide their steps.

Rather than using the environment as an excuse to increase government’s role in our lives, Sleeth discusses how reasonable measures taken by each of us can help us practice good stewardship of the creation God gave us as a gift. In the process, Sleeth’s solutions save money in the family budget (Sleeth’s monthly electric bill is around $20), limit environmental damage, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Five years ago, Dr. Sleeth and his family lived in a big house on the Maine coast, had two luxury cars and many material possessions. As chief of the medical staff at a large hospital, Sleeth was living the American dream. As he saw patient after patient suffering from cancer, asthma, and other chronic diseases, he began to understand that the earth and its inhabitants were in trouble. Feeling helpless, he turned to his faith for guidance, and he discovered how the Scriptural lessons of personal responsibility, simplicity, and stewardship could be utilized to help alleviate these health problems. The Sleeths have since sold their big home and discarded more than half of what they once owned.

Sleeth writes:

“The changes we have made [in our lifestyle] will not earn our way into heaven, but they do two important things for our souls. They connect us with the family of man around the world, and, more important, they bring us closer to God. If he asks us to give up everything we have and follow him, I now know with certainty that each member of my family would gladly do so.”

In Serve God, Save the Planet, Dr. Sleeth shares what was easy and what was hard about the changes his family has made, and how material downscaling led his family to healthier lifestyles, stronger relationships, and richer spiritual lives. He writes: “Serve God, Save the Planet is meant to elicit personal accountability rather than political change. Its lessons are meant to teach individuals, families, and communities not much larger than a congregation; and yet it looks at larger issues because they profoundly affect each of us.”

–Jim Jewell

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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