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Sin of environmental gluttony committed at the gas pump


Recently a group of religious leaders known as the Evangelical Environmental Network introduced the question, “What Would Jesus Drive?” Based on the What Would Jesus Do -- WWJD -- slogan that has appeared on sweatshirts for a number of years, “What Would Jesus Drive?” invites American Christians to examine their love affair with gas-guzzling SUVs through the lens of their Christian faith.

Critics immediately bombed the campaign by branding its architects as liberals and admonishing them to address more pertinent “Christian” issues. Are these Christian leaders and their auto-focused acronym merely a left-wing conspiracy cloaked in clerical clothes, or do they shout a legitimate call to Christian conversion?

It would be difficult to construct an argument that proves the necessity of SUVs in America. The vast majority of these vehicles will never bust 3-foot snowdrifts, navigate alligator-infested swamps, or haul more than four passengers on a daily basis. Their four-wheel prowess, eight-cylinder brawn and cavernous cargo holds are hardly indispensable. Combining these nonessentials with their appetite at the pump (Small: 2002 Mitsubishi Montero: 17mpg. Medium: 2002 Dodge Durango: 13mpg. Large: 2002 Ford Expedition: 14mpg) reveals the SUV as a luxury item at best, and a vulgar display of wastefulness at worst -- the ultimate symbol of American gluttony.

Since SUVs most often represent an immoderate vehicle option, it seems plausible that Christian leaders would invite their congregations to pray before indulging in a Chevy TrailBlazer. After all, the church has preached against gluttony for centuries.

According to Sacred Origins of Profound Things by Charles Panati, Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus first articulated the concept of eight deadly sins in order of increasing seriousness: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory and pride. In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great compressed the list to seven, with gluttony remaining on the slate. It would be difficult to dismiss Evagrius of Pontus and Pope Gregory the Great as tree-hugging hippies.

Furthermore, WWJD is but the most recent chapter in the Christian church’s tome of teachings on environmental gluttony. A portion of the United Methodist church’s policy statement on the natural world reads:

All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings.

The Vatican has published many official documents urging Christians to honor God’s Earth. As recently as Jan. 17, 2001, Pope John Paul II called for an “ecological conversion” in light of the devastation and pollution humankind has wrought. People on either end of the political spectrum might find it difficult to dismiss the leaders of the United Methodist and the Roman Catholic churches as liberal politicians masquerading as religious folk.

Gluttony and disrespecting God’s green Earth are moral issues about which the Christian church has and should continue to preach. Who could be surprised if the next Popemobile is a gas/electric hybrid?

William Kriege is campus minister at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Mo.

National Catholic Reporter, December 27, 2002