Dispensationalist alert: Only several billion trees to go

Blaine Harden of The Washington Post writes with sympathy for evangelicals who care about the environment -- or "creation care," as one pastor says he calls it because of evangelicals' purported hang-ups about the word environmentalism. But there's one big cowpie in those pastoral fields:

Even for green activists within the evangelical movement, there are landmines. One faction in the movement, called dispensationalism, argues that the return of Jesus and the end of the world are near, so it is pointless to fret about environmental degradation.

James G. Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first interior secretary, famously made this argument before Congress in 1981, saying: "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."

Something about that example rang false, and it wasn't just the idea that even a dispensationalist envisions a day "after the last tree is felled." Blogger David Kopel began taking apart this urban legend last week. The remark comes from three primary sources:

• Bill Moyers, in one of his recent screeds against the religious right.

• Glenn Scherer of Grist magazine, whom Moyers cited as his source. (Scherer has appended a correction to the end of his article, "The Godly Must Be Crazy.")

• Ex-evangelist Austin Miles, whose book Setting the Captives Free (1990) was Scherer's source.

John "Hindrocket" Hinderaker of Powerline interviewed Watt by phone and performed more fisking, including this excerpt from Watt's actual testimony in 1981:

Mr. Weaver [D. Ore.]: Do you want to see on lands under your management, the sustained yield policies continued?

Secretary Watt: Absolutely.

Mr. Weaver: I am very pleased to hear that. Then I will make one final statement ... I believe very strongly that we should not, for example, use up all the oil that took nature a billion years to make in one century.

We ought to leave a few drops of it for our children, their children. They are going to need it ... I wonder if you agree, also, in the general statement that we should leave some of our resources -- I am now talking about scenic areas or preservation, but scenic resources for our children? Not just gobble them up all at once?

Secretary Watt: Absolutely. That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have, to be steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations.

I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.

Hinderaker says he has written to the Post to request a correction. One can always hope.

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