From the Book of Gaia, chapter two

greenbible 01It's not mainstream media, but enough readers sent along this recent Cybercast News Service story by Pete Winn that I thought we'd take a quick look. The article features biblical scholars challenging whether a quote used by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in favor of political solutions for the environment is found in Scripture:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is fond of quoting a particular passage of Scripture. The quote, however, does not appear in the Bible and is "fictional," according to biblical scholars.

In her April 22 Earth Day news release, Pelosi said, "The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' On this Earth Day, and every day, let us pledge to our children, and our children's children, that they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature."

The reporter asked the speaker's office for the origin of the quote for two days before running the story. He spoke with a range of biblical scholars who said they did not know of any passage approximating her quote:

John J. Collins, the Holmes professor of Old Testament criticism and interpretation at Yale Divinity School, said he is totally unfamiliar with Pelosi's quotation.

"(It's) not one that I recognize," Collins told Cybercast News Service. "I assume that she means this is a paraphrase. But it wouldn't be a close paraphrase to anything I know of."

I wasn't sure from reading the initial quote whether it was fair to view Pelosi's statement as a quote or an interpretation. Different versions of the press release that I saw on the always-reliable internet had the quotation without quotes around it. But for a "gotcha" piece, Winn did his homework, listing many and various occasions when Pelosi had used the quote, sometimes attributing it to the Old Testament, other times to the Prophet Isaiah.

He also spoke with a Baptist professor of Old Testament and a Roman Catholic doctor of Scripture, among others. The main problem with the story is the lack of a vigorous defender of Pelosi. Winn's sources do run the gamut from scholars who think she's off her rocker to those who think she's merely misguided:

Mark Goodwin, an associate professor of theology at the University of Dallas, said Pelosi's quote only reflects a partial Scriptural truth, at best.

"'To minister to the needs of creation is an act of worship' doesn't sound right to my ears," Goodwin said. "To minister to the needs of creation'- yes, but not as an act of worship. I'm not sure what she meant by that, and if I were there, I would have raised my hand and asked her to clarify that."

Westminster Theological Seminary professor Peter Enns told Cybercast News Service that there is nothing in the Bible even approaching a proof-text for Earth Day.

"As wise an idea as it might be to be concerned about the environment, I think to find a specific biblical anchor in the Old Testament might be asking things of the Bible it's just not prepared to deliver," Enns said.

"To say that humanity (is the steward) of creation is not so much - in the ancient world -a statement that the goodness of creation has to be protected, but more a statement in the Bible of the supremacy of humanity as the pinnacle of creation," he added.

I appreciate the way the reporter contextualized the verses of the Old Testament that deal with man's stewardship of creation, but many conservationists and environmentalists are inspired by real verses in the Old Testament directing care of the earth. I know it's a story about a politician quoting Bible verses that don't exist, but perhaps the biblical motivations of environmentalists could have been mentioned a bit more.

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