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Jesus and Environmental Sin


The Patriarch of Rome, Pope Francis, recently published a highly anticipated Encyclical Letter on the environment entitled “Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home” Much attention has been spent on the Patriarch’s view that climate change is at least partly the fault of human activity (para 23). But I would like to focus on a statement made in paragraph 8, in which the Pope quotes Patriarch Bartholomew who said “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage,” we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.” Pope Francis notes that we are to repent for this moral failure.

So in light these comments, is it fair to say that being human entails environmental damage? If so, then did Jesus have to repent for environmental damage?

Now I am not asserting that these Patriarchs believe Jesus sinned. My point is simply that if we take their comments at face value, then how do we defend Christ against the charge that He committed environmental sin? Consider the Biblical testimony—Christ cursed a tree just to act as an object lesson (Mk 11:13ff);ate well enough to be accused of gluttony (Lk 5:29ff); and had fish killed just to prove His power (Lk 5:5ff; Jn 21:6ff). Other events in Christ’s life could be mentioned.

What I am suggesting is that either the Pope and the Patriarch need to define the notion of environmental damage more carefully, or we are put into the position of having to defend Jesus from the charge of committing environmental sin. Because if environmental damage is inherent in being human, then in what sense was Jesus able to be human and avoid environmental sin?