September 22, 2008
Green runs through the Bible like a vine. There are the Garden and Noah’s olive branch. The oaks under which Abraham met with angels. The “tree standing by the waterside” in Psalms. And there is Jesus, the self-proclaimed “true vine,” who describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a mustard seed that grows into a tree “where birds can nest.” He dies on a cross of wood, and when he rises Mary Magdalene mistakes him for a gardener.
Now there is a Bible trying to make gardeners of us all. On Oct. 7, HarperCollins is releasing The Green Bible, a Scripture for the Prius age that calls attention to more than 1,000 verses related to nature by printing them in a pleasant shade of forest green, much as red-letter editions of the Bible encrimson the words of Jesus. The new version’s message, states an introduction by Evangelical eco-activist J. Matthew Sleeth, is that “creation care”–the Christian catchphrase for nature conservancy–”is at the very core of our Christian walk.”
Using recycled paper with soy-based ink, The Green Bible includes supplementary writings by, among others, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope John Paul II, Desmond Tutu and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright. Several of these essays cite the Genesis verse in which God gives humanity “dominion” over the earth, a charge most religious greens read to mean “stewardship.” Others assert that eco-neglect violates Jesus’ call to care for the least among us: it is the poor who inhabit the floodplains.
Not all buy creation care’s centrality. Says Southern Baptist leader Richard Land: “Sure it’s important, but when they asked Jesus what was most important, he said, ‘Love your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ He didn’t say anything about creation.”
But Land is fighting the tide. Mainline Protestants have long been green, and a Pew Foundation study recently found that 54% of Evangelicals–and 63% of those ages 18 to 29–agreed that “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.”
There is one catch. The conservative Christians who drive Bible sales don’t tend to favor the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) used in The Green Bible. Yet publisher Mark Tauber thinks green Evangelicals will leap the NRSV fire wall. He adds cheerfully: “I wouldn’t be surprised if you see so-called big Bible publishers come out with a green edition.” If you want to grow a biblical tree where birds can nest, this is a good way to start.