A couple of weeks ago I watched ‘The Cove’, which won Best Documentary at the Oscars. It follows the efforts of Richard O’Barry to release every captive dolphin around the world back into the oceans. He has been arrested countless time for his guerilla tactics, but this only seems to spur him on. If you are familiar with the 70’s TV show “Flipper” he was the guy who trained the dolphins who played the role and, as such, he blames himself for the popularity of the ‘Sea World’s’ and other aquariums and dolphinariums around the globe. He tells the heart wrenching story of how one of the Flipper dolphins literally committed suicide in his arms because of her inability to cope with the confines of captivity. He tells the camera at one point, “don’t be fooled by a dolphin’s smile, it doesn’t mean they’re happy. They are meant to be free, and they know it.”
This particular documentary takes place in Taiji, Japan, where something a little more sinister is going on. Local fisherman are driving pods of dolphins into a small inlet by banging poles submerged into the water off the sides of their boats. Because the dolphins are very sensitive to sound they flee the cacophony from this wall of fishing vessels and are soon stuck in this inlet, where they are netted in till the next morning. When the sun rises again there are representatives from all the big dolphinariums who come and take their pick of animals to be used in their shows. Only four or five of the hundred or so dolphins are selected and when the buying is over the remaining 95 or so are driven around the corner of the inlet into a secret cove where they are slaughtered with spears until their blood turns the whole bay red.
This small group of 25 fisherman are responsible for the deaths of 25,000 dolphins every year. The reason they kill them and don’t just let them go is because they can make some money selling the meat to the supermarkets. Unfortunately, dolphin meat is poisonous to humans because it contains dangerous levels of mercury. No problem, they just package the meat under different labels and no one is the wiser, until they wind up in hospital. The local government even fed this stuff to school children for their lunches, seemingly unconcerned with the consequences.
In the documentary Richard O’Barry sets himself the task of overcoming the significant security to film what actually happens in that cove in order to shock the rest of the world into action. It makes for a tense and harrowing watch.
I went home and jumped on the internet to see what had been done since the film was made almost two years ago and was saddened to find it’s still happening. Petitions have been signed and the world is more aware, but this group of fishermen are still slaughtering dolphins by the thousands. The obvious question is who is going to change this; who is going to fix it?
It’s a crime, but lets be honest it’s probably not going to be the church. The sad truth is that most churches don’t have time for these kind of issues. They are seen as liberal, ‘tree hugging’ issues which we ignore because ‘we’re too busy trying to get people saved’. Our church buildings get ever-more elaborate and our weeks fill to capacity with meetings and gatherings and we stick our fingers in our ears when it comes to this stuff because, “Greenpeace can take care of it”.
When Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” came out a few years ago I showed it to the young adults at the church I worked at and the overwhelming response I got was confusion. “Why would he waste a church meeting showing us this stuff? What does this have to do with God and being a Christian?”
Their response made me mad. It’s not their fault, it’s just that they have been given such one-sided teaching their whole life they were never told what the bible says about the natural world.
The problem today, at least in evangelical churches, is our theology. As McLaren puts it, ‘We have an Evacuation Theology’. It says, “that our purpose in church is to bring as many people in as possible and then just ride it out until we leave and everything is smashed”. When you have this view of things it’s easy to see why the environment isn’t on the agenda for most churches. What’s the point in caring for a doomed planet?
But I believe we have made Jesus idea of salvation way too small. I think when He turned and told the people watching His walk/stumble to the cross and said, “Behold, I make ALL things new,” I think He meant just that. ALL things. Unfortunately we have narrowed it right down to mean something a lot smaller which seems to let us off the hook with a bunch of things which God still cares about and wants us to be involved in redeeming.
But whatever your Soteriology/Eschatology happens to be God seems pretty clear about our role as human beings: to be warders of the planet who care for it with everything we do. So at what point in history did the church abdicate it’s role as the defender of the planet? These aren’t issues for someone else to deal with. They are ours. I believe God’s salvation is all-encompassing, so instead of just trying to work on ‘more catchy wording for our evangelistic tracts’, why don’t we get involved in renewing the whole world, including the natural order?
So let me speak for the ‘tree huggers’ and say that this stuff IS our job as church. God does care, so we should too. Scripture seems pretty clear about our role, and when society habitually chooses profits over quality of life, or life at all in some cases, we should be the first in line to cry foul! Environmental issues are things we should be involved in, and not as an after thought to our huge services and programs within the four walls of our institutions, but on the front lines with the tree huggers!
If that’s a liberal view point, then I’m a proud liberal.
Do yourself a favour and go watch that documentary, if you can find it. I hope it raises the same questions for you.