Reflecting on her evangelical church upbringing, Lindsay recalls an important emphasis on deepening relationship with God, but doesn’t remember much mention of tackling systemic injustice.
“To my memory, I really have no recollection of environmental justice being talked about in church, and even social justice as a larger theme would be a stretch. Anything that has any political connotations just was not talked about. Especially for evangelical Christians, that’s the general sentiment across America. So I felt like I was really left in the dark on what I now think so much of the Bible calls us to.”
During college, it had been Lindsay’s aspiration to become a doctor. To satisfy study abroad requirements for her pre-medical major, she took the only overseas biology-related option on offer: a Creation Care Studies Program in New Zealand. Before the program, Lindsay hadn’t really thought about composting, recycling or growing her own food, but little by little this experience began to change her.
“Overall there was a slow working of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire semester,” says Lindsay. “There was also a specific moment I remember being especially confronted and jarred in a marine biology class where we were studying the detrimental effects of pollution, noise and plastic on our oceans.
“I remember just being extremely heartbroken in that class, learning about the intelligence of much of our marine life and how this marine life has been so impacted by stark human greed and negligence. That was a moment when it really clicked and I said, “I'm not going to be complicit in this any longer and I'll do whatever I can to make sure that I'm not.” That was an especially emotional moment, a kind of awakening moment.”
For Lindsay, the connection between climate care and her faith is clear.
“My faith is integral to my attentiveness to creation and the backbone of my passion and motivation for working on environmental issues,” says Lindsay. “I don't think I'm able to separate them; they both inform each other. It kind of seems like that relationship with creation was the missing piece of my faith, ‘cause we always emphasize our relationship with our Creator. We have to start with that relationship, but we never really talk about that other relationship with the rest of God's creation. I feel like once I finally understood that, I had a fuller scope of who God was and who we are in relation to Him. Understanding that really helped me mature in my faith, gave me a more holistic view, and is still the driving force behind everything I do.”
Upon her return from New Zealand, Lindsay dropped her medical aspirations and joined Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. This not-for-profit organisation supports young evangelicals in the US taking action to overcome the climate crisis as part of Christian discipleship and witness. What Lindsay found here was more than like-minded believers; she also found a new kind of family.
“Young Evangelicals for Climate Action has really kind of been my home,” says Lindsay. “I joined them pretty quickly after I returned and I'm still with them now on their steering committee. It's just been the place where I was able to further explore this new set of passions and beliefs, and a place to mature and grow in that. It’s been really great - a community of people that share the same passions and thoughts.
“I came back from New Zealand with all this energy and I was so excited to bring my church on board. My biggest challenge thus far is my frustration with the larger evangelical body in the States, but especially in my home community and in my home church, because these are people that I know, they're people that helped raise me and bring me up in the faith, and it's very frustrating and disenchanting to come back from New Zealand with all these big ideas and have that beat out of you.
“The Young Evangelicals for Climate Action were my sounding board for everything during that time - people seasoned in the same struggles who could provide guidance and wisdom. I'm just so thankful for that because they really helped me navigate how to live this out in my community.”
In the United States, ideological division is deeply entrenched. Faith is tied up with politics. Climate change is often seen by socially conservative American Christians as a liberal or progressive agenda item and not as scientific fact. They hence view it with suspicion. The subsequent build up of tension over the years has led to somewhat of a social and political stalemate on climate.
“I think a lot of the environmental and social justice aspects [of theology] have unfortunately become yoked with the Liberal agenda and unfortunately that has caused a division in our communities and in our church,” Lindsay reflects. “I think this has led us to pick and choose what aspects of the Bible we talk about, or just neglect to talk about the applications of the Word in our lives.”
Ahead of the upcoming presidential election this November and the associated potential for societal change, Lindsay would love to see churches authentically re-engage with the Gospel and step up as leaders on climate action.
If I could share anything to encourage conservative Christians on their own journey in this space, it would just be to look deeply into the Word and read it through the lens of thinking about all of creation. To read it thinking about God's glory and just looking at the numerous ways that's displayed in the Gospel. Then just to think deeply for yourself [about] how that manifests in your life as a believer. I really encourage people to come to their own conclusions - that personal step of becoming knowledgeable and reflecting is important first, so that you can then begin this conversation.
My biggest hope and prayer is that the global Church would see in the Word of God the importance of stewarding creation and that we would take seriously the call to take care of it. I would love to see the Church be the leaders on the issue, for the Church to rise above the political divides in our country and in other western countries where it's become so fraught and become the beacon of hope and way forward when it seems like politically we're so stuck.
I think we need to bring the body of Christ onto the issue, and that everyone should be holding leaders accountable. The conservative party is still largely the Christians of America, so I think if we can bring them on board, that would trample the wall that's been put up - it would no longer be a partisan issue, but it could just be a people issue because that's what it is. It's a gospel issue. It's a justice issue. Like so many other things, we shouldn't have these divides - especially in our church - around them. I would love to see those walls, those divides, dismantled and for us to be able to talk openly and engage civically without it tearing us apart.”
While the challenge of championing climate action amongst conservative evangelicals is very real in the US, moments of hope amidst the struggle are real, too. Lindsay experienced this last year at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25, where she connected with the Renew Our World campaign and was energised by attending one of the largest climate marches in history. Ultimately, though, Lindsay’s deepest hope comes from knowing God and His complete goodness. This fuels and sustains her decisions, including making sacrificial, sustainable lifestyle choices even when they may seem insignificant in the face of a changing climate.
“The climate crisis as a whole is a monstrosity of an issue and it can be pretty easy to get bogged down with it,” says Lindsay. “But when I have the mentality of doing these everyday actions, these simple changes, as an act of worship, that helps me stay focused. I keep the reminder that we're called to do justice. That we're called to do this work now, and it's not really up to us to see the fruits of that labour, but we just have to trust that through this work we're extending the glory of our Creator.”
She also draws strength from knowing her faith unifies her with fellow believers across the world.
“Climate change transcends political boundaries and so does our faith and the body of Christ,” Lindsay asserts. “That just gives me a lot of hope that our faith can be the lever to be the change in this world. And when we're frustrated, that's where we can all turn collectively as a body.”
So, what’s next for Lindsay Mouw? She’s not exactly sure, but is thinking about going to graduate school to study ecological restoration and climate adaptation. Amidst her uncertainty, Lindsay is pretty clear on one thing: climate advocacy is part of God’s future for her.
“It's been an up-and-down roller coaster as I've taken on this journey of being a climate activist, but I think I've found my life's calling and that's really exciting.”
If you’re keen to check out Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, click here.
And if you’re keen to learn more about the Creation Care Studies Program in New Zealand, click here.