Environmentalist Christians: Caring for God's creation

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
Rev. Mitch Hescox, of New Freedom, talks about his role in preserving funds that help maintain national parks and monuments during an interview near Lake Redman at William Kain Park in Jacobus, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

When the Rev. Mitch Hescox was 18 years old, he experienced a spiritual awakening in the Sonoran Desert, finding God through an image of a cross in a giant sun.

Since then, the self-proclaimed Christian conservative has turned his vision into action. As the leader of the Evangelical Environmental Network, the New Freedom resident works to educate lawmakers on environmental-protection issues. 

More:Land and Water Conservation Fund facing cuts

Hescox's work falls under the umbrella of a Christian movement called "creation care," or the protection of God's greatest creation — the earth and all of the plants and creatures that inhabit it.

Another organization, Care of Creation, formed in 2005 and bills itself as "one of the global leaders in the evangelical creation-care movement." 

"The crisis in creation is real," according the organization's website. "People, animals and plants are dying because we human beings have abused God’s world. ... We are convinced that the crisis in God’s world today is serious and must be addressed by everyone in society, including the church."

Pope Francis also has officially weighed in on the issue of being good stewards of God's creation.

Two years ago, the pope delivered his encyclica "Laudato Si" to all of the bishops in the Catholic Church. In his critique of capitalism and the environment, Francis explained that it's reckless of Christians to not protect the earth. 

The pope wrote that if capitalism takes the lead in the world, especially pertaining to environmental issues, it would cause greater income inequality, higher poverty and a degraded environment. 

Religion and science: The Evangelical Environmental Network has been sending a similar message since 1993, said Hescox, who is a former pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Shrewsbury. 

Several areas that need to be addressed, according to the network, include: land degradation; deforestation; species extinction; water degradation; global toxification; the alteration of the atmosphere; and human and cultural degradation. 

Evangelical Christians might be better known for their positions on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, but creation-care proponents do not see a dichotomy.

As 60-year-old Hescox, puts it, "Our poor stewardship of the creation impacts each child of God around the world." 

He said he wants future generations — born and unborn — to have the same opportunity he has had to enjoy God's work.

One of the network's current goals is to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Hescox said. 

The network has called on Congress to "reject selling off America's public lands and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund."

The fund supports the acquisition of land and conservation easements to protect national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and federal Bureau of Land Management sites. Funds also are granted to states for local and state park needs and to protect critical wildlife habitat, watersheds and recreational access.

It is paid for by a portion of offshore drilling fees and not by taxpayers, Hescox said. 

Without full funding for it, he said, lands surrounding national parks could be picked off by developers and natural gas drillers. 

Agreement: York County's John C. Rudy County Park and Codorus State Park have been financial recipients of the state assistance program, which is part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

George and Lisa Jones visit Codorus State Park two to three times a week. Jana Benscoter/photo

George and Lisa Jones, who were married at Codorus State Park one year ago, said they think the Evangelical Environmental Network's mission is admirable.

They said they think it doesn't necessarily come down to a religious perspective — even though they consider themselves Christians — to be good stewards of public lands.

Windsor Township resident Carolyn Holtzinger, a member of Living Word Community Church in Red Lion, recently attended a lunch retreat with her church's women's group at Rudy Park.

Although she doesn't know Hescox, she said she supports his and other creation-care advocates' work.

Carolyn Holtzinger chats with friends during a Living Word Community Church picnic at John Rudy County Park Wednesday, June 21, 2017. She said he is opposed to cuts in parks funding. Bill Kalina photo

The 68-year-old compared her pastime as a master gardener to respecting the inherent value of public parks. Holtzinger said the outdoors is a sanctuary where people can absorb God's creations through different colors and intricate flowers.

"It's a Christian's responsibility to take care of this creation," she said. "God gave it to us as a gift, and, absolutely, we need to take care of it. ... That's our job."