Immediate disclaimer to Internet hall monitors: This article is not meant to throw Al Gore under the bus. That would be an inappropriate use of carbon resources to fire up a nasty fume spitting bus just to make a point. The point of this piece is to examine one aspect of the story from a spiritual viewpoint.
First, some background is in order. Al Gore has made an amazing personal comeback with his global warming documentary. I will not debate the claims of his film here. I did write about being green and evangelical in an earlier post. Instead I want to focus on a very inconvenient truth that all of us battle. We are natural born hypocrites. All of us. Gore outlined a list of sacrifices that we could all make to help the environment. Use a clothesline instead of the dryer. Drive a hybrid. Cut back on the thermostat and home energy consumption.
But Al Gore’s personal lifestyle severely damaged his message. (Hint to Christian readers…this is fore-shadowing) The Chattanoogan newspaper reports that Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES). In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh — more than 20 times the national average. Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh — guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year.
Bear with me, I am getting to the spiritual application. So how does Gore justify this apparent case of talk not matching walk? Mr.Gore purchases “carbon offsets” to make his consumption “carbon neutral”. By paying to plant trees or contributing to solar or wind powered energy it “offsets” the personal excessive usage.
"Every family has a different carbon footprint," said Kalee Krider, a spokeswoman for Gore. The official footprint of Al and Tipper is Sasquatch. The logic is interesting. Perhaps if I invest in companies that use sweat shop labor I can “offset” that by giving money to orphans and the underprivileged.
The spiritual application is real and sobering. A messenger without commitment to the message loses effectiveness. Christians produce our own version of “carbon offsets”. We talk about the life changing power of Jesus and don’t demonstrate it. We talk about God’s love and don’t manifest that love. So we invest in “carnal offsets” like serving on every church committee or saying yes to every church request so that others can see how committed we are to the church.
“Look at how hard I am working.”
“I am doing so much more than that person.”
“All they do is consume the message every week, they never help out.”
And we spectacularly miss the point of following Jesus.
Jesus encountered an enthusiastic potential follower on His way to Jerusalem. The young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Lord’s answer was encouraging…at first.
“…to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
His response stops me in his tracks. He was a good man. He was honest, lived with integrity, and was loving. The kind of guy that we assume should have stored up enough “sin offsets” to get in the gates. But Jesus saw what he worshiped and it was not God.
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
When he had to pay a price to follow Jesus the young man could not do it. Writer Jonathon Rauch wrote about a new trend in religion called apatheism. According to Rauch, this new breed of religious person doesn't invest much actual commitment to their faith. Their goals are comfort, reassurance and a God who doesn't expect too much in return for their valuable time.
We should not expect much impact from such a faith. The ire of Christ was never directed at sinners. His harshest words were directed at the religious types. Imagine walking up to a religious leader today and saying something like this…
Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
Jesus said the cost of following Him was full commitment.
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
That is an “Uncomfortable Truth” for me. I want a Savior because I desire eternal life. I am reluctant to want a Lord because I would have to deed over control to God. Until we as followers of Jesus are willing to deny ourselves we will remain marginalized in this country. When people see something supernatural in our lives they will listen.
If we do not daily depend on Christ we are prone (every Christian) to be hypocrites and frauds. Al Gore gives us a secular mirror for our own self deception. We can too easily offer “sin offsets” instead of the difficult offerings of submission and grace. Inconvenient? Yep. Uncomfortable? No doubt. But if we are not sensitive to that truth we will leave a very small eternal footprint.Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com