The National Bottle Bill, which would require a five-cent deposit on beverage containers to encourage recycling, has received more support this year than ever before. Two evangelical legislators have been actively pushing the legislation. Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oreg.) has introduced such a bill in the Senate for nearly a decade, and during this session Rep. Paul Henry (R-Mich.) began a new effort in the House of Representatives. CHRISTIANITY TODAY spoke with Henry about the legislation and his synthesis of faith and environmental concerns.

Environmentalism has been associated with the liberal political agenda, and you are generally not known for liberal political views.

It’s a conservative ethic, not a liberal ethic. I have fairly consistently taken the posture that as a conservative, I have something to say about environmental conservation. There is also an analogy with fiscal issues. When you exploit the environment, you are simply building up debt that is passed on to the next generation. If you want to look at it in terms of cost efficiency, it is much cheaper to protect the environment from harm than it is to retroactively reclaim it from exploitation.

You have said that environmental issues should be part of the “moral agenda” facing this nation. What do you mean by that?

When I was a child, we used to get injunctions around the table to “eat all your food because people in China and India are starving.” The problem in the world today is not food shortage, but food distribution. We ought to apply the same standards of stewardship to the environment and not waste it in such a way that it is denied to others in the next generation. In the modern economic order, we’ve become highly productive, but we have in some cases become equally wasteful. From a purely secular point of view, it is our wastefulness that will ultimately catch up with us.

However, I am reluctant to say that all resources are finite, because I think such terminology loses sight of the possibility of human creativity and new technologies, all of which are gifts of God.

From a Christian perspective, in the beginning in the order of creation, man—as the pinnacle of God’s creation—was charged with stewardship of the garden. One of the effects of the Fall was that all aspects of the created order came under the Curse. But in the redemptive order, as early as the Mosaic code, there were injunctions to use and care for the land under the biblical concepts of stewardship.

How have Christians and particularly evangelicals been responding to the issue? Have they gotten behind your legislation?

Yes, they have, but I don’t think this is an issue that is uniquely Christian. If you are dealing with the Clean Air Act or clean water or acid rain, I don’t think Christians are different than others in terms of their concern. Nor do I think there are “Christian solutions” relative to the issues.

However, I think there is a special contribution Christians can make. There is a fringe of the environmental movement that is militantly secular humanist. Certainly we ought not to condemn the environmental movement because of it. There is a very important mission for evangelical Christians to speak forth and correct that kind of evolutionist, humanist environmental mentality.

How do you overcome the opposition of the beverage industry to the National Bottle Bill?

It’s a classic example of special interest versus diffused interest. A very small group of people who are adversely affected [by the bill] are opposing the overwhelming majority and the public good. When there was a referendum in Washington State, the beverage industry spent more money opposing the bill than it would have cost to completely change their plants to engage in recycling. Every poll taken shows overwhelming public support for a bottle bill. The problem is mobilizing that support and showing legislators that they would be rewarded for responding to the issue.

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