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“What Would Jesus Drive?”

Obeying Jesus in our transportation choices is one of the great Christian obligations and opportunities of the 21st century. Making transportation choices that threaten millions of human beings violates Jesus’ basic commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31) and “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31).

While growing up I never thought of driving as a moral issue. It was not until I was in graduate school and began learning about the harm pollution from cars and trucks causes that I began to reflect upon it. When I moved to Washington, D.C., I found that it wasn’t necessary to have a car, so I lived without one. After marrying and moving to Brunswick, Md., we bought a Toyota Prius, a hybrid-electric that gets over 50 miles per gallon and is a super ultra low emissions vehicle(or SULEV).

My own journey with the issue of transportation has prepared me to lead a new educational campaign my organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), is about to launch called “What Would Jesus Drive?” We’re using that question to attract attention and start a discussion. We want to help Christians and others understand that our transportation choices are moral choices.

The first reaction by some to the question “What Would Jesus Drive?” is to laugh. I appreciate the laughter because it’s fun to laugh and it helps people remember the question. Of course, “What Would Jesus Drive?” is a more specific variation of “What Would Jesus Do?”

All the bumper stickers, bracelets and tee shirts asking “What Would Jesus Do?” may have become a cliché to some. But we take the question seriously because it pointedly reminds us that we have confessed Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Lord, that we are his followers. It is completely natural for individuals to ask what their leader would do when faced with a moral decision—especially when that leader is the Living Lord Jesus. “What Would Jesus Do?” is also another way of asking, “What is God’s will for me in this situation?” There is not a more serious question for a Christian to ask.

Today, we in the United States are driving much more than we were in years past, and our driving is having harmful consequences. Pollution from vehicles has a major impact on human health and the rest of God’s creation. It contributes significantly to the threat of global warming. Our reliance on imported oil from unstable regions threatens peace and security.

Consider these facts.

  • In 1994, nearly 60 percent of U.S. households owned two or more cars, and 19 percent owned three or more.
  • Since 1970, vehicle miles traveled have increased 149 percent while U.S. population increased 39 percent.
  • The 2000 census revealed that three out of four workers drive to work alone, an increase from both 10 and 20 years ago. Less than 5 percent use public transportation and less than 3 percent telecommute.
  • Fuel economy for passenger vehicles peaked in 1988 and is at a 22-year low. This is due to the increase in vehicles from the “light trucks” category (SUVs, vans and pickups). Such vehicles are allowed by the federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards to use one-third more fuel than cars. Since the CAFE law passed in 1975 they have seen explosive growth (SUVs have increased by a factor of 10 since 1975) and now account for nearly 50 percent of the market.
  • Tailpipe pollution from cars and trucks accounts for almost one-third of outdoor air pollution, including approximately half of the pollution that creates smog.
  • Production and distribution of gasoline accounts for half of the toxic air pollutants released (e.g. benzene).
  • Pollution from cars and trucks can help to cause acute respiratory problems, significant temporary decreases in lung capacity, inflammation of lung tissue, asthma attacks, impairment of the body’s immune systems, and can increase a person’s risk of cancer.
  • For the first time recent studies have linked outdoor air pollution to birth defects, low birth weight, premature births, stillbirths, infant deaths and healthy, active children becoming 3-4 times more likely to develop asthma.
  • In 1996 health-care costs due to transportation pollution totaled $56 billion.
  • The largest source of global warming pollution in the United States is transportation (over 30 percent in 1998), and the United States is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
  • An additional 80-90 million poor people could be at risk of hunger and malnutrition later in the 21st century simply because of global climate change.
  • Global warming could increase the number of people impacted by flooding by 20-50 million.
  • Human health risks will be greater in developing countries due to the potential for increased geographical distribution of infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and encephalitis. For example, by 2080, an additional 300 million people could be at risk of malaria due to global warming.
  • Large cities in the United States may experience, on average, several hundred extra deaths per summer due to global warming.
  • In 2001 the United States imported over 50 percent of the nation’s oil, with about 25 percent coming from the Middle East.
  • The United States spends $20-40 billion a year to defend Middle Eastern oil resources.
  • The United States sends $200,000 overseas each minute to buy oil products.
  • By 2020 oil imports are projected to be 64 percent.
  • Up to 75 percent of the world’s oil reserves are in the Middle East and are controlled by the OPEC oil cartel.
  • Oil price spikes from 1979 to 1991 cost the U.S. economy about $4 trillion, and the economy went into recession after each major price shock.

As Christians, we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. The Lordship of Christ extends throughout every area of our life. Nothing is excluded from his Lordship. This includes our transportation choices. The Risen Lord Jesus cares about the kinds of cars we drive because they affect his people and his creation.

Obeying Jesus in our transportation choices is one of the great Christian obligations and opportunities of the 21st century. Making transportation choices that threaten millions of human beings violates Jesus’ basic commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31) and “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31).

In making our transportation choices with the Risen Lord Jesus, we believe he wants us to travel in ways that reduce pollution and consumption of gasoline.

We therefore invite the church to engage in a serious, sustained dialogue with these urgent questions: What transportation choices would Jesus make? What would Jesus drive? If we do that with faithful submission to biblical truth and humble exploration of the best scientific data, biblical Christians can help create a better society for our families and our children’s children.

As part of our campaign, we are asking Christian leaders to sign a “Call to Action.” Those who sign pledge to do the following:

  • walk, bike, car pool and use public transportation more;
  • purchase the most fuel efficient and least polluting vehicle available that truly fits our needs;
  • educate others about the moral concerns and solutions associated with transportation;
  • encourage automobile manufacturers to produce the most fuel efficient and least polluting vehicles possible that fit the needs of the American people; and
  • urge government leaders to support public transportation, a significant increase in fuel economy standards, and research and development for promising new transportation technologies that reduce pollution and increase fuel efficiency.

Today the excessive gasoline consumption resulting from the cars, SUVs and trucks we drive is causing serious air pollution and global warming, tragically harming those Jesus died to save (Jn 3:16). It is time to repent and change. Together, let us enhance human health, protect creation and help promote stability and peace in the world.

We could use your help. If you are interested in affirming the Call to Action, please e-mail me and I will reply with a copy. And help us spread the word about “What Would Jesus Drive?”

Jim Ball is executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network and publisher of Creation Care magazine.