Thankfully, that time has passed - to some extent. Many churches and other communities of believers are working hard to do some good for the earth as we realize the responsibility we've been handed.
James River Coal Company president Brian Patton apparently didn't get the memo.
In a recent Associated Press report about a group of religious leaders who toured a mountaintop removal site, Patton said, "As a Christian, I've been taught to worry about saving souls as opposed to environmental issues."
Patton, who serves as a deacon at the Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington, also said it's "hypocritical to single out mining" as the only industry that affects the environment. That's true enough, but it in no way invalidates the criticism leveled at coal companies that participate in mountaintop removal.
Many Christians take the view that this life doesn't mean very much. In their opinions, we're all just kind of biding our time until we get to heaven - and, of course, trying to take everybody we can with us.
As a Christian, I believe that eternity is more than a lofty concept - it's a reality, and we'll all get there eventually. I also believe, however, that the Bible is full of references to how we are to live our lives now - not just so we can get into heaven, but so our lives here will be the best they can be.
Part of our responsibility is taking care of the planet we call home.
In Genesis 1, God says, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
This isn't complicated. If we're made in God's likeness, it stands to reason we're expected to rule over creation in the same way he rules over us - lovingly, responsibly, with our best interests at heart.
Another point that plays into this discussion was recently brought to my attention as I listened to a podcast from my old church in Lexington. From the Old Testament to the words of Jesus himself to the example set by the first century church, the Bible makes it crystal clear that we are to take care of the poor. Yet it's the poor who suffer the most when the environment is abused.
Here's what I mean: If drinking water is contaminated, those who live comfortably in the middle class (or better) can simply drive to the store and stock up on water or whatever. But what happens to those who can't afford anything better? They have to drink the water.
(This is a problem being addressed on the other side of the world by Blood:Water Mission, an organization dedicated to providing wells of clean drinking water, along with untainted blood, to combat the AIDS crisis in Africa.)
Therefore, even if you don't accept that God cares about how we treat the earth, it's obvious that mistreating the planet is in opposition to God's mandates about how Christians are to care for the poor.
Let's relate this truth more specifically to mountaintop removal. The process frequently results in damage to nearby houses, ruins water supplies and invites flooding. It's a safe guess that many of the homeowners who suffer from these problems can't afford to do much about it.
So it's not just the environment that suffers. It's real people - people whose souls Patton would like to see "saved."
Just some things to chew on.
Jarrod Sherman can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org