Thursday, July 8, 2010

Christians and Conservation: A Theology of Stewardship

Can he read? Susanne Weissenberger. 1st place, Natural Environment at Risk, ICP Awards 

"God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars." - Martin Luther

Last week I was able to attend the Burke Museum's latest exhibit showcasing the International Conservation Photography Awards.  I definitely recommend making the trip to see it.  The exhibit is a moving display of some of the best conservation photography in the world.  The collection is diverse: some pictures show the great beauty and wonder of the Earth, while others show the oftentimes discouraging relationship between humans and the natural environment.  For me, the experience raised questions about my role in environmental degradation.  Even further, as a Christian, it invoked questions about where my faith intersects environmental issues.  Because of that, I decided to use this post to open a discussion about why the environment is a concern for Christians.

Scripture provides an important framework for understanding the relationship between God, humanity, and creation.  The Genesis account reveals God creating the natural world and placing humans as stewards over it.  The idea of a caring Creator entrusting humanity with taking care of the created order makes caring for creation an essential duty of God's people.  Furthermore, Scripture gives us a theocentric conception of creation.  That is to say, creation is for God's purpose rather than that of humans.  So when we see species being pushed to extinction, or biodiversity being destroyed for personal gain, we must remember our role as caretakers of God's creation.

Giraffe Symphony, Rafael Rojas. Honorable Mention, Wildlife, ICP Awards

Another insightful environmental perspective can be drawn from the biblical concept of shalom.  As Ben Lowe, author of Green Revolution, describes it: "Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace.  Meaning more than simply the absence of conflict,  however, it is about right relationships between God and everything else, where wholeness and flourishing occurs without opposition."  Shalom is seen in Isaiah 11: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them."  Shalom is not only peace, but a restored and reconciled creation.  This reconciliation includes reconciled relationships between God and humanity, within humanity itself, and between humanity and the rest of creation.

Another major case for environmental stewardship in the Christian tradition comes out of the numerous calls to serve the poor and oppressed.  It has become apparent that ecological crises have a disproportionately severe effect on the world's poor.  Poor areas lack the infrastructure, emergency services, health facilities, and financial capital to rebound from environmental catastrophes.  As people commanded to serve the poor, we must be concerned with issues in environmental justice.

Storks and Humans, Sandesh Kadur. 1st Place, Community at Risk, ICP Awards               

Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor.  Caring for the environment is a way of doing both.  It fulfills our God-given role as stewards of the earth, and it protects our neighbor's access to shared resources like clean air and water.  In this way, creation care is an important concern for the Christian community.

As this is only a brief blog post, I ask you to continue the conversation started here.  So go ahead, leave a comment!  Tell us what you think about the intersection of theology and environment.  Also, remember to check out the conservation photography on display at the Burke Museum.  It is a great reminder of the diversity and beauty God has created!  Lastly, if you are looking for more information, Renewal, Earth Ministry, and A Rocha are all committed Christian environmental organizations, all with helpful information and resources on their websites, and SPU has a series of lectures on Christianity and the Environment on iTunesU.

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