Follow Jessica on Twitter @CrossAndLeaves or follow the Five Leaf Eco-Awards @fiveleafeco

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Christian Perspective on the Environment - My speech from the JCMA Greening with God conference

Note: The PowerPoint presentation that accompanied this speech is available on request.
Hi, my name is Jessica Morthorpe. I am an Environmental Project Intern in the Justice and International Mission Unit of the Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and I also run an ecumenical church greening program called the Five Leaf Eco-Awards. I am a member of Kippax Uniting Church in Canberra.
I’ve been invited here today to talk about Christians and the environment. This is a challenging task because Christians will have different interpretations of what it means to be a Christian and the impact this should have on their connection to the environment. All I can do is speak from my own experience and interpretation of my faith. This might differ slightly or significantly from what another Christian, particularly one from another denomination, might say, but still fit within the Christian tradition.
So what I am going to do today is start by telling you a little about how I became what I call a Christian Environmentalist, which will introduce some of the challenges of this area, then I will talk about some of the history of the interaction between Christianity and the environment, a little about some broad Christian environmental ethics, what the Bible teaches us about the environment and eco-theology, what real churches say about why they care about the environment, why I think faith can save creation and my vision of a green church. I will also give you some time in your small interfaith groups to talk about some of the questions I raise along the way.
I grew up as a Christian and an environmentalist. Like many who care for this earth, I was one of those kids who ran around the back yard getting dirty and playing with anything living I could find there. I learnt how to stop ants from biting me, I bred slater pigs, I grew flowers and played with the plants in my mother’s garden, I caught the boatmen in our pool and I fished out the drowning bees and other insects and tried to save them when mum wasn’t looking. Most of all, I loved my dog – Sandy the golden Labrodor cross. She was a beloved best friend who stood beside me my entire childhood – 17 years in fact.
My parents both have agricultural science degrees, so my early interest in the environment is perhaps not that surprising. As a kid I collected book inserts on animals from a magazine each week, and it was from these I first learnt about endangered species like wolves, minx, elephants and orang utans. When I was eight years old I decided that I was going to create the world’s biggest and best zoo, one that was going to save all those endangered species from extinction. My dream has evolved over the years, but I still want to work in endangered species conservation, if possible, with faith groups.
So eventually I got to uni and here I was, passionate about the environment, passionate about my faith, and yet, unable to marry the two. It shames and confuses me now that I could have read the Bible so many times and never seen the green message I now see within the text, but for so long I was confused and afraid. The only thing I loved more than the environment was God, yet the Bible said people had dominion over the animals didn’t it? I couldn’t understand or countenance a faith that believed we had the right to abuse our fellow creatures, and I didn’t think, everything belonging to God, that God would approve of this treatment either, and yet how else was I to understand Genesis 1:28? After all, the church didn’t seem to care about the environment. So I was torn, often wondering if God would one day call me to give up my work for the environment and come serve the church. I always promised God that if asked I would do so, but the thought broke my heart and I didn’t understand why God would create me with such a passion for the environment if I was not supposed to use it.
So one day, I heard that the then Bishop George Browning of the Canberra Goulburn Diocese was talking at my university about Christianity and the Environment. It was an unpromising event really – it was in a small theatre and very few people turned up, but after the talk I worked up the guts to ask about the question that was bothering me the most – I asked about Genesis 1:28. George Browning thanked me for the question, explained that it confused many people and then explained to me that the word translated ‘dominion’ could also be translated as a commission for humanity to rule over creation in the same way that the sun rules over the day and the moon over the night – as servant rulers. I thought about that for a moment. The sun is the source of all energy on Earth, it nourishes us and make our lives possible yet never receives anything in return. It was a classic eye opening, lightbulb experience. Later, when I was invited to be an Australian delegate to the Asia Pacific Interfaith Youth Camp on Climate Change in Surubaya, Indonesia; I did a whole bunch of reading before the trip so that I would be able to share with the people from other faiths what Christianity had to say about the environment. The eco-theology texts were fascinating and while reading them I finally realised I could actually do this, I could marry the two pillar of my life together. I could be no only a Christian and an environmentalist, but a Christian environmentalist.
At first, I was concerned that verses like Genesis 2:15 where God tells man to tend and care (exact wording depends on the translation) for the Garden of Eden were isolated proof texts that couldn’t be counted on to build a solid theology. As Shakespeare once said, “the devil can cite Scripture for his own purpose”. As J. Matthew Sleeth (2008) writes in his personal account of his ecological conversion, “Much harm has been done in the past by taking one or two lines from the Bible and building an entire theology on them. Was the call to care for creation care one of those instances? Was my church right in remaining silent on creation? ... What my reading of the Bible disclosed is that creation care is at the very core of our Christian walk.” Likewise, I came to the conclusion that creation care was one of the Bible’s central messages and I became convicted that God was calling the church today to respond to this, so I decided to do something about it.
After the trip I began work on what eventually became the Five Leaf Eco-Awards, an ecumenical church greening program I run that I’m hoping to make interfaith soon. I also started volunteering for the Justice and International Mission Unit of the UCA Synod of VicTas where I get to help create a range of resources to help churches in the two states become more environmentally friendly.
But what I would like to ask is, how many of you had a similar experience to mine? Can I have a show of hands of how many of the Christians here once thought the Bible had nothing to say about the environment? What about the Jews and Muslims, did any of you struggle to realise what your faiths said about the environment?
Discussion Question – 10 minute discussion
1. Why do you think that people of faith sometimes fail to see the ‘green’ side of their holy texts and the practice of their faith? Draw on examples from your faith tradition.
2. What can we do to try and make them see in the future?

Christian and Environmental history
I think it is fair to say that for at least the last 200 years, Christianity has struggled to see creation care as part of the Christian life and response to God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice; or at the very least, we have failed to live as though we believe this. In 1967, historian Lyn White accused Judeo-Christian ideas of dominion of being the root cause of the environmental crisis. This was actually a blessing in disguise, as it caused such uproar and such a scramble to prove him wrong, that in fact, it sparked the development of the stewardship ethic and the modern Christian Environmental movement.
But this is not the first time that Christianity has been concerned about the environment. Most of us know about Francis of Assisi, the Italian Catholic monk who lived in AD 1181 – 1226 and is famous for his love of God’s creatures. Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint's humility towards nature is recounted in the "Fioretti" ("Little Flowers"), a collection of legends and folklore that sprang up after the Saint's death. It is said that, one day, while Francis was traveling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to "wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds".[22] The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:
My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you... you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore... always seek to praise God.
Another legend from the Fioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf "terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals". Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. "Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil...", said Francis. "All these people accuse you and curse you... But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people". Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger”, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. In this manner Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again. It is also said that Francis, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, blessed the wolf.
“The key to an understanding of [Saint] Francis is his belief in the virtue of humility- not merely for the individual but for man as a species. Francis tried to depose man from his monarchy over creation and set up a democracy of all God’s creatures.”p41 The Care of Creation: Focusing Concern and Action by R.J. Berry (2002)
While the most famous, St Francis was certainly not the only early Christian to be concerned about the environment. The Apostles’ Creed, written in the first century states that God is the creator of heaven and earth, Clement of Rome 37-101 AD wrote that there is no friction in God’s ordering of the whole creation. Iranaeus (120-202) wrote that “the initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.” Basil the Great (329-79) said “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator.” Saint Augustine (354-430) said “some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) said, “If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar- I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.”
John Wesley (1701-91) “I believe in my heart that faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well being of other human beings to a broader concern for the well-being of the birds in our backyards, the fish in our rivers, and every living creature on the face of the earth.”
Hildegard of Bingen, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, CS Lewis, TS Elliot, Pope Gregory the Great, Pope Paul VI, EB White, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Pope John Paul II, Francis Schaeffer, Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, Pope Benedict XVI, Martin Luther King Jnr., Desmond Tutu and Rick Warren. All are Christians who at some point in history have spoken about the need for Christians to care for the environment. Thankfully, Christianity is beginning to regain its care for creation and to relook at the words of these people and the words of scripture in regards to how they should relate to creation.
Christian environmental ethics
So what are some of the basic ethics that underpin a Christian relationship with the environment?
Well firstly, Jesus says in Matthew 7:3-5 NIV
“ 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
Jesus says we must remove the plank from our own eye before removing the speck in another’s, therefore a Christian environmental ethics should always start with cleaning up our own act before telling others what to do or judging them for their environmental sins.
Secondly, a Christian approach to the environment must focus on worshipping God, not possessions. According to Pope John Paul II “The seriousness of ecological degradation lays bare the depth of man’s moral crisis.... Simplicity, moderation, and discipline as well as the spirit of sacrifice must become a part of everyday life.” Peace with the Creator, Peace with All of Creation.
Thirdly, a Christian approach to the environment must come from our relationship with God, and be an attempt to move away from sin.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew I of Constantinople from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, who was named one of the 2005 Champions of the Earth says, “How we treat the earth and all of creation defines the relationship that each of us has with God... To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation... for humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands... for humans to injure other humans with disease... for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances, these things are sins.” Remarks at the Symposium on Religion, Science and the Environment, Santa Barbara, California
Fourthly, a Christian approach to the environment has to be based Jesus’ summary of the entire law and prophets - his two greatest commandments.
In Luke 10:25, Jesus is asked a question at the core of the Christian faith – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He answers with two things – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” and “you shall love your neighbour as yourself”. The questioner then asks – “Who is my neighbour?” So Jesus tells him a story – the Parable of the Good Samaritan, one many of you may be familiar with.
30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Jesus is making a point here, two people who were well respected in society, who were expected to serve God faithfully and do the right thing, have just walked past the man who is suffering. Now, here comes a Samaritan. Samaritans were despised at the time. Some people believed they shouldn’t talk to them or eat with them, and would take alternative routes to avoid going into Samaria, yet look what this man does) 33But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
 36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
 37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
      Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."”
Luke 10: 30-37 NIV
So what do these two central Christian teachings have to do with Creation care? Quite a bit actually.  Let’s look at what Jesus calls the first and greatest commandment – “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind”.
Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” and Psalm 50:9-11 says Every wild animal of the forest is mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, And all that moves in the field is mine.” God created the world and all its creatures, and declared them good. The earth is the Lord’s masterpiece, and as one of my favourite sayings goes, “Imagine how you would feel about meeting Leonardo Da Vinci if you knew you had set fire to the Mona Lisa!” (Seaton, 2002). Basic respect tells us that we shouldn’t destroy something created by, and that belongs to God; to do so is to show disrespect to God. Especially not when he has appointed us the stewards of the earth and will one day demand an accounting. But the commandment wasn’t about respecting God, it was about loving him with everything we are and everything we have. So the question becomes – how can we express our love for God through our care for his creation?
In the parable of the Good Samaritan we see that it is not who the one who needs help is, or who we are that is important. Being a Christian neighbour is about having enough compassion to help those in need, those who are voiceless, regardless. With this in mind, is it much of a stretch to think that God would want us to help and care for the most voiceless and dispossessed in all our society, more-so even than the poor – his creatures.
Matthew Sleeth (2008) also suggests another way of looking at this parable – “The parable demonstrates a continuum of compassion. The priest represents those of us who refuse to take any responsibility for environmental problems. We close our eyes and walk by. The second passerby, the Levite, is like most of us. He sees the problem, then says: “I should get back to Jerusalem and raise awareness. Maybe I’ll blog on the problem of highway muggings or send a letter off to the Roman centurion about beefing up patrols and installing better streetlights.” Like the Levite, we see the hardship caused by environmental problems, particularly for the poorest among us. Our hearts are moved to compassion, but we do little, if anything, to help. Only the Samaritan, the one who is least likely to view the man as his neighbour, takes action.... the most important lesson of the Good Samaritan – the one that can separate us from the priest and the Levite – is that we must “get off our donkey” before we can become part of the solution. The future will not be saved by our good intentions. It will be made better, or worse, only by our actions.”
“As people of God, Christians are called to care for God’s gracious gift of creation. Christians are called to be moral images of God and to reflect God’s divine love and justice through “keeping” the Garden (Gen. 2:15). This special relationship with God requires good stewardship of God’s creation. Christian concern should extend beyond humanity to encompass the whole of creation – from rivers and oceans to fields and mountains....” The National Council of Churches of Christ, Bottom Line Ministries that Matter: Congregational Stewardship with Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Technologies.

What the Bible says about the environment
So what does the Bible say about the environment?
Our role on earth is to care for it
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15
Creation praises God
All the earth worships you; They sing praises to you, Sing praises to your name (Psalm 66:4)
Let heaven and earth praise him, The seas and everything that moves in them (Psalm 69:34)
God cares for Creation
You visit the earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it;
The river of God is full of water...
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
The hills gird themselves with joy,
The meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
The valleys deck themselves with grain,
They shout and sing together for joy (Psalm 65:9, 12-13)
“ 25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
 28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:25-33 NIV
Creation teaches us about God
 “The heavens are telling the glory of God;
And the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4)
“God speaks to all of us in many different ways, yet it’s through nature that He so easily grabs our attention. Among other things, Jesus primarily saw nature as a way of illuminating the Gospel and elements that are central to our faith. Parables of seeds, crops, soil, and trees abound in Jesus’ teaching, unfolding deep spiritual truths and revealing elements about God’s nature.... If there’s so much beauty in nature and we experience God speaking to us through it, doesn’t it make sense that the church should lead the way in caring for the environment?” Tri Robinson, Saving God’s Green Earth (2006) p43-44
Jesus, as the Son of God, has power over all of creation.
“ 35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
 39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
 40He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
 41They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"” Mark 4: 35-41 NIV
Jesus did not come to save just humanity, but all of creation
John 3:17 NIV “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world (cosmos), but to save the world through him.”
The Good News is not just for humanity, but for all creation
 “He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Mark 16:15 NIV
Jesus reconciles all of creation to God
 “19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20 NIV
Creation is waiting for the Children of God to be revealed
“19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that [a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:19-21 NIV
The author of this passage sees sin not so much as concrete acts but as a compulsion to act selfishly and destructively. Individual sinful acts are an expression of this inner tyranny of ego. In contrast, Christ models a humanity freed and empowered to act and relate constructively by grace (Byrne in Habel, 2000).
As created beings and through our God given responsibility to be creation’s stewards, humanity’s fate and the fate of creation are inextricably linked. Thus, creation suffers or receives blessings in conjunction with humanity’s situation. Because humanity fell, sin cursed all of creation, making it hard to till; but Christ’s sacrifice has now brought about the possibility of a redemption for humanity, and thus for creation. All of creation is now eagerly waiting for the children of God to be revealed. Creation is waiting for us to free ourselves of sin and act more positively for creation by the power of the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Creation is waiting for us to stop being selfish, destructive and self-centred, and to work with God towards the liberation and redemption of all creation, so that both humanity and creation can be free. So creation groans in frustration and anticipation, waiting for us to act.
“The Bible clearly teaches that God’s creation is good (Gen. 1), that God is the owner of the earth (PS. 24:1-2), and that nature itself praises and glorifies God (Ps. 19 and 96); Christians have been directed by many Scriptures to care for the natural creation as God’s stewards (Gen 1:26-28; Exod, 20:8-11; Lev. 25 and 26; and Luke 4:16-22, among others);Christians look forward to the time when all of creation, including humankind, will be fully restored/redeemed (Rom. 8:18-25; Col. 1:15-23; and John 1:1-5 among others.” P165-166 What on Earth can you do- making your church a creation awareness center, Donna Lehman 1993.
James Sire (Forward) in Van Dyke et al.(1996) says,  “In 1967 Lynn White in his essay  ‘The historical roots of the ecological crisis’ laid the responsibility for the crisis squarely on the shoulders of Christians and what he took to be the biblical view of nature. A case can certainly be made that Christians bear a major responsibility for our ecological crisis. But the fault is not their biblical but their unbiblical view of nature. Christians have long failed to understand what the Bible really teaches concerning nature and our responsibility for it. For this there is no excuse. Repentance must be our first response.
Our second response must then be to right the wrongs of our faulty understanding and act accordingly. We are responsible to know what can be known of God’s will for nature, and we are then responsible to act on that knowledge.”

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+

This is a growing and evolving field. For example, I heard a talk recently which used the story of Daniel and his companions refusing to defile themselves with the King’s meat in Babylon as a Biblical basis for ethical consumption practices. This was something I hadn’t heard before and was quite intrigued by. I think the deeper we dig into scripture looking for good eco-theology, the more we are going to find, and hopefully this will fuel our actions for the environment.
Why churches care about the environment
But perhaps the best way to tell you why Christians care about the environment is not to quote the books and theories, but to let you hear the words of those who are part of church communities that are actually doing something for the environment. My colleagues and I at the JIM unit of the UC have recently put together a booklet of stories we requested from churches all around the country and from different denominations.
For example, Charlestown Anglican Parish in Newcastle NSW says, “As Christians, we consider that we are stewards of God’s world and it is our duty to care for Earth, including other species, other human beings, and future generations, all of whom deserve to share in God’s creation. Our primary objective is based on the fifth mark of the Worldwide Anglican
Communion mission: “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and renew the life of the earth”.

Templestowe Uniting Church, Melbourne’s GRANDSTAND grandparent’s group, “We recognize that human beings are standing at an extraordinary moment in world history. Today’s grandparent/senior generation is the first to hand on to our children a planet worse off than we have enjoyed. We urgently need to re-think our values and the way we live. We recognize the deep and rising concern about the loss of biodiversity on the planet and the urgent need to protect and restore natural habitat. We recognize too the profound detrimental effect that global warming has and will continue to have on vulnerable communities in poor countries.”

Caloundra Uniting Church QLD, who recently installed a cross made of solar panels on their roof, “We see the sun as a gift from God, as is all Creation. It is our task to use the power of the sun to help create a cleaner environment as we take a small step towards the vital issues of climate change in our beautiful Sunshine Coast.”

The Ecofaith Community in Bellingen northern NSW, “Ecology and evolution confront us with a story in which humans are not the centre or purpose of the story of God and life. We are, however, invited to be a part of that story.”

Clarence Uniting Church, Hobart, “At the heart of the ecological crisis is a breach in relationship. How human beings understand themselves in relation to the rest of Creation shapes how we treat Earth. Worship can play a pivotal role in a renewal of our understanding of Earth and our response to the ecological crisis.

In worship we celebrate that all Creation is embraced within the love of Christ through whom all things came into being. And we respond to the call to share in the healing ministry of Christ in whom all things are reconciled (Colossians 1:15-20).”

Holy Trinity Church, NSW, “We believe that the experience of personal intimacy with God’s creation may become the necessary metanoia to energize the individual and communities to act for justice and healing for others and the earth. We offer a space for listening; sharing; and becoming a living model of a community caring for Creation and for disadvantaged people. We also offer a Sabbath space of rest, contemplation and recreation.”

Crossroads UC, Werribee VIC “Sometimes the enormity of ecological issues seems too great for us to have a significant positive impact, and at times it can be challenging to get others on board to share our vision. However, we do have a strong sense of God’s call to be responsible stewards for Creation.”

Star Street Uniting Church WA tell that they started a Sustainability Working Group to explore how it could become a ‘greener’ church “following the Uniting Church Assembly’s adoption of the statement For the Sake of the Planet and all its people in 2006”.

Fitzroy Uniting Church “The Fitzroy congregation, with a long social justice, human rights and peace emphasis, has strived to embody and strongly promote a feminist, gay and lesbian affirming, liberationist and widely inclusive theology and practice for at least twenty years. With the increasing awareness of the ecological dangers to our planet and the need to respect animals and the whole Creation, the congregation has embraced and sought to understand eco-feminist theology. We seek to uphold a model of mutual ministry, respect and friendship.”

Willunga UC, SA “The challenge to us as Christians is whether we can start to take seriously the fact that we are connected with the rest of creation, which God also loves (John 3: 16 God so loved the world/kosmos, that he gave his only Son...)”. So Willunga UCA’s particular part of God’s renewal continues.”

Catholic Parish of Ss Peter and Paul, Kiama NSW, “in 2008 and 2009, the Social Justice Ecology and Peace Group (SJEP) decided to broaden the initiative to a year-long program of events to raise awareness of the ecology and faith connection and encourage action towards environmental sustainability, reflecting the Church’s teaching on the need for Environmental Conversion.”

St Mark’s Anglican Church South Hurstville NSW, “A growing number of Christians now understand that concern and responsibility for the environment flow directly from our faith.”

NSW - “In what is believed to be a world first, the Anglican Diocese of Grafton has had a spider named after it - Habronestes diocesegrafton.
Diocesan Bishop Keith Slater said that the Diocese was proud to have the spider named after it as there “are deep theological and conservation statements being made by acceptance of the honour.”
“Clearly God made the entire universe, all creatures great and small, not just the iconic rare pandas and tigers, yet we hear little of the tiny ecological building blocks,” Bishop Keith said.
“To be a living interrelated whole the world needs to be concerned about the future of the obscure and little known spiders, mites and ticks as well as the big eyed and attractive vertebrate fauna.
“Christ taught that God knows every sparrow in the air and the very hairs on our head, we mirror Christ when we seek to know and protect our fellow creatures.
“Neither the church nor the conservation movement has been good at promoting the plight of the small invertebrates, we hope our spider can assist in changing that and helping humanity reflect on the needs of the small creatures, if so we will be happy.”

Discussion Question 3. Ten minutes discussion
The major Christian groups all have statements about the environment, ask the Christian in your group to tell you a little bit about how their denomination sees the environment and how this might differ from other denominations and discuss any major statements made by that denomination.

Why I think faith can save creation
Now, I’d just like to touch ever so briefly on why I think faith can save creation.
According to Sagan (1990) “Problems of such magnitude and solutions demanding so broad a perspective [as the ecological crisis] must be recognised from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension... The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example, and leadership are powerfully able to influence personal conduct and commitment... We (the scientific community) understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded”.
I believe there are several key reasons why people of faith can save creation:
Faith Changes People - J. Matthew Sleeth (2008) says, “I learned that the compelling truth of the Scriptures is not to be proven by archaeological, scientific, or theological theorems. The power of the Bible is most evident in its ability to change lives.  It can transform a wealthy Italian playboy into a saint (Saint Francis of Assisi). By its amazing grace, it can transform a debauching, murderous slave trader into a humble abolitionist (John Newton). It can transfigure prostitutes into women of virtue, cowards into rocks of the church, and the proud into the meek.”
ß  Meaning – We can provide meaning to the environmental movement because we are involved in serving God and caring for his creatures.
ß  Moral Capital/Compass – The ecological crisis is a moral crisis, and faiths have traditionally operated out of a deep well of moral capital while providing a moral compass for guidance and authority.
ß  Numbers of Adherents – 85% of people on the planet are religious. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism count for 2/3 of the global population today.
ß  Land and other Physical assets – Religions own up to 7% of the land area in many countries.  We can also have very high shares in investment funds.
ß  Social Capital – Faith groups are about being a community and many solutions to the environmental crisis involve re-creating strong communities. (Douglas, 2007)
ß  Hope – Religious people invariably see the world through hopeful eyes because of the hope God gives us.
ß  Faith – Faith in the unseen is what gives religious people the ability and strength to believe that God will take care of our world ultimately.
ß  Prayer – Prayer brings religious people closer together and to God and many believe that “Prayer Changes Things.”
ß  Influence – Religious people carry influence, especially when they act as one body to create social change. These are some areas of social change where religion has brought its influence to bear resulting in change:
   Abolition of slavery
   Civil Rights
   Women’s Right to Vote
   Endangered Species Act (USA)
ß  Biodiversity Hotspots Overlap – Often where you find major biodiversity hotspots, there are also high concentrations of people of faith.
ß  God alone is to be worshipped – Religious people generally oppose consumerism (or anything else) as an alternative to God and believe in turning to God to satisfy needs.
ß  Cross-generational Dialogue – Faith groups are good places for people of different ages to get together and learn from each other.  For example, people who lived through the depression and war years can teach the people of younger generations that recycling and re-use of resources are nothing new, and that it is not normal to constantly upgrade your possessions.
ß  (Douglas, 2007)
ß  WE HAVE GOD! – Some people in secular organisations think that we are dead or dying and that our actions are irrelevant because if they wait long enough we will be gone and bother them no more. Well we are not going anywhere, because our God is not going anywhere.  I challenge people of faith to prove to the world that we are still a power to be reckoned with, and we still serve a great and amazing God.

Vision for a green church
So I have a vision of what a green church might look like that I like to tell Christian groups to help them start to picture what a greener future for their church might look like. This is also very applicable for synagogues and mosques, so I will read it for you now and I’d ask you to think about how you might move your place of worship closer towards some version of this ideal. This is written in Christian language, so people of other faiths please translate the language in your head to suit your tradition.
It’s Sunday morning so I drag myself out of bed and ride my bike to church. As I enter the solar panels on the roof glint in the sun and I can see the water tank peeking around the side. I am greeted by a smiling face and handed a newssheet printed on recycled paper. I flick to the environmental tips and events section and scan the offerings. I move to a table to place some native flowers and a box of fruit from my garden on it for distribution. I grab a cup of Fairtrade coffee and sit in the sun to enjoy the building’s passive heating. In worship we sing thanks to God for the wonders of creation and as it is September and we are doing the Season of Creation we have an interesting sermon about the need to follow Biblical practices and values in our lives in order to reduce our environmental impact. When we share communion it is with tasty, freshly baked bread from organic flour and environmentally friendly grape juice. The gentle light of beeswax candles and sunlight lights the scene.
In our prayers for others our weekly endangered species prayer is for the endangered frogs we had a talk about at the youth meeting on Friday. We also thank God for the way he has blessed and added to our church through our environmental work.  After the service I pack up my copy of the Green Bible and join the communal lunch. Fresh, local, vegetarian food abounds and is shared with the homeless. After the meal I quickly make a couple of arrangements for the clothes and tool swap next week. On the way out I meet up with the church greening group and we head out to the area of bushland we have adopted for a working bee. Our Christian Environmental Action group is going quite well, with our church teams and local conservation groups making quite a difference by dedicating a few hours per week. It is a testament to the way the church has now taken leadership in the environmental arena.
Ok, so I’m dreaming. Yet I have not mentioned anything that is not possible, nor anything that could not, in theory, be started today. Indeed, many of these things have been done by churches, if you want to see stories about what churches have done, grab one of the Church Greening Story Booklets I have.
Discussion Question 4 Five minutes discussion
What did you think of Jessica’s vision for a green place of worship? Are there any suggestions mentioned in this that you could try to implement in your place of worship when you return home?
My Bible is stained by some soil from when I took it with me on a Christian Action for the Environment weeding trip. I think this is somewhat poetic in a way. If we are going to save this planet, maybe all our holy texts and all our hands need to be stained by the soil as we take action to care for God’s creation.
Anyway, I hope I have given you some things to think about, and I have one last discussion question.
Extension question  - remaining time for discussion

John 9:1-6 tells the story of a man born blind and healed by Jesus. Jesus’ disciples ask him:
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Jesus replies:

 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life”.

What if the ecological crisis has been sent to us so that God’s power might be shown through people of faith?

Or, alternatively,

What if the ecological crisis has been sent to us so that we might see God’s power at work in others (scientists, conservationist, environmental groups etc.)?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+