Tag Archives: creation care

Laudato Si: The Cliff-Note Edition

We’ve all heard about the Papal Encyclical issued last month by Pope Francis. It’s titled “On Care for our Common Home,” and bears the common name “Laudato Si,” a Latin phrase taken from St. Francis’ famous prayer, The Canticle of Creation:

20150618cm01905“Be praised, my Lord, (“Laudato si, mi signore“) for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light….”

St. Francis goes on to praise God for the moon and stars, the wind and air, the water and fire, the earth and for human forgiveness, and even for death, which we all must face.

By invoking the title Laudato Si, Pope Francis is attempting to capture his namesake’s sense of oneness with the whole creation, and God’s love for and presence in all that he has made.

Now, this encyclical is no small thing. It runs for 180 pages, and has some 250 sections, organized into six major chapters.

This isn’t the first authoritative statement on creation care and climate change that has come from the Christian Church in recent years. In 2010, the Reformed Christian Church (CRC) adopted at their general synod a comprehensive 130-page Environmental Stewardship report. At Cape Town, South Africa, the worldwide evangelical Lausanne Movement included creation care, and the threat of climate change, in both their declaration of fatih and their call to action. And these have been preceded by the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), the Evangelical Declaration on Care of Creation, the Micah Declaration on Care of Creation and Climate Change and the Oxford Declaration on Global Warming. And in addition to all of these, there are the many, many statements by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Anglican Communion, and mainline Protestant denominations.

These documents vary in length and scope, from the CRC’s careful approach to science, controversy and mission, to the ECI’s actionable commitments. But I would say that Laudato Si is so much different from these that it will likely be considered apart from them all. Here are a few reasons:

  1. It is addressed to 1.2 billion people, the world’s Roman Catholic faithful. That’s a lot of people.
  2. It is a meditative, quotable, beautiful letter. I fully expect that Hallmark Greeting Cards is setting up a department now, dedicated to the encyclical.
  3. It’s authoritative. No one asked American evangelicals if they planned to obey the Lausanne Cape Town commitment when it called on the global church to “engage in radical action to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gases, the harm from which falls most heavily on the poor.” The evangelical world doesn’t speak that way. But the authority of Laudato Si is already being discussed in the Catholic Church, and it carries enormous weight.
  4. It is riskier than most other declarations. It borrows the language of St. Francis, which some will misread as pantheistic; and it challenges the existing world economic and technocratic orders in ways that others will misread as socialist.
  5. Finally, its scope is very broad, and links the calls to ecological discipleship with virtually every other aspect of social and personal holiness. If I had to choose a few words to summarize the Pope’s message, it would be this: Everything in God’s world is connected to everything else, and to Him. This is not theologically new, but I believe you’ll find that it goes beyond the previous creation-care declarations.

But here’s the thing: You’re not going to read it. Who has time? And who do you know who’s actually read an encyclical (besides me)?

Okay, okay. Some of you probably will. And if you want to read it all, then you can download the PDF for free right here: just click, and read for hours.

Or, if your time is tight just now, you can have the digest I’ve put together for you. Every single section is in there, but in synopsis, with all the most compelling quotes (or so I think). So go ahead, click on the link below, and get to know this wonderful letter.

Laudato Si Digest

J. Elwood

Climate Change: Who Speaks for Christianity?

The global Christian church is by far the world’s largest religious family. Among its various denominations, it accounts for more than 31 percent of the earth’s population – almost one out of every three people in the world.

For the casual observer, it’s hard to know exactly what the global church thinks about the topic of climate change. Here in the US, some Christian activists stand with he late-great Rev. John Stott, who warned that “of all the global threats that face our planet, climate change is the most serious.” But others go with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, claiming that global warming is “the greatest hoax” ever sold to mankind.  Still others see the effect of climate change, but believe it to be a sign of the “end times.”

When you have 2.1 billion people in your church – and tens of thousands of denominations – it’s not so easy figuring out the “official position,” is it? But it’s not impossible either. And that’s because within global Christianity, there are major segments whose adherents follow and respect specific authorities and governing bodies. Here’s a brief tally:christian-traditions-chart-1

Roman Catholic Church: The largest entity in global Christianity is the Catholic Church, representing 1.2 billion adherents, or 53% of global Christianity. And just this month, Catholic Bishops from around the world assembled to issue a call to “overcome the climate challenge and to set us on new sustainable pathways.”

Their spokesman, Monsignor Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón, president of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference, said: “We bishops from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe have engaged in intense dialogue on the issue of climate change, because we can see it’s the poorest people who are impacted the most, despite the fact they’ve contributed the least to causing it.”

The U.S. Bishops, it turns out, are in full agreement, having issued many calls to address climate pollution. “At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures,” they wrote in 2001. “It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis asked his fellow Catholics to acknowledge the truth of climate change and to protect the planet: “… if we destroy Creation,” he said, “Creation will destroy us!” Next summer, the Pope plans to release an encyclical specifically addressing climate change. But until he does, let’s stick with the Bishops, and put the first 53% of the global church in the climate-change-believer column.

Orthodox Church: And for simplicity, let’s turn next to the Eastern Orthodox Church. At 210 million adherents, they’re a somewhat-smaller 9.3% of global Christianity. But the Orthodox Church also has a linear authority structure, so it’s comparatively simple to know where they stand. And where they stand is no secret. Patriarch Bartholomew, sometimes called the “Green Patriarch,” has frequently spoken about climate change:

“In our efforts to contain global warming, we are ultimately admitting just how prepared we are to sacrifice some of our selfish and greedy lifestyles. When will we learn to say: ‘Enough!’ When will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible on this planet for the sake of future generations?”

Protestants: So that’s the low-hanging fruit: Catholics and Orthodox constituting 62% of world Christianity, on record as serious about climate change as a matter of faith. But the rest is a little more fragmented. For example, 750 million people identify themselves as Protestants, but there are thousands of denominations. Fortunately, most have affiliated themselves with ecumenical bodies that speak out on vital issues of the day. For Protestants, there are some prominent ones: The Lausanne Movement on World Evangelism, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the Anglican Communion. Together, they cover the bases for most Protestants: evangelicals, charismatics and mainline church members. So where do these bodies stand?

Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town, 2010

Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town called the church to address climate change

  • Lausanne Cape Town: Representing evangelicals from more than 200 countries, more than 4,000 Lausanne conferees met in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010 to adopt this statement: “We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its biodiversity. Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.”
  • Lausanne Jamaica: The Cape Town declaration called for subsequent meetings to further develop evangelical action plans. In 2012, a global creation-care working group met in Jamaica to affirm this statement: “Many of the world’s poorest people … are being devastated by violence against the environment in many ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress and pollution are but a part. We can no longer afford complacency and endless debate.”
  • World Evangelical Alliance: Claiming to represent 600 million evangelical Christians from 129 nations, the WEA co-sponsored the 2012 Jamaica conference with the Lausanne Movement, and contributed to its declaration, summarized above.
  • World Council of Churches: The mainline-Protestant WCC is deeply engaged in matters related to climate change, and has issued the following statement, among many others: “Human-induced climate change is being precipitated primarily by the high-consumption lifestyles of the richer industrialized nations and wealthy elites throughout the world, while the consequences will be experienced disproportionately by impoverished nations, low-lying island states, and future generations. Climate change is thus a matter of international and inter-generational justice.”
  • Anglican Communion: 85 million people in 165 countries identify themselves as Anglican or Episcopalian. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been unequivocal about the threat of global warming. Among many statements on the topic, in 2009 he said: “We all have to do more to face the challenges of climate change.  Faith communities have a crucial role to play…. We must do our bit and encourage others to do theirs. Together we can and we will make a difference”.

No doubt, there are Protestant churches which are not affiliated with any of these entities. But they represent a small fraction of the 750 million Protestant believers around the world. So for all intents and purposes, we can add most of another 33% – the world’s Protestants – to the movement of Christians whose churches affirm the need to address climate change as a matter relevant to their faith. And that brings us to the range of 90-95%.

And what about the churches that have gone on record denying the importance of climate action? Well, we’ve looked and looked. And while we’ve found scattered instances of climate deniers who cite faith as a basis for their disbelief, none (so far) actually represent any Christian churches or denominations.

In your church, you might have thought that climate change was a controversial topic, something to avoid so as to steer clear of a nasty spat. But unless we’ve made some unlikely math errors, the overwhelming majority of your brothers and sisters – or perhaps all of them – belong to movements on record as committed to climate stewardship as a core matter of faith.

And that’s good news! Now, you don’t have to be a “crazy prophet”   to speak out about caring for God’s creation in a world beset by drought, flood, famine and extinction.

Genesis 9: The Forgotten Covenant

by Howard Snyder

Howard Snyder

Howard Snyder

Ignoring Genesis 9 in covenant theology is like ignoring John 1 in Jesus theology. Skipping God’s earth covenant in soteriology is like skipping the incarnation in Christology.

Yet as I noted in my January 3 blog, “14 Favorites Ways to Twist the Gospel,” covenant theology usually bypasses the Genesis 9 earth covenant and begins with Abraham. Strange, since the first explicit biblical covenant is in Genesis 9, where God establishes his “covenant between me and the earth” (Gen. 9:13).

God’s Covenant with the Earth

The human race is sadly and lethally alienated from the land. Sin separates us from the land as well as from God. So it is significant that one of the first things God does in the history of salvation is to make covenant with the land.

God brings salvation through a series of covenants, climaxing in the new covenant through the blood of Jesus (Luke 22:20; Heb 12:24). These covenants are key markers in the biblical narrative. They are all linked, all essential in the ecology of the story. We won’t fully understand the later story if we miss the significance of this first covenant. This “everlasting covenant” with the earth is beautifully and powerfully pictured in Genesis 9:8–17.

God says to Noah after the flood, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark” (Gen 9:9–10). All covenants have a “sign,” and the sign of this one is the rainbow.

Three things stand out as we examine the Genesis 9 covenant God.

Three-Dimensional Covenant

First: It is a three-dimensional covenant. It is multidimensional, ecological. The covenant includes not only God and Noah’s family, but “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen 9:16).

DSCN0863 (2)It’s fascinating to see whom God includes in this covenant. God is the initiator: “I am establishing my covenant” (Gen 9:9). God both establishes and sustains this covenant, the rainbow the sign. So the covenant is first of all God’s, not ours.

The second party is Noah and his family—that is humankind, all the human family that descends from Noah. Not just Noah’s immediate family, but “your descendants after you, . . .for all future generations” (Gen 9:9, 12). Note the generational theme.

The background here is Genesis 1–2, with its emphasis on the good earth and all the creatures God made. Now, after fall and flood, Genesis 9 marks a new beginning. The plan of salvation really begins here, not with Abraham. This covenant is important in specifying the post-fall relationship between God and all humanity. God is the sovereign Creator and Sustainer; humans are his creation and his stewards of the earth.

The text emphasizes the earthly dimensions of this covenant. All earth’s creatures are included. Genesis 9 is surprisingly comprehensive here, repeating the phrases “every living creature,” “every animal,” “all flesh” on earth. The references become increasingly broad and inclusive. Then in verse 13 God says, “the covenant between me and the earth”!

Why this stress on “every living creature”? This echoes the full variety of creatures God made at the beginning, as well as God’s words to Noah to take “every kind” of creature into the ark (Gen 7:2). The “every creature” emphasis is also practical and ecological, a matter of human sustenance, because robust human health requires an abundance of creatures in wide variety, all in relative ecological balance. It reminds us too of God’s care and concern for all creatures for all generations. Most amazingly, the “every creature” emphasis signals God’s concern for all his creatures, showing that he himself has a covenant with every creature, with every species. So Jesus’ says of sparrows, “not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight” (Luke 12:16).

The Genesis 9 covenant is thus a three-dimensional covenant, not narrowly between God and humans only. It is a covenant between God, all people, and all the earth. Continue reading

Why American Evangelicals Don’t Go For Creation Care

I know, I know. It makes no sense whatsoever. These are the people who believe that “the earth is the Lord’s;” who sing the glories of “my Father’s world;” and who have been made “agents of reconciliation” of all things. But when an evangelical scientist or conservationist dares to speak up in a Christian publication, the readers’ comments tell a nearly incredible story. This sort of backlash assures that their preachers will almost never mention creation stewardship. And politicians devoted to killing environmental protections can generally count on their solid support.

I’ve struggled to understand this myself, and then to explain it to others. But sometimes, the unedited words of our critics tell the story better than we ever could. A couple of days ago, this comment came into Beloved Planet from an evidently sincere young Christian in Pittsburgh:

“The great commission that Christians are to fulfill is to make disciples of all nations – I don’t see why conservation should trump that. The earth, the spectacularly complex beautiful creation of God that it is, has only been around for 6,000 years and it will not be around much longer. Christ promised that he will return and engulf the entire planet in flames (2 Peter 3:10-13). Don’t get me wrong – we should not be polluting our air and water unnecessarily – but if Christ is our example, we should be spending our limited days spreading the gospel instead of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

There you have it, in a polite but thoroughly unvarnished nutshell. The Earth – with all of its millions of created species, and indeed, all of the billions of galaxies God has made with their trillions of stars – will have an unimaginably short lifespan from the time of creation, ending in fire. Everything that was made is merely a stage setting for a few generations of humans on this tiny galactic outpost to pray the sinner’s prayer, and get ready for the everlasting post-apocalyptic world of the spirit. We will blissfully look down upon the utter destruction of everything God made – no matter that He called it “good,” and promised to renew and reconcile it to Himself.

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it... Ps. 24

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it… Ps. 24

It may be “good,” but it’s the Titanic, destined to rust forever in the frigid darkness. No unnecessary graffiti on the gunwales, please, but why bother retooling the engines?

Now, if you’re a Christian, I doubt that you appreciate my straw-man tactics: trotting out the most facile arguments and implicitly assigning them to all of us. And you are surely correct, to a degree. But something has to explain the otherwise incomprehensible opposition of white American evangelicals to serious efforts to care for the Creation. And the seeds of that opposition are all evident in this little manifesto. Here are a few of the themes you may have noticed:

The Creation is for us. You missed that? Here it is: The only thing in the world that is important is fulfilling something called “the great commission” to humans, not obeying our Creator with respect to his entire Word. But we learn in the Bible that “the Earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” It’s not ours at all. In fact, the Bible’s creation story tells us at the very beginning what mankind’s purpose was: “to tend and keep” the garden. The Hebrew words are “avad” and “shamar.” And together they mean to serve, preserve, love and bless. The Creation is not ours; it is entrusted to us as loving servants and stewards. Continue reading

Wendell Berry, the Christian Soul, and Creation Care

Who cares more about protecting the Creation: evangelical Christians, or secular agnostics?

Courtesy Ruth Wheeler

Courtesy Ruth Wheeler

To most of my friends engaged in conservation or environmental justice, the answer seems obvious. “Don’t you know,” they ask me, “that evangelicals are the main supporters of those working to muzzle the EPA and gut the rules governing the most toxic power plants? Aren’t they the ones always questioning the global consensus on climate change, and cheering on the tar sands, strip miners and frackers?”

Well, I wish I had a better answer, because it’s not so easy to dispute the charges. And yet, I’ve noticed something perplexing. Even though my secular friends are much more likely to accept the findings of environmental science, precious few of them show much interest in the hard lifestyle choices that will be necessary to prevent the collapse of global ecosystems. Granted, they know that exploitation and abuse of the Creation is stupid. But stupid isn’t enough. Sure, stupid will win debates. But knowing what’s stupid hasn’t done much to transform a global culture built upon me-first consumerism.

And it’s here that the gospel offers hope that’s almost certainly beyond the capacity of secular thought. That’s because the Creation desperately needs a community of people who know that abuse of the Creation is much worse than stupid. This is the time for a community with a deep awareness that abuse of what God has made is actual blasphemy – a desecration of the holy gifts of a just and sovereign God, hurling the work of the Creator back into his glorious face. Those are the people with the compelling passion – fueled by numinous awe – to restore the possessions and inheritance of their Redeemer.

But where are they, you ask? Well, unfortunately, you won’t find many in American evangelical churches. Not that this makes much sense. The Bible that we evangelicals presume to embrace affirms God’s love for all of his Creation; it declares that all of it is good; that it belongs to God, not mankind; that God linked himself forever to it by taking on the dust of Earth in the incarnation; and that now, the purpose of his kingdom is the renewal and reconciliation of every single thing.

You’d think that people who embraced that Book would be all over Creation care. But it’s taking us some time to exorcise a particularly corrosive heresy that undermines much of what scripture commands regarding the physical world and the common good. Once again, it’s the corrupting influence of dualism – that insidious notion that we humans are some uncomfortable marriage of “body” and “soul,” each one vying for supremacy, each one offering us a choice between lofty “things above” and contemptible “things on Earth.”

The Christian poet Wendell Berry speaks persuasively into the culture of dualism, in both its religious and secular varieties. In recent weeks, we’ve given you samplings (here, and here) from his collection of essays, The Art of the Commonplace. There’s plenty here for people of every persuasion. But from my perspective, as a devoted member of this particular tribe, it’s evangelicals who have the most to gain from his prophetic voice. And once they do, I suspect the world will never be the same.

Wendell Berry on Dualism v. Love of the Creation

We can see how easy it is to fall into the dualism of body and soul when talking about the inescapable worldly dualities of good and evil or time and eternity. And we can see how easy it is when Jesus asks – “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – to assume that he is condemning the world and appreciating the disembodied soul.

Continue reading

Creation Care: Will the Calvinists Lead Us Out of the Wilderness?

Written by Rev. Charles Redfern
Rev. Charles Redfern

Rev. Charles Redfern

Think of this as a shout-out to the custodians of Protestantism’s brains: Arise and rescue us, oh Calvinists.  This is your hour.  An invisible behemoth has wielded scissors and snipped our mentalities.  Our thoughts lie like scraps on the floor:  Thinking is severed from doing; spirituality has been sliced from its heritage and theological reflection has deflated like a hissing pool toy.  You once bequeathed us a sophisticated cultural theology that anchored itself in Heaven while summoning us to this-worldly relevance: God inserted us at this time and this place to do his will – now. 

You can do it again.  We’ll even listen as you invoke your favorite words: “responsibility,” “duty,” “obligation.”  Go for it.  Continue reading

Write to Congress!

teaser_get-involved_write-congressYou’re concerned about abuse of the creation. You want to protect it for its Maker, for your children, and for all people. But what, specifically should you tell your Senators and Congressperson? As much as you’d like to write your original thoughts, let me suggest you start with something from our pen. Copy and paste it, shorten it, add to it, personalize it as you wish. But at least this will give you a start. Continue reading