Eco-Religion

Christianity and Sustainability
–Daniel LaMere, Steiger House

During the Eighties it was not uncommon for the fashionable sit-com characters to declare with liberated confidence, “these are the Eighties, after all,” announcing to everyone that we had arrived. We were a liberated people. It was an exciting time.

Perhaps, though, we were too excited too soon. Over a decade has passed, and litter still lines the streets (at least in my neighborhood, and I suspect a few others), globalization threatens to destroy the environment (and everything in its path), and I cannot find a recycling bin in downtown Minneapolis to save my life. We have a long journey ahead of us. That much is no secret. But what does any of this have to do with religion?

The truth is – and it is certainly no secret – that religious groups generally are not concerned with environmental preservation or sustainable living. Christian songs about “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” and declarations that “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through” tend to support a widespread apathy for anything having to do with the well-being of this planet. After all, wrote Job, “life is but a breath,” so all the better to concentrate on the celestial – the afterlife.

It is interesting that the same people who get red in the face defending Creation as an idea do little to defend Creation itself. If God created this world and one believes in God, shouldn’t one treat creation in its entirety with respect and work to preserve it? Richard Mouw writes on Beliefnet.com, “God tells human beings to exercise “dominion” over the rest of creation (Gen. 1: 28). But that does not give us a right to do anything we want with non-human life. The New Testament teaches that “all things were created” both “through” Jesus Christ and “for” Jesus Christ (Colossians 1: 15-17). It is important, then, that we honor the divine purposes in our dealings with the non-human creation. Dominion is not the same as domination. The old fashioned term is that we have been made “stewards” of the world that God made. We are “care-takers.” This means we must take care in the way we treat creation. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

We know that Creation groans and suffers. From oil spills to smog to global warming, we know this. The symptoms are clear. So is the culprit: humanity. Does not it only make sense, then, that the children of God – sons and daughters alike – should play a part in setting it free from futility, from its slavery to corruption? After all, are not we the guilty party?

Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), imagines a future in which those wrongs are made right. “We wait in eager expectation for God’s cosmic salvation when with transformed bodies in the new Jerusalem (the anticipated Kingdom of God, or another take on the aforementioned “pie in the sky”) we will revel in the glory of the nations and the splendor of Creation itself, now freed of the bondage and corruption that our sin introduced.”

If Sider is correct and Creation’s sufferings were introduced by our sin, perhaps it should be our faith that liberates it. When people of faith can begin to view Creation as a gift entrusted to them by a loving friend and Provider (see Genesis 1), then caring for it and treading lightly upon it can be seen as part of a larger, more holistic spirituality.

As it stands, the future is uncertain, especially under the current administration. The Christian Right is decidedly not a “green” organization by any stretch of the imagination and it seems that these are the circles in which our president, George W. Bush, likes to travel. In short, this means that he has not proven himself to be a friend of the environment. Curious parties can pick up just about any national newspaper for a list of his most recent infractions. Luckily, Bush does not speak for all Christians. Magazines like Greencross, work hard to promote ecology and socially responsible lifestyles within the context of Christianity. Catholics in Latin America are growing coffee free of pesticides within the fair trade movement. People of faith show up to protest the World Trade Organization, and ordinary church-going Americans are recycling. Small steps, perhaps, but steps in the right direction.

Religion ought to be responsible, serving as a spiritual tool, rather than a political one. Squandering our resources and leaving the poor of the world to bear the costs is not responsible. There are those that claim that it is too late, that we’ve done too much damage. They may be right – we may never be able to go back – but we can always make things better. Use your belief in a higher power to do selfless good for the earth and all of her creatures, and be grateful to the creation that sustains your life.