Earlier this semester, I was directed, through a link on my Twitter feed, to the web site of The Lausanne Movement urging me at add my name, as a signatory, to the Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel: Call to Action. I followed the link to the site, and found a document linking Christian faith and environmental care together. The request for a signature, for support, of this call to action, caused me to pause and wonder if the central focus I had witnessed in the church on the spiritual, often with a seeming disregard for the physical world in which we live, was indeed the limit of its authourity or should the church concern itself with the well being of creation as well as the spiritual well being of those who are created? Is it within the Christian ethic to apply the authority of the church to concerns about environmental degradation, to use Christ’s name and Christian nomenclature to apply weight to an environmental movement or since a new heaven and new earth is promised, should it just focus on the spiritual world.
Christians, particularly those in the Western world, have been centered out as contributing strongly to an ethic resulting in environmental degradation, and a reckless use of natural resources. While those who make these charges are commenting on the anthropocentric Christian ethic they see practiced around them, the ethic itself is based on a particular interpretation of the scripture.
For many Christians, care of the environment has not traditionally been a high priority. Personal faith, a personal relationship with God, becomes the focus, the priority, in modern Christian life. In the background the relationship to the environment has been formed by the mandate that is given to man by God in Genesis:
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1:28 (NRSV)
When taken literally, these words have traditionally been used to justify the abuse of the creation, considering it a resource to be used, and abused, at the whim of its human overlords. The idea of dominance is reinforced in literal, narrow reading of other parts of scripture as well.
In our time, this tradition of dominion and rule has been further reinforced by an eschatology prevailing in Western theology, recognizing the earth as a temporary home, and looking forward to the imminent coming of a new earth. This eschatology focuses on heaven as a final home and earth as a defiled way station, a temporary home, removes any conversation about, or principles regarding, a responsibility toward the natural environment. Environmental degradation is seen as a sign of the “end times” and part of a predictable process that will lead to the revelation of the new heaven and the new earth, the final destination. Both of these concepts, rooted in the Christian psyche of the most powerful countries in the world, have led to environmental degradation, paralyzing of the leadership of those countries in their ability to effectively address the issue.
Lynn White in discussing the role of Christianity in forming an environmental ethic states:
“Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.”
White’s analysis of the Christian understanding of the place of humans in the created order is, unfortunately, an accurate one. He indicts Christians and Christianity and concludes that it “bears a huge burden of guilt” for our current environmental condition.
While the indictment may be accurate, its source is based on an inaccurate understanding of God, of the mandate given in Genesis, and the Christian concept of redemption. For thousands of years the Hebrew word (וּרְד֞וּ) translated as “have dominion over”(NRSV) or “rule over” (NIV) has been interpreted in isolation from the rest of the biblical text. In other areas of the Bible, this same word is used to describe the role and duties of a king. In Israel, the king was God’s representative, acting as God’s hands, feet, and mouth, to the benefit of God’s people in the land. If understood in this way, the word acquires a broader understanding of the care and stewardship that a good king would exercise in the role of ruler.
A literal reading of scripture permeates much of Western Christianity as described by White. This reading, dominant in the English translations of the Bible, ignores the caretaker/gardener role that was ascribed to the first man in Genesis. It ignores the fact that, through the fall of man, creation is also suffering. It argues that man, as the crown of creation, has been given the right, even the mandate to exploit the rest of creation at will. A strictly literal reading misses the message of the Bible as one of redemptive stewardship rather than two fisted domination. It is this hermeneutic which has influenced man’s relationship to the environment for centuries and is only recently being reconsidered, as detrimental effects on the environment of this anthropocentric ethic have been realized.
As a farmer for a number of years, I was able to experience, first hand, the connection between a love for the creator and the care of the creation. It seemed incongruous to me to worship God on Sundays, to spend time building a relationship with that God, while ignoring the ways I as a tiller of the soil and a keeper of animals was impacting the creation I, by grace, had the opportunity to work. I just could not conceptualize an ethic that worshipped the creator but exploited, uncaringly, the creation. A faith that included only the spiritual and merely recognized the physical world as a means to an end rather than the fingerprint of the creator, seemed shallow and one sided.
The Lausanne group, in their call to action, argue that creation care is indeed a “gospel issue within the lordship of Christ” ,identifies this as a time of crisis calling us to make changes, in this generation. Their call to action includes changes in lifestyle, theology, and a mobilization of the church’s authority toward this issue. I’m with them; love of God is not modelled outside of a care for the creation. I’ve signed.
 White, Lynn Jr. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” Science 10 March 1967:
Vol. 155 no. 3767 pg 1205.
 White, pg 1206
 The Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel, (2012) Call to Action accessed at http://www.lausanne.org/en/documents/all/2012-creation-care/1881-call-to-action.html November 25 2012