Creation: Called to Care
1991 Church of the Brethren Statement
- I. HUMAN DEGRADATION OF CREATION
- II. OUR THEOLOGICAL UNDERSTANDING
- A. The Genesis Creation Story
- B. The “Wisdom Literature” and Creation
- C. The Brethren Understanding of Creation
- D. Land
- E. The Renewal of Creation
- F. The Worth of Creation In and Of Itself
- G. Justice
- III. LIVING IN RELATIONSHIP TO CREATION
- IV. ROOTS OF THE CURRENT CRISIS
- V. CONFESSION OF SIN
- VI. A CHRISTIAN CONFESSION OF FAITH
- VII. THE CHURCH’S CHALLENGE
- VIII. A CALL TO ACTION FOR KEEPING AND HEALING THE CREATION
- Call To All Members
- Call to All Congregations
- Call to All Districts and Congregations
- Commitments of the General Board
- Call to All General Board Staff
- Action of the 1991 Annual Conference
|In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…
Then God commanded, “Let the earth produce all kinds of
plants, those that yield grain and those that yield fruit,”
and it was done. So the earth produced all kinds of plants
and God was pleased
|Gen. 1:1, 11-12 (paraphrase)|
|The earth lies polluted|
|under its inhabitants;|
|for they have transgressed the laws,|
|violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
|Therefore, a curse devours the earth,|
|and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;|
|therefore, the inhabitants of the earth|
and few are left.
|Isaiah 24:54 (RSV)|
Why should Christians care about the environment? Simply because we learn in Genesis that God has promised to fulfill all of creation, not just humanity, and has made humans the stewards of it. More importantly, God sent Christ into the very midst of creation to be “God with us” and to fulfill the promise to save humankind and nature. God’s redemption makes the creation whole, the place where God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.
God’s promises are not mere pledges. They are covenants. And covenants are agreements between people and between people and God. The covenants with Noah and Abraham and the New Covenant mean that people of faith are responsible for their part in renewing and sustaining the creation.
This statement helps us to see the degradation of the earth as sin, our sin. We, the people who have accepted the redeeming love of God, have broken the covenant to care for creation. The challenge in the paper is to confess our sin, to take seriously our role as stewards of the earth, and to work for the renewal of creation.
The needs of the world are apparent. The call is clear. The most motivating aspect of this statement is the claim that stewardship of the creation is a matter of faith.
Planet earth is in danger. The ecological crisis that threatens the survival of life on earth is evident now not only to professional biologists, botanists, environmental scientists, but to all. Awareness grows that humanity is facing a global crisis.
The crisis is evident in the quality of air we breathe, in the food we eat, in the rivers where we can no longer fish or swim, in the waste dumps leaking their toxins into our water supplies, in news reports about oil spills and acid rain and holes in our protective ozone layer. The tragic disasters of Bhopal, Chernobyl, the Rhine, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and Times beach are part and parcel of the contamination that is progressing at a steady, daily rate.
We read staggering statistics: Agricultural practices in North America today destroy topsoil at the rate of six billion tons per year. In the United States alone, we dump 80 billion pounds of toxic wastes into our waters annually. Twenty-two acres of tropical rain forest are demolished each minute, an area the size of a football field every second of every day. A million species of plants and animals will be extinct by the turn of the century. Dr. Musafa Tolba, director general of the United Nations Environment Program, says that the destruction of genetic material and environment has reached such a pitch that “we face, by the turn of the century, an environmental catastrophe as complete, as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust.” These figures, combined with what we experience daily, are both mind boggling and numbing.
Moreover, humanity possesses the power to destroy creation. Jonathan Schell in The Fate of the Earth correctly identifies this as an ecological peril: “The nuclear peril is usually seen in isolation from the threats to other forms of life and their ecosystems, but in fact it should be seen as the very center of the ecological crisis.” It is also a spiritual peril. Disarmament and the fate of the planet are interlinked.
Humanity now possesses the power to create and manufacture new forms of life. Humanity’s ability to alter the basic design of living things and bring into being totally new forms of life marks a watershed in our relationship to God’s creation. Society’s understanding of nature and reality are being transformed by the ability to create and market life itself. In our contemporary technological ability to destroy and create life, humanity strives, in belief and in practice, to replace God as Creator and Sustainer of all.
Beyond humanity’s power of life and death ever creation, the global environment continues to deteriorate in large part because the lifestyle of an affluent minority puts tremendous drains on its resources. The prevailing model of economic development assumes that the resources of the earth are valuable only insofar as they may be exploited, that humanity is free to conquer the earth, and that the resultant riches prosper the conquerors. Scarcity of global resources and threats to the earth’s life-supporting capacity stem from this distortion in humanity’s relationship to creation.
Tragically, the churches have been slow to bring forward life affirming understandings of the earth and its ecology. There is no comprehensive treatment of what spiritual resources might be brought to bear in response to the environmental problems caused by industry, urbanization, nuclear power, and the application of technology on a huge scale. Spiritual resources of any nation are basic for a healthy life in the present and a future with integrity. Does the Christian faith have resources to shape and to redeem humanity’s relationship with creation? What theological questions need to be looked at? What biblical texts lie untapped and unexplored?
A. The Genesis Creation Story: The most obvious biblical texts are the first 11 chapters of Genesis. The doctrine of creation as recorded in Genesis includes three affirmations about the universe and the human race: 1. The universe did not initially bring itself into being but God brought it into being and God continues to sustain it. 2. Humankind through sin and disobedience has violated and devastated the world in which God has created human, animal, and inanimate life on earth. 3. Human beings were created for mutually sustaining relationships with one another, with the creation, and with God.
In Genesis, the account of God’s relationship with creation, and humanity’s role, begins with the creation and continues on through the ninth chapter, with the story of Noah and the flood. The Genesis stories are a rich source of what we might call spiritual ecology. Humankind is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Genesis 1:26-28 speaks of humanity having dominion over creation. Genesis 2 stresses tilling the earth and replenishing it. The story of the fall in Genesis 3 describes the disastrous effects of human sin. Following Adam’s sin, the ground was cursed (Gen. 3:17), and after Cain’s murder of Abel, Cain in “cursed from the ground,” which no longer is fruitful. Cain is consigned to wander ruthlessly in the land of Nod. But the story does not stop there. In Genesis 5:29, when Noah is born, God promises relief from the hard labor resulting from God’s curse upon the ground. And this promise is fulfilled after the flood. The Lord declares, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humankind… While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:21-22).
The central point of Noah’s story and the ark, however, is the covenant established by God with “living things of every kind” Here, for the first time, the word covenant is explicitly used and addressed to humankind. However, God’s covenant is established not just with people; it is a covenant with all creation. Five times in Genesis 8and 9; the scope of God’s covenant is repeated a covenant between God and every living creature, with “all living things on earth of every kind.” God’s faithful love extends to and includes all that has been made. The rainbow is the sign of this promise.
The Genesis story of creation is completed as it began: with the assurance of God’s faithful and saving relationship to the world. The rainbow reminds us that creation is not merely the stage for the drama between God and humankind, that the promises given by God are directed not only to humanity, but to the creation that upholds all life as well.
B. The “Wisdom Literature” and Creation: The wisdom literature is particularly rich in the theology of creation. In general, wisdom literature focuses on creation, including human experience, in an open search for God’s truth. It then seeks to order life according to the truth that is discovered. In this way, the guiding, nurturing presence of God is revealed.
Proverbs 3:19-20 states:
The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding God established the
heavens; by God’s knowledge the deeps broke forth, and the clouds drop down
Such passages see God’s wisdom as both the source of creation and as reflected in power and beauty throughout creation.
The most powerful portrayal of God’s relationship to creation within the wisdom literature, and perhaps in all the Bible, is found at the end of the book of Job, in chapters 38 through 42. God’s answer to Job comes as a series of questions poetically stressing God’s presence in all creation. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding… Have you commanded the morning since your days began and caused the dawn to know its place… Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this… From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven” (Job 38:4,12,18,29). Job responds, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth” (40:4). Contrary to attitudes of humanity’s dominance over the earth this vision disarms human arrogance and self-sufficiency, and calls for a stance of humble awe and wonder towards the divinely ordered ecology of the created world.
C. The Brethren Understanding of Creation has been less doctrinal than confessional, affirming our total dependence upon God the Creator. The Scriptures speak quite plainly: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God’s power is not limited. God creates solely by the might of God’s Word original, dynamic, gracious, all-powerful. The same word of God active in creation is active also in redemption (John 1:1-3). The very God who created all things is also the maker of a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1a). So the fitting response of all creatures, Brethren believe, is obedient gratitude for the gift of life, yes, of new life in Christ through the Spirit (Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p.351).
Early Anabaptist theology did not separate God’s purpose for humanity from God’s purpose for the rest of creation. Brethren accepted the Genesis creation story that the human creature was placed in the garden after all the necessary elements of human survival had been produced the ecosphere of air, water, warmth, nurture, sustenance, etc. Thus God’s purpose to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity must include creation. Because of the absolute dependence of humankind on environment and vice versa (humankind is part of the environment), a plan of shalom for humanity excluding nature would be unthinkable. The fall included an alienation of humanity and nature from God, and could only be reconciled with the redemption of both. When creation is redeemed, it will happen simultaneously with the total redemption of humanity and nature (Rom. 8).
The biblical text that most strongly molds our understanding of creation is the prologue to the Gospel of John. This text declares that God’s act of creation and the incarnation in Christ are inseparable. The Word (logos) is the means of the world’s creation. And the Word, present with God, goes forth from God in the incarnation and returns to God. “No single thing was created without him. All that came to be was alive with his life” (John 1:3- 4).
This passage, and others as well, emphasizes the intimacy of relationship between the Creator, creation, and God’s redemptive love for all creation in the incarnation of Jesus. The purpose, destiny, and fulfillment of humanity and creation are to be found in its relationship to the Creator, who came upon this earth not as a domineering master, but as a servant and friend.
The Hebrew Scriptures are a record of the relationship between Israel, creation, and Yahweh. Relationship to creation focuses around the land. Hebrew Scripture scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann goes so far as to say, “The Bible itself is primarily concerned with the issue of being displaced and yearning for a place…land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith” (The Land).
God as creator is considered in the biblical tradition to be the sole owner of the earth. At the heart of creation faith is the understanding that “the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev. 25:23). “The earth is the Lord’s” (Psa. 24:1). Yet while no individual Israelite was to imagine that they possessed any land in their own right, God gave the land to Israel as a whole (Deuteronomy 1:8). Certain families within Israel used the land allotted to them (Joshua 13 ff.) but only on condition that all members of the tribe or family might share in the income derived from the land. Any monopolizing of land was, therefore, a serious failure in worship
Continually, the prophets warned that the land has seductive power. The temptation is to cling to it, possess it, manage it, rule over it, and own it to treat it as though it were one’s own domain rather than to cherish it and as stewards hold it in trust as Yahweh’s gift. The gift of land to the people of Israel was conditional upon living within that land as if it were Yahweh’s and they were Yahweh’s people. But because they forgot this, choosing instead to possess the land as if it were their own, they lost it. That is the judgement announced by Jeremiah.
Israel’s relationship to the land can symbolize humanity’s relationship to creation. Saving that creation and our place within it can come only by treating it as God’s gift rather than our possession. We need to confess that Western Christianity has been extremely weak in proclaiming a gospel of a humble and nurturing love for creation. Part of the reason may be that we have strayed far from this conviction of divine ownership of the land, of equal sharing of all families in the use of it.
Biblical creation ethics is essentially sabbath ethics, for the sabbath is the law of creation. According to Exodus 23:10-11, in the seventh year Israel is to leave the land untouched, “that the poor of your people may eat.” In Leviticus 25:1-7, the law of the sabbatical year is repeated, so that “the land may celebrate its great sabbath to the lord,” The sabbath rest for the land every seven years contains God’s blessing for the land. Moreover, the sabbath rest is a piece of deep ecological wisdom and sharply contrasts with the destructive practices of much of modern industrialized agriculture.
Biblical passages frequently suggest that humanity’s rebellion against God results in the land itself suffering, mourning, and becoming unfaithful. Our modern culture has all but lost this vision of the land. Jeremiah 2:7 refers to the unfaithfulness and sins of humanity expressed in the destruction of the environment. It says, “I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in you defiled my land…” That’s exactly what we have done.
Contrasted with the wondrous pictures of creation’s intended harmony and wholeness given in the Scriptures, environmental ruin is a direct offense against God the Creator. Indeed biblical insight names human sin as the cause of our deteriorating environment. Selfish lives alienated from God’s purposes and love quite literally cause the land to mourn and the whole creation to be in travail. “How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?” asks Jeremiah (12:4). The biblical answer carries promise for the renewal of the created order, continually springing fresh from the resources of God’s grace. Just as God responds to human sin and rebellion with the invitation to new life, the response to the degradation of the earth is the concrete hope for restoring “shalom” and, in the words of the Psalm, the renewing of the face of the earth (104:30)
Though Brethren theological understandings have not referred explicitly to the preservation of the earth, Brethren practice has tended in that direction. A community of believers who would live in harmony must seek a redemptive relationship with their environment. By nurturing the earth, the Brethren achieved prosperity that set a trend for Brethren for generations. Doing the Creator’s will in a faithful community requires a recognition that the created world in which humans move and have their being is not irrelevant but is the very context in which faithfulness to God is expressed.
E. The Renewal of Creation: Given that God has established a covenant with all creation; that God, humanity, and creation are bound together in an interdependent relationship; and that creation is an expression of God and its destiny lies in relationship to God, it follows that God’s work of redemption through Christ extends to the creation.
Sin breaks the intended fellowship and harmonious relationship between God, humanity, and creation. The reign of sin and death alienates God from humanity and creation and propels the earth toward self-destruction. But in Christ the power of sin and death is confronted and overcome, and creation is reconciled to God. In and through the incarnation of the divine word, humanity and the whole creation are enabled to taste “new life.” For through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God has inaugurated the renewal of this broken world. In his own person, Jesus Christ exemplifies the glorious destiny of a transfigured creation.
The parables and teachings of Jesus are filled with examples drawn from the realm of nature. Vineyards, soil, fruit, seeds, and grain are the frequent examples used by Jesus to explain God’s truth. And the Sermon on the Mount includes a direct, but often overlooked, teaching regarding our relationship to creation. “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus said, “for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
God’s love for the world, for the whole cosmos, is the resounding biblical theme and the reason for God’s embrace of the world in Jesus Christ. Paul’s writing in Romans underscores these truths. Paul’s letter explains to us the relationship between God’s work of redemption in our own lives and in all creation. The final victory has been won by Christ. We belong to God. And the whole world belongs to God. We have become new, claimed by the power of God’s spirit. Likewise, creation has entered into this renewal. The power of sin in its midst, which has wrought destruction, is not the final word. Rather, the goodness of creation and God’s stewardship of the creation are its final destiny.
F. The Worth of Creation in and of Itself: To say that creation, the natural order, has worth in and of itself means that nature’s value exists independently of humankind. It has a right to exist unconnected to human interest.
Before the European Renaissance and the European conquest of America, Africa and Asia, land, water, forest, and air were regarded as God’s property, left to human beings for common use. It was the Renaissance that deprived nature of its rights and declared it to be “property without an owner,” property that belonged to the one who took possession of it by occupation. Today, only the air is available for common use. If we would live with integrity in the community of creation then before all else the rights of the earth as a system and the rights of all species of animals and plants must be recognized by human beings. We need to codify the “rights of the earth and of all life” parallel to the 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Creation is good in and of itself as God’s intention and work. This applies to all the beings, animate and inanimate, made by God. The world of sea and forest, desert and field with myriad creatures became, after all, the very ground of the incarnation of the Word. The created order is dependent on God in its own way and finds its meaning and purpose in God. Human action that tends to disrupt or destroy a part of the created order is, therefore, interfering with God’s plan. This understanding does not amount to a worship of nature but a recognition of the transcendent power and sovereignty of God. The protection of the created order is, therefore, required of all human beings, for they alone have the power to impose their will on other created orders.
G. Justice: The vision of redeemed creation is that of a harmonious, abundant, and secure life together. Biblically speaking, justice is that which makes for wholeness in nature, in persons, and in society. This concept of justice does not originate with the great prophets of the sixth and eighth centuries B.C.; it stems from an ancient understanding of creation as harmonious world order. When the Hebrew confession says again and again that Yahweh is “just,” it means that God fashions order from chaos, holds back the chaos, and balances things anew when chaos intrudes. Justice is the achievement of harmony.
Hebrew understanding of justice is all-inclusive. It does not refer only to human relationships and human events. It applies to all nature human and non-human. Its many-sidedness may refer one time to human events and another time to events we assign to nature (e.g., the flood). Such an understanding of justice is more all-embracing than the one in the Anglo-American moral tradition that defines justice narrowly to include liberty and equality and is human-centered. Moreover, the many dimensions of the Hebrew view forbid using a single word to bear the full notion of justice. Therefore, words like righteousness, loving-kindness, faithfulness, completeness, integrity, order, instruction, peace, wholeness, equity, and “justice” are used to represent what is meant by justice. Nonetheless, for persons of faith justice is the right and harmonious ordering of life in all its dimensions under the sovereignty of God.
The biblical vision of God’s intention for humankind living in harmonious relationship with creation (e.g., Gen. 1-3; Psa. 104; Rom. 8) is available to the church, though we have often neglected such relationship with creation.
The creation story in Genesis says that humanity is created to live in harmony with creation. The Bible knows nothing of a right relationship with God the Creator that does not include a right relationship with the creation: with land and mountains, oceans and skies, sun and moon, plants and animals, wind and rain. Our vocation is to walk with God in gently tending God’s wonderful, strong, fragile, and enduring creation. The meaning of our existence is found in this vocation.
We are called to be stewards and partners in God’s continuing creation. Christian ecology or Christian stewardship is rooted in the Scriptures and flows from caring for all creation. Christian stewardship is doing the Creator’s will in caring for the earth and striving to preserve and restore the integrity, stability, and beauty of the created order a response in God’s Image and service to Creation’s eager expectation of redemption. Christian stewardship is living with respect for the earth so that creation is preserved, brokenness is repaired, and harmony is restored. Christian stewardship seeks the Creator’s reign a reign redeemed of human arrogance, ignorance, and greed.
Creation gives God glory and honor. The gift of environment came forth from God’s creative word and is a testimony to God’s wonder and love. Christians have no less a calling than to participate in the preservation and renewal of this precious gift. With the words of Revelation, we can then proclaim in word and deed,
Worthy art thou, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for thou didst create all things,
and by thy will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)
At the heart of the crisis lies the world view of Western culture. With the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, Western culture came to assume that humanity had both the right and duty to dominate nature. The view of life became secularized; we came to understand the world apart from any relational reference to God. The purpose of objective, scientific knowledge was to exercise power over creation, which became “nature” raw material existing only for exploitation.
Science and technology placed an immense range of power in human hands. Modern means of production are the basis for today’s economy and provide possibilities that have never existed before. Abuse of technology is largely responsible for the increasing exploitation and destruction of the environment. Technology has brought many blessings but has also developed into a threat to the human future (for example, Three Mile Island). It has created complex systems in which even small human errors can be disastrous.
The roots of the crisis, however, are to be sought in the very hearts of humankind. We harbor the illusion that we human beings are capable of shaping the world. Such pride leads to an overestimation of our human role with respect to the whole of life, to the support of constant economic growth without reference to ethical values, to the conviction that the created world has been put into our hands for exploitation rather than for care and cultivation, to a blind faith that new discoveries will solve problems as they arise, and to the subsequent neglect of the risks brought about by our own making.
We need the resources of science and technology as we face the future. But if we are to serve the cause of justice, peace, and the preservation of the environment, we must radically re-evaluate the expectations that science and technology have generated. As Christians we cannot uncritically advocate any view of human progress which does not promote human wholeness. Therefore, we must not share unqualified confidence in human achievement. We must also resist the growing tendency toward feelings of powerlessness, resignation, and despair. Christian hope is a movement of resistance against fatalism. It is through conversion to Christ, who came that we might live abundantly, that the full meaning of human life is revealed.
Faced with a threatened future of humanity, we confess the truth of the gospel. Listening to the word of God, we believe that the future will become open to us as we turn to Jesus Christ and accept our responsibility to live in Christ and in God’s image. Believing that the crisis in which we find ourselves ultimately has its roots in the fact that we have abandoned God’s ways, we proclaim that God opens the future to those who turn to God.
We confess that we do not possess God’s final truth. We have failed in many ways, we have often not lived up to God’s calling, and have failed to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. Our witness has often been unclear for we have disregarded the prophetic voices who warned us against impending dangers and have been blind to the gospel’s claim upon us in respect to justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. We need a new beginning.
We confess our failure both as a church and as individual members of Christ. We have failed to witness to the dignity and sanctity of all life and to God’s care for all its creation.
We have failed to develop a lifestyle that expresses our self-understanding as participants, stewards, and servants of God’s creation. We have failed to consistently challenge political and economic systems that misuse power and wealth, that exploit resources for their self-interest, and that perpetuate poverty.
We pray for God’s forgiveness and commit ourselves to seek ways:
- out of the divisions between humanity and the rest of creation,
- out of the abuses of the dominance of human beings over nature,
- out of a lifestyle and ways of production that violate nature,
- out of an individualism that violates the integrity of creation for the sake of pursuing private interests,
- into a community of human beings with all creatures where the rights and integrity of all is nurtured.
We believe that:
1. God, Creator of heaven and earth and all earth’s creatures, looks lovingly upon all the works of creation and pronounces them good.
2. God, our Deliverer, acts to protect, restore and redeem the earth and all its creatures from sinful human pride and greed that seeks unwarranted mastery over the natural and social orders.
3. God in Jesus Christ reunites all things and calls humans back from sinful human sloth and carelessness to the role of the steward, the responsible servant, who as God’s representative cares for creation, for all life, both animate and inanimate.
4. God our Creator-Deliverer acts in the ecological-social crisis of our time, demonstrating today the same divine love shown on the cross of Christ. As a covenant people, we are called to increase our stewardship, in relation both to nature and to the political economy, to a level in keeping with the peril and promise with which God confronts us in this crisis.
5. All creation belongs to God (Psa. 24). God, not humanity, is the source, the center the depth and height of all creation. The whole creation is ordered to the glory of God (Rev. 1:8). Human beings, both individually and collectively, have no right to systematically abuse or dispose of nature for their own ends.
6. Even amid human violation and devastation, God is at work renewing creation. One important way is through humans who join God in reconciling and restoring the earth to its new creation.
7. Human dominion in God’s image is not mastery, control, and possession, but a stewardship of love for and service of this world in God’s name. Such stewardship respects the integrity of natural Systems and lives within the limits that nature places on economic growth and material consumption.
As we face the threats to survival, we realize that we are entering a new period of history. Humanity has itself created the capacity to destroy all life. The end of creation and of human life is now a possibility. How can the churches proclaim the gospel in this situation? How are we to speak of God’s grace and forgiveness? Can we point to possible new departures? What is Christian hope in the face of the temptation simply to survive?
The church is that part of creation that has received and covenanted itself to embody God’s redemption in Christ. As Paul writes in Romans, the whole created universe yearns with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. As the body of Christ we are to live out a new and restored relationship to the creation which itself has been won back to God by Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection. The church therefore is to live as a visible sign of a restored relationship among humanity, the creation, and God.
Our situation raises new issues that need urgent and open discussion, for example:
- How do we understand mission? In what sense does the response to the threats to survival belong to the frontiers of mission today?
- What does it mean to live in faith and hope as we face the threat to survival?
- How do we understand the coming of God’s reign? How do we understand the relation between hope for this world and hope for God’s reign? How do we interpret the present period of history? What significance do we attribute to the apocalyptic parts of the New Testament? Does Christian faith, from its biblical and doctrinal resources, bring any wisdom to bear on the many sided environmental crisis of our time?
- Does Christian faith have something to contribute to the mending of our world?
- How, can we, as scientists and persons of faith together, address ourselves to the task of integrating our knowledge of the world with our faith in God?
- In what way can the church be a sign of hope in this time of crisis?
As we enter the post Cold War era and struggle to address this new environmental agenda, the church needs to be aware of conflicts which are perhaps deeper and harder to resolve than the Cold War itself. Europe, United States, and the USSR who promoted industrial development in the Third World are now seeking to curb further growth in order to protect their own self-interests. All too often the First World has not given adequate consideration to the impact their policies have on the quality of life of Third World people.
There is little likelihood of resolving this new conflict, where the “haves” remain the haves and the “have-nots” become the “never-shall-haves,” unless the northern industrialized countries, particularly the consumer societies of the West, change their lifestyle. The average family in the United States affects the environment 40 times more than a family in India and a hundred times more than a Kenyan family. On a per capita basis, the United States uses 45 times more energy than India.
At the end of World War II there were about 2.4 billion people in the world. Now there are 5.3 billion. If the current rates of growth continue, nearly a billion more people will be sharing the planet by the year 2000. There are already many places where human concentrations have overwhelmed the present ability of the environment to support them at a quality of life that is humane and acceptable. The breakdown is evident in many developing countries but by environmental standards, wealthier countries are at least as guilty of overburdening the environment because they consume more resources per capita and rely on more disruptive technologies. Certainly attention to population growth is necessary to maintain life on planet Earth.
At this more profound level of conflict the enemy is not external; it is us. In the crime of ecological destruction we are both criminal and victim. More precisely, since industrialism’s ravenous appetite daily diminishes the health and life of the ecosystem, the conflict is between us and our children: our lifestyle versus their future.
The environment does not depend upon us. It is clearly the other way around. The question is whether we humans have the will to respect and maintain the environment so that our kind may continue to inhabit the earth. The question is still open. It could be that we humans do not have a future.
Today, our Western culture is being undermined by an emphasis on exploitation, comfort, and convenience. It seems difficult for persons to consider that their small actions affect the environment and the ultimate success or demise of humanity. Our attitude seems to be, if it’s comfortable, if it’s convenient, if it’s profitable, do it. Can a culture repent and take steps to halt its deterioration? There are some signs of hope but there are also signs that the lesson is not yet learned; that comfort and convenience are more important than care of the environment. The environment will no doubt survive. The question is “will our kind remain?”
As Christians, we can reform our theology and contribute to society a new appreciation for the sacredness of all creation. Individually and collectively, we can change the way we live so that instead of destroying the earth, we help it to thrive, today and for future generations to come. As a church, are we ready to commit ourselves to this challenge?
The Creator-Redeemer seeks the renewal of the creation and calls the people of God to participate in saving acts of renewal. We are called to cooperate with God in the transformation of a world that has not fulfilled its divinely given potential or beauty, peace, health, harmony, justice, and joy (Isa.11:6-9, Mic. 4:3-4, Eph. 2:10, Rev. 21:1-5). Our task is nothing less than to join God in preserving, renewing and fulfilling the creation. It is to relate to nature in ways that sustain life on the planet, provide for the essential material and physical needs of all humankind, and increase justice and well-being for all life in a peaceful world.
Therefore, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference
- Affirm the goodness and beauty of God’s creation.
- Acknowledge our special responsibility for stewardship of the Creator’s good earth.
- Learn of the environmental damages facing the planet.
- Recognize that our practices and styles of life have had an effect on the environment.
- Pursue a lifestyle that is wise and responsible in light of our understanding of the problems.
- Exert our influence in shaping public policy and insisting that industries, businesses, farmers, and consumers relate to the environment in ways that are sensible, healthy, and protective of its integrity.
- Become involved in organizations and actions to protect and restore the environment and the people in our communities.
- Express solidarity with both nature and humankind in worship services, educational programs, community outreach, and social action.
- Study and reflect on the Annual Conference and the General Board statements and resolutions (see Appendix) and, where possible, convene study groups on current environmental/ecological issues.
- Become ecologically sensitive in the conduct of their programs and to bring all under the control of a caring stewardship.
- Pursue courses of action that promote environmental protection and social justice.
- Investigate the adequacy of environmental policy and protection at the state and local levels of government
- Encourage environmental awareness programs in Brethren camps that do not have such programs.
- Promoting an attitude affirming that all nature has intrinsic value and that all life is to be honored and reverenced.
- Incorporating in the Goals for the ’90s the enlistment of all parts of the Church of the Brethren in study and action to the end that the issues of justice, peace, integrity of creation, and the interrelationships between them, are addressed in a comprehensive manner.
- The treasurer: to encourage policies and to develop guidelines for church agencies and churches that will consider the by-products of the corporations in which they invest and that will help monitor their existing investments as to corporate responsibility.
- The Washington Office: to include in its agenda for church attention and legislative action, national environmental policy on air, water, land, and use of natural resources
- Related staff: to find ways to raise awareness of congregations and members of the denomination to the seriousness of environmental issues and to develop statements and resolutions on specific topics relating to ecology and environment.
- Brethren Volunteer Service: to list environmental programs as a separate category in the project booklet.
Further, the General Board calls upon local and state governments to enhance and expand constructive action for the caring of environment that would lead to a higher quality of life for all citizens. It also calls upon the Federal government to:
- Consider the quality of life to be the high priority in the formulation of energy policies in the United States, looking for safer methods with present technologies and encouraging new technologies, alternative sources of energy, and the use of renewable resources.
- Extend and expand the Superfund and expedite clean-up of contaminated sites, especially those sites threatening our water supplies.
- Continue to act on acid rain abatement.
- Give significant attention to the problem of the global warming trend (greenhouse effect) and the protection of the ozone layer both nationally and in international fora.
- Consider the long range environmental effect of present policies, so that our earth is preserved for future generations,
- Provide generous support to the United Nations Environmental Program.
- 1971 Annual Conference paper on Ecology
- 1973 General Board resolution on Strip Mining
- 1973 General Board resolution on Energy Crisis
- 1974 Annual Conference statement on the Church and Farm Issues
- 1975 General Board resolution on Concern on the Use of Energy and Resources
- 1976 General Board resolution on Law of the Sea
- 1977 Annual Conference paper on Justice and Non-violence
- 1980 Annual Conference paper on Christian Lifestyle
- 1985 Annual Conference paper on Christian Stewardship: Responsible Freedom
- 1987 Annual Conference paper on Guidance in Relation to Genetic Engineering
S. Joan Hershey, Chair
Donald E. Miller, General Secretary
Action of the 1991 Annual Conference: The resolution from the General Board on CREATION: CALLED TO CARE was presented by S. Joan Hershey, chair, and Shantilal Bhagat, staff. The report was adopted with two (2) amendments by the delegate body, both of which have been incorporated in the wording of the preceding text.