A Rocha USA Executive Director Tom Rowley shares with Relevant Magazine why Christians can’t afford to neglect creation care in the following interview. (Source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/why-earth-care-matters-gospel).
Let’s start at square one: Why is environmental stewardship something Christians ought to care about?
It’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask, but I want to turn it around and say instead: Give me one good reason why Christians shouldn’t care about God’s creation. The reality is that the biblical case for stewardship is absolutely solid. The connection between the poor and the environment is obvious. The ramifications for our Christian witness are huge.
So why do you think many American Christians are still hesitant to embrace environmental stewardship?
There’s a set of unholy obstacles that prevent us from caring about all that God created—obstacles like politics, fear of science, bad theology and plain old greed. We as a church, particularly in the United States, have fallen prey to these traps to justify staying on the sidelines—remaining quiet about environmental concerns or even being actively opposed to efforts to care for creation.
But I’d argue that politics, fear of science, and even bad theology, are often just an excuse for not caring about creation. The real reason, underlying it all, is that we realize environmental stewardship is going to impact how we live our lives. If we take it seriously, it’s going to demand that we become more thoughtful about what we buy and eat and own and live. It asks something of us, and not many of us are big on sacrifice—even when that sacrifice comes with great blessing.
You mentioned the connection between the environment and the poor. Would you say this is a good starting point for Christians who care about the sacredness of human life and are concerned about the “least of these” around the world?
Yes. Poverty, hunger, disease, human trafficking—all of these issues have a very direct connection to the health of the non-human creation. We’re created in God’s image, unique amongst the rest of creation. But all of the creation is sacred because it was all created by God, is cared for by God and glorifies God. All of creation sings God’s praise and all of it is authored by him. Its flourishing depends upon our management and our flourishing depends upon its provision. It’s a false delineation to think we can separate humans from the non-human creation. Yes, we are special because we alone bear God’s image, but we also shouldn’t forget our common creatureliness.
Anecdotally, it seems more and more Christians are beginning to embrace the biblical call to environmental stewardship. Do you agree?
Yes, the hopeful thing is that the evangelical church is really awakening to this issue. But the next question is: As the church awakens, what are we going to do about it? The danger is for this to just become another box to check, like “I recycle.” Check. “I drive a Prius.” Check.
But stewardship needs to be so much more than that. Colossians 1:15-20 tells us that all things are made by God, sustained through God, exist for God. Christ redeems and reconciles all things … and we get to play a part in that. Christ’s reconciliation is carried out, in part, by the way we live our lives right where we are. God has put each of us, as part of his church on earth, in a particular place. We are to minister not just to the people of that place, but to the place itself.
That’s the vision of A Rocha: Christian people, living in community and doing hands-on conservation work and environmental education so people can see the gospel in action. We seek to help followers of Jesus live as agents of shalom to the place in which they live—all the way down to the dirt, so to speak.
You’ve drawn a strong connection between our outward environmental stewardship and our inner spiritual lives. How would you describe this relationship?
I feel really passionately about communicating that, yes, environmental stewardship is a “have to” in the sense that the Bible clearly commands us to care for God’s creation. But it’s also a “get to.” It’s a privilege. And there is such joy that comes from faithful obedience, whether it’s caring for the environment or ministering to a sick friend. There’s absolute joy, there’s blessing, in living as we’re designed to live.
Tammi Stuart says
I’m writing this while in the Philippines, where it seems like the LA I grew up in during the 1970s. My family had to move to northern California because the doctor said I had smog-related asthma and would be in serious danger if we didn’t. The air in southern California has improved a bit, but the US (along with China, Russia, India, and other developed and developing nations) is at the top of the list of world polluters. We consume more than we should, waste more than is right, and spend more than we save. At its heart, this is a massive failure of character, and for Christians, a failure to live out a robust biblical-theological vision. Someone who gets the distinction I’m making here (between environmental stewardship and environmentalism) is Wendell Berry , although I’m not sure where he stands vis-à-vis the Christian faith. I recommend reading that guy’s work. Instead of blaming Christianity (although he acknowledges distorted theologies), he thinks that reducing “creation” to “the environment” is part of the problem. Another writer I’ve found intriguing on this subject is Bill McKibbin ( The End of Nature ). We wouldn’t agree with all of his points (especially theological), but this moderate Methodist offers some insights into the connection between Christian conviction and the realities of modern life.