The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Monday, April 23, 2007

Earth Day II: Human Responsibility

The Birmingham Earth Day parade is today, and I am still in an "earth day" mood so I am posting an essay I wrote years ago in a theology class about our responsibility for taking care of the earth from a biblical perspective. This assignment had particular objetives, so that is why the comparison between the two denominations is included. Since that time a number of evangelical Christians have taken up the cause of protecting the earth, at great cost to some of them as other “Christians” criticize and even seek to demonize them for taking a stand. And whether one is Christian or not, the same principles apply as far as taking care of our planet goes. For the sake of our planet, let us pray that more and more Christians, as well as members of other faiths and those without religious beliefs will realize how important protecting our earth is to our future.
The pictures are examples of "creation" from my backyard (the lizard and flower) and Tulum (the beach).

Human Responsibility as Part of God’s Creation

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God swept over the waters
. (Gen 1.1)

The first book of the Old Testament goes on to describe how God gave light to the earth, followed by sky and dry land and vegetation. Stars and the moon were added, followed by living creatures of every kind. While theories abound as to the details of creation, from fundamentalist Christian beliefs that the Bible’s words provide a literal description of the order of creation and that God was involved in each step of the beginnings of our planet, to the widely accepted views that an orderly process occurred that resulted in what is our world today through what is known as evolution, they all seem to agree that where once was nothing, physical (science) events occurred that resulted in our planet, followed by biological (science) events that resulted in the plant and animal life on our planet, and only then did human life appear.

So God created humankind in his image…
Male and female he created them
. (Gen 1:27)

Regardless of the depth or scope of one’s belief regarding creation, all would agree that the physical elements of earth and the various plants and animals were present before humans appeared. This was necessary for people to survive. This made it possible to have places to live and food to eat. Without what is known today as the environment, and nature, we could not exist.

If one believes that God is the creator of the world, and that he created it as outlined in the book of Genesis, then we can assume that he had a reason for creating it in the way that he did, for creating everything else before he created humankind, and that is because these things are necessary for human existence. And it stands to reason that the creation of God would have been ideal for human existence. Likewise, if one believes in evolution with or without the guidance of God, it also stands to reason that humans would not, in fact, could not have evolved until conditions were ideal (I was wrong on this point, as pointed out by one of my brothers). Therefore, it can be reasoned that we should do as little as possible to change our environment, lest we make the conditions in which we live less than ideal for our survival.

This is especially important today, as we now have the ability to adversely affect our environment in so many ways. The advancing of civilization has resulted in reduced air quality and polluted streams and rivers, oil spills from transport tankers and offshore rigs that taint large areas of sea and shore.

Because of the continued demands of society coupled with the unchecked greed of businesspeople and corporations, we now have the ability to deplete our natural resources to a point from which recovery is not possible. Add to this the likelihood of nuclear or chemical terrorism and the widespread devastating effects on the environment that would result, and the prospects of permanent damage to our planet is heightened.

As Christians, what are our duties and responsibilities regarding the environment? The book of Genesis offers instruction. We have already seen that the earth and its flora and fauna were created before humans, and that this was necessary for our survival, but does that mean that the rest of creation belongs to us, that it is ours to do with as we please?

Certainly not. To begin with, we must accept that we are not apart from nature; rather we are a part of nature. The days (or years) of creation include the creation of humankind. God did not rest after he created the earth and its non-human inhabitants, the task was not finished. To complete the creation of the world, humans had to be added. Only then did God rest, only then was creation complete. We are a part of creation, a part of nature. Nature does not just surround us, nature includes us. Migliore (Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, An Introduction to Christian Theology) says that creation as described in the Bible portrays humans as “standing in organic relation to each other and to the world of nature.”

Second, God still cares for his creation, including, but not limited to, humans. Migliore asserts that God cares for all of creation and not just humans.

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
And the firmament proclaims his handiwork
. (Ps 19:1)

God blesses us, then tells us to “be fruitful and multiply” and gives us dominion over the “fish of the sea and over the birds of heaven and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” He gives us “every plant” and “every tree” and “every green plant” (Gen 1:28-30). Dominion implies control over or sovereignty, not just ownership. God put the rest of creation in the hands of humankind, to be taken care of.

Finally, we should realize that the physical earth, and the beings on it, the creation of God, is the tangible link between us and God. God put man and woman in a garden, and gave them the responsibility to “till it and keep it.” (Gen 2:16). In other words, humans are to take care of what God has provided for us, and keep or protect it, as we nurture our gardens and fields today so that they will keep producing. God gave man the birds and the creatures, and allowed man to name them. These were gifts from God, and we should to this day remember that the animals and birds around us, and the fish in the sea, and indeed all of nature, are a gift from God, an actual, tangible gift.

It is the responsibility of the church to instruct its members and guests regarding the creation and our responsibility in keeping it. The United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches does not address environmental issues in their Statement of Faith or by-laws. Perhaps they should follow the example of the United Methodist Church which addresses environmental issues in their Social Principles. The section titled “The Natural World” affirms that the creation belongs to the Lord and that we are responsible for it. “Water, air, soil, minerals, energy, resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings.” It goes on to support social policies that are environmentally friendly, in regards to energy production and consumption, waste disposal and industry. Animal life is valued, and this is reflected as well by policies that support the preservation of species, the humane treatment of pets and domestic animals, and painless slaughter of meat animals.

The degree to which these principles are followed and taught by the United Methodist Church probably vary from one congregation to the next. In my personal experience, I have never seen these issues addressed by the church in meetings that included the congregation. The Social Principles are positions the Church has taken on sometimes controversial issues. “They are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophet spirit” so it may be that their best use is as a reference when issues arise. It would be good if individual churches would present their position on environmental issues to their congregations in order to remind people that creation is the Lord’s, and also to raise awareness that the church is concerned about the natural world. This could be done with a periodic insert in the weekly newsletter or bulletin, and/or by encouraging a group to form that would promote the church’s positions.

The environment and the natural world are important to Christians as reflected, beginning with the very first verses of the Bible through history to the condition of the world today. Hopefully Christians will realize this in greater numbers and become a driving force in shaping local and national policies and not just be content with having their principles buried deep in a book that few read.

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