Christian Faith Statement
|"We will resist the claim that anything in creation is merely a resource for human exploitation. We will resist species extinction for human benefit; consumerism and harmful mass production; pollution of land, air and waters; all human activities which are now leading to probable rapid climate change; and the policies and plans which contribute to the disintegration of creation". (World Council of Churches)
This statement was compiled and endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the World Council of Churches, and the Vatican Franciscan Center of Environmental Studies.
The Stories of the Sparrows
Christianity teaches that all of creation is the loving action of God, who not only willed the creation but also continues to care for all aspects of existence. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke (12: 6–7):
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered”.
Yet sadly, many Christians have been more interested in the last part of what Jesus said:
“Don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.
A Tension within Christianity
There exists within Christianity a tension between God’s creative, loving powers and humanity’s capacity and tendency to rebel against God. Christianity, drawing upon the biblical imagery of Genesis 1 and 2 and Genesis 9, is unambiguous about the special role of humanity within creation. But this special role has sometimes been interpreted as giving free rein to mastership. As the World Council of Churches said in a document from a meeting in Granvollen, Norway in 1988:
”The drive to have “mastery” over creation has resulted in the senseless exploitation of natural resources, the alienation of the land from people and the destruction of indigenous cultures ... Creation came into being by the will and love of the Triune God, and as such it possesses an inner cohesion and goodness. Though human eyes may not always discern it, every creature and the whole creation in chorus bear witness to the glorious unity and harmony with which creation is endowed. And when our human eyes are opened and our tongues unloosed, we too learn to praise and participate in the life, love, power and freedom that is God’s continuing gift and grace”.
In differing ways, the main churches have sought to either revise or reexamine their theology and as a result their practice in the light of the environmental crisis. For example, Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter, Octogesima Adveniens, also comments in a similar manner:
“By an ill-considered exploitation of nature he [humanity] risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation ... flight from the land, industrial growth, continual demographic expansion and the attraction of urban centers bring about concentrations of population difficult to imagine”.
In his 1990 New Year message, His Holiness the Pope also stated: “Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty toward nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith.”
In Orthodoxy this is brought out even more strongly, especially in the document produced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Orthodoxy and the Ecological Crisis, in 1990. The Orthodox Church teaches that humanity, both individually and collectively, ought to perceive the natural order as a sign and sacrament of God. This is obviously not what happens today. Rather, humanity perceives the natural order as an object of exploitation. There is no one who is not guilty of disrespecting nature, for to respect nature is to recognize that all creatures and objects have a unique place in God’s creation. When we become sensitive to God’s world around us, we grow more conscious also of God’s world within us. Beginning to see nature as a work of God, we begin to see our own place as human beings within nature. The true appreciation of any object is to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.
The Orthodox Church teaches that it is the destiny of humanity to restore the proper relationship between God and the world as it was in Eden. Through repentance, two landscapes—the one human, the other natural—can become the objects of a caring and creative effort. But repentance must be accompanied by soundly focused initiatives that manifest the ethos of Orthodox Christian faith.
|“We must attempt to return to a proper relationship with the Creator AND the creation. This may well mean that just as a shepherd will in times of greatest hazard, lay down his life for his flock, so human beings may need to forego part of their wants and needs in order that the survival of the natural world can be assured. This is a new situation—a new challenge." Formal statement by the Orthodox Church
The Integrity of Creation
The World Council of Churches, predominantly Protestant, but also with full Orthodox participation, issued the following when they called their member churches together in 1990 to consider the issues of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation:
* We affirm the creation as beloved of God.
* We affirm that the world, as God’s handiwork, has its own inherent integrity; that land, waters, air, forests, mountains and all creatures, including humanity, are “good” in God’s sight. The integrity of creation has a social aspect which we recognize as peace with justice, and an ecological aspect which we recognize in the self-renewing, sustainable character of natural ecosystems.
* We will resist the claim that anything in creation is merely a resource for human exploitation. We will resist species extinction for human benefit; consumerism and harmful mass production; pollution of land, air and waters; all human activities which are now leading to probable rapid climate change; and the policies and plans which contribute to the disintegration of creation.
* Therefore we commit ourselves to be members of both the living community of creation in which we are but one species, and members of the covenant community of Christ; to be full co-workers with God, with moral responsibility to respect the rights of future generations; and to conserve and work for the integrity of creation both for its inherent value to God and in order that justice may be achieved and sustained.
Call for Repentance and Change
Implicit in these affirmations is the belief that it has been human selfishness, greed, foolishness or even perversity that has wrought destruction and death upon so much of the planet. This is also central to Christian understanding. As far as we can tell, human beings are the only species capable of rebelling against what God has revealed as the way in which we should live. This rebellion takes many forms, but one of these is the abuse of the rest of creation. Christians are called to recognize their need to be liberated from those forces within themselves and within society that militate against a loving and just relationship one with another and between humans and the rest of creation. The need to repent for what has been done and to hope that change can really transform the situation are two sides of the same coin. The one without the other becomes defeatist or romantic—neither of which is ultimately of much use to the rest of the world.
The Orthodox Churches pursue this in their own line of theology and reflection concerning creation, and expressed their commitment in the document Orthodoxy and the Ecological Crisis:
“We must attempt to return to a proper relationship with the Creator AND the creation. This may well mean that just as a shepherd will in times of greatest hazard, lay down his life for his flock, so human beings may need to forego part of their wants and needs in order that the survival of the natural world can be assured. This is a new situation—a new challenge. It calls for humanity to bear some of the pain of creation as well as to enjoy and celebrate it. It calls first and foremost for repentance—but of an order not previously understood by many.” (10–11)
The hope comes from a model of our relationship with nature that turns the power we so often use for destruction into a sacrificial or servant power, here using the image of the priest at the Eucharist:
“Just as the priest at the Eucharist offers the fullness of creation and receives it back as the blessing of Grace in the form of the consecrated bread and wine, to share with others, so we must be the channel through which God’s grace and deliverance is shared with all creation. The human being is simply yet gloriously means for the expression of creation in its fullness and the coming of God’s deliverance for all creation.” (8)
For Christians, the very act of creation and the love of God in Christ for all creation stands as a constant reminder that, while we humans are special, we are also just a part of God’s story of creation. To quote again from the World Council of Churches, from the report of the 1991 General Assembly on the theme “Come Holy Spirit—Renew the Whole Creation”:
”The divine presence of the Spirit in creation binds us human beings together with all created life. We are accountable before God in and to the community of life, an accountability which has been imagined in various ways: as servants, stewards and trustees, as tillers and keepers, as priests of creation, as nurturers, as co-creators. This requires attitudes of compassion and humility, respect and reverence.”
The Way Forward
For some Christians, the way forward lies in a rediscovery of distinctive teachings, lifestyles, and insights contained within their tradition. For others, it requires a radical rethinking of what it means to be Christian. For yet others, there is still a struggle to reconcile centuries of human-centered Christian teaching with the truths that the environmentalists are telling us about the state of the world we are responsible for creating. For all of them, the core remains the belief in the Creator God who so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life (John 3:16). In the past, we can now see, this promise of life eternal has often been interpreted by the churches as meaning only human life.
The challenge to all Christians is to discover anew the truth that God’s love and liberation is for all creation, not just humanity; to realize that we should have been stewards, priests, co-creators with God for the rest of creation but have actually often been the ones responsible for its destruction; and to seek new ways of living and being Christians that will restore that balance and give the hope of life to so much of the endangered planet.
This was printed, along with Statements from ten other faiths, in Faith in Conservation by Martin Palmer with Victoria Finlay, published by the World Bank in 2003.