Soviet-styled communism and the Baptist church shared a common denominator a number of years ago – even though the former represented an atheistic system and the latter reflected a theistic commitment. While many might think Marxism and Baptist Christianity were at odds, they actually were in agreement. Neither approach cared about the environment.
Helle Liht, assistant to the general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, presented a splendid paper titled “Fish, Plastic Rubbish and the Lord’s Table” in a workshop at the 20th Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, meeting in Honolulu.
Recalling her childhood in the capital of Estonia, when Estonia was under the domination of the Soviet Union, Liht noted that “the purpose of nature-related education during the Soviet time was to learn how to master, domesticate and conquer nature, not how to live in harmony with nature or how to understand the nature.”
Similarly, her childhood experience in church also severed faith from nature care.
“Being raised in a Baptist church, the focus of our faith and life … was put on our relationship with God, with brothers and sisters in Christ, and on saving souls from eternal death. My ears, eyes and heart were closed to the groaning Creation because paying attention to nature was not part of my faith tradition or my secular education,” wrote Liht. “I had not been taught to see, to listen and to take care of nature. I saw no connection between my life as a Christian and care for Creation.”
Only through a “meaningful experience with nature,” as an employee of the Estonian ministry of the environment, did she “grasp some of the relation between God, myself and the natural world.”
Liht said, “Being God’s people we ought to see and acknowledge God’s love for his creation and his promise to sustain it and to redeem it. Being God’s people we also ought to acknowledge our responsibility to act as his stewards applying the same principles of love and care as he does, bringing the whole of creation towards its fullness.”
One of the theological arguments for the care of creation is found in a “central practice” of the church – the Lord’s Supper.
“The Lord’s Supper brings together the gifts of the earth and the work of human hands for the purpose of God. The bread and the wine … remind us about God’s care for us through the fertility of the land, and our fundamental dependence on God’s grace,” said Liht. “Much of God’s grace and care becomes visible and tangible to us through the natural world.”
However, environmental degradation “cuts so many people off from God’s grace and care,” she said. “Our responsibility is to see that earth’s gifts bless people.”
Another presenter with Liht was Johnny Hill, associate professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, who said it was “important to remember the connection between human beings and the earth.”
Hill argued that care for the earth and the pursuit of justice were bound together.
He said that “God’s call for creation was a call for creation to connect human beings to the earth so that the plight of the earth is deeply connected to the plight of human beings.”
Reviewing the bleak data about human poverty, Hill said the earth has enough resources to meet all the needs. Yet our world has “an imbalance, the unequal distribution of resources.”
Hill said, “Churches are in some ways complicit in a culture of consumption.”
The workshop on the environment was one of 16 different workshops or focus groups offered.
The BWA meeting ended on Sunday.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.