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European Seminary Prioritizes Creation Care, Sustainable Development

How many Baptist seminaries celebrate their diamond jubilee with a gift wish list that includes funding for solar panels to produce hot water and photo voltaic panels for electricity production for street lights?

The answer is only one: International Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Prague, Czech Republic, a European institution has prioritized the environment in word and deed, providing a model for global Baptists.

IBTS began its environmental commitment in 1999, when Petra Vesela, the school’s finance officer, focused her academic work on environmental law in the European Union. By 2002, the seminary’s trustees adopted a policy statement on the environment. IBTS’ environmental policy “recognizes our responsibility to educate, enable, encourage and set an example to our staff, students, visitors and neighbors in the stewardship of God’s world as an essential element in Christian discipleship and kingdom ministry.”

“Our Environmental Policy embraces the notion of Sustainable Development, which is different from sustainability and more accurately reflects our understanding of being made in the image of God and invited by Him to be partners with Him in both the maintenance and development of His creation,” reads the policy.

“God means us and allows us to take what He gives us and responsibly to develop it in such a way that it is enriching for us without damaging or impoverishing the whole creation now or in the future. Nor must the exercise of this God given liberty and role diminish the variety and quality of His creation (which has so delighted and nurtured us) for future generations.

Development which is not sustainable has been popularly described as ‘cheating on our children” or “treating the planet as though we do not intend to stay.'”

Keith Jones, rector of IBTS, told EthicsDaily.com that the seminary has “a specific module on the theology of creation care” in which “every student participates in lectures and seminars on the environment,” adding that the seminary offers “a four week intensive course each year for all students on this theme.”

The seminary offers a master’s degree in applied theology with concentration on “Church and the Environment.” That course of study examines “the criticism of the role of Judeo-Christian tradition in viewing the creation as merely a backdrop to or platform for a gospel of personal salvation” and explores the biblical material related to “the proper stewardship of the world.” It teaches students that the church must “play a significant part in bringing about a more sensitive stewardship of creation.”

To Jones’ knowledge, no other European seminary offers a similar program and no Baptist seminary anywhere does. The seminary practices what it teaches through an upgrade of its furnace control, increased insulation, a recycling program and practical instruction to students, said Jones.

“We have proposals before the Czech Environment Ministry on solar panels, photo voltaic panels and small wind turbines.”

When IBTS held its annual month-long environmental focus in November 2007, seminary activities included beginning its own goat herd to keep grass mowed and raising funds to purchase goats in Bangladesh. The next month the Czech Prime Minister Miroslav Toplanek and the new Education Minister Ondrej Liska made a surprise visit to the campus. Both officials were given the IBTS environment calendar for 2008 and a new seminary environmentally-friendly cloth bag.

In 2006, IBTS hosted a four-day conference European theologians and environmentalists from different Christian traditions to prepare material to teach the theology of creation in seminaries and colleges. Only a few months ago, Jones delivered a speech on Baptists and creation care at the British Baptist Assembly in Blackpool, United Kingdom.

Jones told EthicsDaily.com that European Baptist churches have taken up the seminary’s pro-environmental commitment, “especially if they have IBTS alumni who have returned to them.” “After six years our main concern is indifference in some countries,” said Jones.

IBTS was founded in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, in 1949, and was relocated to Prague in 1997. The seminary began its 59th year of academic training last fall with entering students form 15 countries.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and is attending the meeting in Prague.

Previous related article: Global Baptists Gather Next Week in Prague with Record of Growth, Organizational Change