What are the leading environmental challenges the world is facing today?
Gus Speth, an environmental lawyer and advocate, once said, “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science, we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy … and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”
Speth acknowledged that these were beyond the realm of science. He is, of course, correct, but selfishness, greed and apathy are not beyond the realm of the church.
This is a needed reminder as we prepare to observe another Earth Day.
The biblical mandate is clear. Christians are called to be good stewards of the environment. We are expected to do all we can to preserve and protect God’s creation.
One of Christianity’s basic affirmations is that God created the heavens and the earth. The earth, therefore, is sacred space.
In Genesis 1, God declares the goodness of the earth. We later learn that God’s presence and power are made manifest in creation. (Romans 1:20).
The earth is God’s gift to us on many different levels. It was designed to meet both our physical and spiritual needs. The earth is indeed holy ground.
The world today faces a number of environmental crises. Many are quite daunting.
Scientists are at work seeking solutions but, as Speth noted, behind the environmental crisis is a moral one.
Selfishness, greed and apathy truly are underlying causes; unless the religious community addresses these issues, there is not much hope for improvement.
Somehow, someway, the church must encourage and model love for God’s creation.
We cannot fulfill the greatest commandment to love God with everything that we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourselves unless we do practice creation care. These go hand in hand.
The Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
How can we love God if we do not care for what God owns? And how can we love our neighbor completely if we do not care for that which sustains us all?
Love is the only thing that will overcome selfishness, greed and apathy. And love is the church’s specialty, is it not?
More than ever, the church needs to help people make the connection between loving God and loving the earth. More than ever the church needs to model that love for others. This can be done numerous ways.
For the past five years, my church has sponsored a free electronic recycling event for the community. We have also sought to curtail the use of Styrofoam products. These are just two examples of things that your church can do.
Others include establishing community gardens, participating in litter pickups and installing programmable thermostats to reduce the use of electricity.
Some churches have gone so far as to install solar panels to produce electricity for themselves and those in their neighborhoods.
Every church, regardless of its size, can do something to promote ecological stewardship and practice creation care.
Individual Christians should strive to do the same. We may not be able to make a big difference as individuals, but we can make a difference. That is important.
By just practicing the “three Rs” – recycle, reuse and reduce – we can have an impact on the earth.
We do the same when we plant trees, keep our vehicles’ tires properly inflated, feed the birds and limit the use of pesticides.
One way we can make a big difference is by supporting environmental causes and organizations.
Perhaps an even more effective way is by notifying our elected officials about our concern for issues that affect the environment.
Our government is definitely an area where selfishness, greed and apathy must be confronted.
I encourage you to pay careful attention to what is happening at the Environmental Protection Agency and to monitor legislation that effects climate change, clean air, clean water and the protection of natural resources. Let your voice be heard. Make your vote count.
If we truly love God, others and ourselves, we will make Earth Day not a one-day event but a year-round priority.
What does love have to do with it? Everything.
In the conclusion of his book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” Jordan B. Peterson says, “Maybe the environmental problem is ultimately spiritual. If we put ourselves in order, perhaps we will do the same for the world.”
That is certainly my hope and prayer.
Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky. He is also a photographer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines and calendars; he has published three photography books. His writings also appear on Seeing Creation, a blog that Summers co-authors with Rob Sheppard.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on creation care for Earth Day 2018. The first article in the series was:
How Martin Luther King’s Death Birthed Environmental Justice by Aaron D. Weaver