Christianity and Environmentalism

The following overview on Christianity was compiled by Hajnalka Bardos, for the Foundation for Global Sustainability (May, 1998)

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth.

Isaiah 5:8

Traditionally, many environmentalists point to the Bible's book of Genesis and its subsequent Judeo-Christian ethic as the single biggest contributor to our environmental crisis. Indeed, the interpretation that man was given the earth to subdue and control it has been used as an excuse to "conquer" nature in the history of Western Civilization. In contrast to this, many modern Christian writers now point to a more integrated interpretation of the scriptures which point out that man is a PART of creation and not OWNER, since God is the ultimate owner. Man, instead, should be a kind "steward" of the earth and respect it as part of God's creation. This re-interpretation of Christian philosophy is evident in many denominations through programs, doctrine, educational materials, committees, and movements in the Knoxville area.

No official church statements discovered. Environmental responsibility seems to be "pretty much an individual thing."

A reference was found to A Parish Handbook for Christian Environmentalism in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. The East Tennessee Diocese (423-521-2900) has an environmental stewardship committee. Attemps have been made in the past to integrate ecological concerns with their parish life. However, the Parish has had a difficult time getting parishioners involved. In the past, they have allied with the Knoxville Interfaith Ecology Group (423-540-8348), but this alliance broke down due to ideological differences.

According to Steve Musick, minister at the Presbyterian Center on the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus (423-523-3968), the Presbyterian church has educational materials available about ecological stewardship. The John Knox Center (423-376-2236) runs a River Ridge Environmental Education Program on the shores of Watts Bar Lake, and this Presbyterian-run organization has a website.

United Church of Christ
The website for St. John's United Church of Christ in Pennsylvania provides information on how to make a parish more enviro-friendly. Interestingly, it sources an Episcopal publication. From the UCC home page, a page entitled "Classroom Earth," explaines the following mission:

"Life's existence on earth is a constant balance between humans and nature. Early humans respected and learned how to comfortably co-exist with it by becoming a part of the natural world. In contrast, today's lack of respect for the planet earth has caused tremendous imbalance in nature resulting in pollution and the very real problem of species extinction. Global Rx assists our children in discovering nature's imbalance, by bringing them back to God, the true source of creation. Through habitat explorations, children experience a connection to nature that forms a reverence for life itself. They discover the interrelationships between people and the environment. Children learn about ecosystems disturbed by modern development.

United Methodist
The UMC has a Board of Church and Society which deals with environmental issues (423-522-2728). The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1996 edition, contains a section on "Social Principles." In Section I the following is stated: "The Natural World, states that all creation is from God and that we as humans are responsible for appropriate use (not abuse). "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."

Roman Catholic
The Catholic Church has several ministries, offices, and publications which deal explicitly with our Christian responsibility for stewardship of the earth. The Catholic Church is perceived as being generally open to the idea of ecologically-sound living. Summarized are some of the major programs concerning environmentalism:

Eco-Church Ministry:
"A practical and spiritual approach to healing our wounded environment". Eco-church is a movement centered on Scripture and tradition and dedicated to "promote a relationship of awe, reverence, and love toward God's live a spirituality that expresses our love for the earth, its people, and all its creatures." See also Eco-Church: An Action Manual by Father Al Fritsch, S.J. Resource Publications, 1992.

The Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation:
Glenda and Marcus Keyes, (423-540-8348, Knoxville, TN) Mr. and Mrs. Keyes are also involved in the Knoxville Interfaith Ecology Group and are excellent contacts on this issue. "The Ministry helps to remind us that we are called to celebrate life, act on behalf of justice, and participate in the transformation of the world by: listening to, learning from and standing with the marginalized and oppressed peoples, as well as our planet earth, being with individuals, groups, and communities through whom God blesses life, and through whom God defends it whenever it is threatened, denied, or extinguished."

Secular Order of Franciscans:
A group of lay people dedicated to living a life like St. Francis': simple, with respect for all of God's creation, the SFO is an international order through-out the Roman Catholic World. The closest chapter is in Chattanooga. Franciscans are extremely eco-friendly, publishing lists of "green" corporations from whom to buy recycled products such as paper.

Publications and Quotes:
(All of the following can be obtained from the Office for Peace, Justice, and the Integrity of Creation.)

At Home in the Web of Life, A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Communities in Appalachia Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of This Land is Home to Me from the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia; Catholic Committee on Appalachia, 1995 (first printing). At Home is a discussion of the issues facing communities, natural resources, development, and families of Appalachia in the context of sustainable vs. non-sustainable practices. Renewing the Earth, An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching, A Pastoral Statement of the US Catholic Conference, Nov. 14, 1991.

This Land is Home to Me., a pastoral letter on powerlessness in Appalachia by the Catholic bishops of the region. Published by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Respect for the Integrity of Creation
The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation...Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect of the integrity of creation."

The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility (Pope John Paul II's World Day of Peace Message). He calls for all citizens of the earth to respect life and seek a solution to this crisis through solidarity and shared responsibility for the world. December 8, 1989. No. 332-9, 16 pp.

Papal Statements:
Several statements can be found on file on the internet. Some Statements follow:

"Consumption in developed nations remains the single greatest source of global environmental destruction. A child born in the United States, for example, puts a far heavier burden on the world's resources than one born in a poor developing country. By one estimate, each American uses twenty-eight times the energy of a person living in a developing country."

"If our present system keeps on growing and growing, it will burn up us and our world. The present pattern of energy use, a great deal of which goes for military production or else for the production of disposable junk, is barbaric."

"Some talk about a population problem among the poor. There's an even bigger consumption problem among the rich."

"Above all, we seek to explore the links between concern for the person and for the earth, between natural ecology and social ecology."

"Modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyle." Pope John Paul II, 1979

"Today the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone..."

Christianity and environmentalism are two areas which are undergoing a union during the present. At long last, mainstream denominations are realizing the need to incorporate stewardship of the earth as a necessary Christian moral. However, many churches are slow to catch on to the national goals set forth by their respective denominations. Environmental education can help bring this national message to the attention of local churches. Generally speaking however God is seen as creator and humans as stewards: God declared EVERYTHING to be good, so it is our responsibility to make sure the beauty of God's creation is present for generations to come.

Spiritual Weblinks