The Environment: A Religious Concern

Sat, 12/01/2007

"Was it not enough for you to graze on the best pasture, that you had to trample the rest of your pastures with your feet? Was it not enough for you to drink the clearest water, that you had to foul the remainder with your feet? Thus my sheep had to graze on what your feet had trampled and drink what your feet had fouled." Ezekiel 34: 18-19 What we call the environment is fundamentally a religious issue. The environment is only a pale reflection of a much richer word: Creation. Not simply what happened “in the beginning,” but the world that reflects the glory of the Creator here and now…through which we are sustained and enlivened…in which we meet the neighbor whom we are to love as ourselves. Creation is the world in which we daily encounter bread and beauty, majestic mountains and familiar neighborhoods, painful brokenness and solace for the spirit. Creation is where we stand as we hear the divine summons to care for our neighbor and for the earth. Creation invests the world with a depth of meaning not fully captured by the terms “environment” or “nature.” Creation means that all things in heaven and earth are related to the One who gives them their being. Creation means that our dealings with everything around us are bound up with our relationship to the Divine. Creation means that we are creatures too; the healing of the earth and the healing of human persons and human society must go hand-in-hand. At the core of Jewish and Christian ethics are the commandments to love God and one’s neighbor. Can we love the Creator without celebrating and caring for the creation? Can we love our neighbor without protecting the environment on which that neighbor’s life and health depend? Moral and religious beliefs about human life in the creation under God are fundamental to faith communities’ engagement with environmental concerns. But as faith communities engage the public realm where solutions to hunger, health problems and environmental degradation are debated, general principles need to be applied to specific issues and circumstances. “I was hungry and you gave me food.” Mt 25:35 As Christians, we seek to address agriculture through the lens of our faith because so much is at stake in moral and human terms. Food sustains life itself; it is not just another product. Providing food for all is a Gospel imperative, not just another policy choice. For many, farming is a way of life, not just another business or industry. Agriculture is the way farmers, ranchers, and farm workers provide a decent life for their families and help feed a hungry world. It is not just another economic activity. Agricultural systems in the United States have been remarkably successful in providing sufficient, safe, and affordable food for consumers. These strengths should be directed toward serving better the needs and interests of hungry and poor people in the U.S. and abroad. Caring for land and water resources has become an increasingly important focus with U.S. agriculture. Farmers should expand the use of environmentally sustainable methods so that farmland in the U.S. can provide food for generations to come. As a society we continue to lose productive farmland for development as communities and transportation expand. In other parts of the world, agricultural and food supply systems also need to be strengthened. An important measure of international trade and agricultural policies should be how they promote safe and affordable food and sustainable, environmentally sound farming practices. Care for God’s creation is a central calling for believers. Agricultural and food policies should reward practices that protect human life, encourage soil conservation, improve water quality, protect wildlife, and maintain the diversity of the ecosystem. An essential measure of agricultural and food policies is whether they protect the environment and its diversity and promote sustainable agricultural practices in the U.S. and abroad. All creation is a gift. Scripture tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it holds” (Ps 24:1). All of us, especially those closest to the land, are called to a special reverence and respect for God’s creation. Nurturing and tilling the soil, harnessing the power of water to grow food, and caring for animals are forms of this stewardship. Christian Churches have repeatedly taught that the misuse of God’s creation betrays the gift God has given us for the good of the entire human family. While rural communities are uniquely dependent on land, water, and weather, stewardship is a responsibility of our entire society. The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in San Antonio, Texas, August 15-20, 1975, called for discipline in the use of resources, focus attention upon the problems and solutions, and recognize the following options as symbolic acts and personal responses to the problems of a world food crisis: 1. to give concerted attention to the conserving of all energy sources, e.g. fuel, food, water; 2. to encourage the change of personal diets so that more grain is available for food; 3. to seek ways of optimum utilization of food and eliminating waste; 4. to actively work toward reorientation of national priorities for the implementation of a national food policy that encourages the development of a world food security system; 5. stimulate the sharing of technological knowledge and resources for increase of food availability in the food importing countries. The above article was gathered from information from The National Religious Partnership for the Environment.