Active Environmental Work is Worship

Active Environmental Work is Worship

Klaus Rösler - November 04, 2008

L i s b o n – Christians must struggle for protection of the environment. This challenge was made in the key note address of the General Council of the European Baptist Federation (EBF) in Lisbon/Portugal on 25 September. The British author, theologian and scientist Ernest C. Lucas (Bristol) noted that care for creation is a “priestly duty”. Struggling for the environment is a part of our worship. Lucas argued that as well as seeking to spread the Gospel and grow in Christ-likeness Christians should be seeking to care properly for planet Earth, which was created by Christ and is part of his inheritance. Lucas noted that ecological matters receive little coverage in the New Testament, for it was written to awaken faith in Jesus Christ and respond to the pressing issues facing the early church.  As a scattered, small minority community, without its own land this did not include ecological issues. However, he finds a Biblical basis for protection of the environment in the Old Testament with consequences reaching into the New Testament. Lucas stated: “We cannot claim to love God fully unless we show an active concern for the good care of Planet Earth and its creatures.” According to the story of creation, God has made everything “very good”. Yet ever since the Fall, creation has suffered. Jesus Christ, God’s son, came to this earth to restore the broken relationship between humans and God. In doing this he came to fulfil God’s original plan for the whole of his creation: “After our relationship with God has been restored, we are responsible to prevent in the power of the Holy Spirit the continued destruction of his creation.” According to Lucas, those who do otherwise, sin. When Jesus Christ calls on his followers to love God and their neighbours, this entails caring for the environment, for example decreasing the amount of air pollution. Lucas also took issue with the opinion that the earth will be destroyed completely at the end of the current age. It will instead be renewed and “What we do on earth today for creation, has eternal results.” Questions of responsibility for the creation and protection of the environment stand at the centre of discussions taking place among the 130 delegates from 40 Baptist Unions in Europe and the Middle East."

Reflecting God through our everyday actions

In a meditation on the Biblical story of creation, the Estonian theologian Helle Liht (Prague) called for a more conscious lifestyle in order to refrain from further damaging God’s creation. Liht pointed out that we are called to “image God”, who creates and sustains beauty, life and freedom. She challenged delegates to think about their everyday practices and whether their actions truly reflected the nature of the God in whose image they are created. In particular, Liht noted the practices that go into producing food which we consume. Chocolate, coffee, and cheap clothes are often industries that destroy natural habitats and exploit workers, depriving them of basic rights and standards of living: in order to keep the price that consumers pay lower. Consumption-oriented lifestyles are contributing to environmental changes which are affecting the poorest and often most innocent people in the world: those who cannot protect themselves from the effects of drought, famine and severe flooding. Liht’s final words called Council participants to consider how they were going to use their potential, their imago dei, to reflect God.

Environmental matters find little response in congregations

In Europe’s Baptist Unions, environmental questions bring little response. This was made apparent during a seminar at Council sessions. Although the British Baptist Union maintains educational and informational offerings on issues of ecology and environment, its General-Secretary, Jonathan Edwards (Didcot), reported that only 10% of all congregations express interest. The most far-reaching decisions have been made by the Baptist Union of Sweden. General-Secretary Karin Wiborn (Stockholm) reported that her Union passed a resolution two years ago establishing a relationship between ecology, health and lifestyle. A year later, concrete recommendations were instituted for staff workers in national headquarters. They include the guideline that business trips within Sweden should be taken on the train – neither by airplane nor by motorcar. Conferences should be kept to a minimum and should be replaced by discussions on the Internet. Foreign trips are to be kept to an absolute minimum. When possible, only groceries produced in fair-trade arrangements should be purchased. The consumption of alcohol and tobacco products is to be banned from Baptist church buildings. By now, seven staff members have disposed of their private automobiles. Yet no “catalogue of sins” is to be created. According to Karin Wiborn, it is of greater importance that awareness on these issues be increased. She admitted that her life had become more paced and slow since institution of these guidelines.

The EBF is still without any mandatory ecological guidelines. But it was suggested that EBF members voluntarily pay the carbon-offset fee for their many flights within Europe. Seminar participants expressed regret that apparently no one from the countries belonging to the former Soviet Union is interested in such questions, for none of them chose to attend the seminar. A participant from Croatia explained that environmental matters still played no role whatsoever in Christian congregations within these countries. Even Croatia, which regards itself as a bridge between East and West, remains without garbage separation; old washing machines and cars are still often dumped into rivers and lakes. Where people are still struggling for daily survival, care for the environment remains of very little interest. Yet it was mentioned that precisely for this reason, discussion in Christian congregations on such matters from the perspective of the Bible should made be a priority. The goal is not for major breakthrough, because decisions on such issues can only be made step-by-step.

“A Rocha”, a Christian ecological movement founded in Portugal, was introduced at this meeting. Its full-time and voluntary staff are involved in protecting endangered species – not only in Portugal, but also France, the Czech Republic, Lebanon and some African countries. Employee Tiago Branco (Lisbon) called on congregations to help protect the creation: “You are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.” The poor are affected most by climate change, for it robs them of their livelihood. The re-creation of positive living conditions for animals is also a major benefit for humans (