by Tom Rowley, Executive Director A Rocha USA
In cities and towns across the United States, Christian faith is hard at work—well beyond the stained glass and steeples. It may not be obvious. But it's there. It's there in healthcare, housing and education. It's present in programs for the hungry, the addict and the abused. It's even in the gym. And I'm not simply referring to the faith of the many Christians who work in these arenas, but to the institutional identities themselves. Indeed, faith has long been a driving force in the founding of organizations and services that enhance our communities--from Jesuit schools to Methodist hospitals, from pregnancy centers and food pantries to Habitat for Humanity and the YMCA.
Now imagine those services weren't there, that faith was missing in action. Picture your community with gaping holes in this fabric of faith-driven works that fosters health and wholeness in society, blessing those who serve as much as those who are served.
Sadly, just such a gap exists in most communities today—one left by Christians ignoring and in some cases actively opposing the biblical mandate to care for the Earth, which God created and called "very good."
Both the excuses for and the results of our abdication are many. Political divisions, economic tradeoffs and differences over the cause and severity of challenges and the choice of solutions make environmental stewardship controversial for many believers. Bad theology that twists humanity's dominion into a license to exploit and despoil only complicates matters. Excuses notwithstanding, anything but the most jaded reading of the Bible reveals that throughout Old Testament and New God's people are instructed to lovingly steward ALL that God created.
And when we haven't, care of creation has fallen to those whose motivations and methods are often at odds with what the Bible teaches. Earth care can become Earth worship. Humans can be seen as just another species at best, pests at worst. And in the face of seeming insurmountable challenges, despair becomes the order of the day.
Fortunately, things are changing.
Christians are starting to add the non-human portion of creation to our care list. We are going green--at least green-ish. We're recycling and putting up clotheslines. We're taking shorter showers, eating more locally grown food and putting fewer miles on the car and more on the bicycle (or Birkenstocks, for the really crunchy). We've even swapped Styrofoam for ceramic to hold our organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, fellowship-hall coffee. All to the good and to God's glory. But is that enough? Is there anything more we as God's stewards ought to be doing?
For some, the answers to those questions may well be "Yes, that's enough. And no, I don't need to do anything more." Fair enough.
Others, in growing numbers, are carrying their care for creation out into their communities. Following the lead of those who earlier sought the "peace and prosperity of the city" by building hospitals and high schools, these followers of Jesus are now planting organic gardens that help both people and pollinators; cleaning and protecting streams, lakes and entire watersheds; planting trees; removing invasive species; running creation-care workshops; building nature trails and more. All to the good and to God's glory.
Many of these efforts—I'm tempted to say the best of them—work with and help secular groups who also care for the creation albeit without knowing, much less worshipping, the Creator. And while that help is at times met with skepticism if not hostility, humility and hard work go a long way toward overcoming even the most strident objections.
What the creation groans for, and the unbelieving world needs to see from those who claim to love the Creator, is a little less talk and a lot more action. When we do that, when we go and preach the Gospel to all creation using, as St. Francis puts it, "words if necessary", we will begin at last to fill that gaping hole in our communities and in God's wondrous yet beleaguered creation. And just as with healthcare and housing, feeding and teaching, and every other act of giving, those who serve will be blessed as much as those who are served.