Care of Creation
The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.
As people of God, Christians are called to lovingly care for the world with which we’ve been entrusted. There is now urgency as never before to heed God’s call to earth-keeping, to justice, and to community.
Social justice cannot be achieved in the absence of environmental justice. As the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s “Restoring Creation Policy” points out, “The love of neighbor, particularly ‘the least’ of Christ’s brothers and sisters, requires action to stop the poisoning, the erosion, the wastefulness that are causing suffering and death.”
The earth is not ours. It doesn’t belong to us . . . we are guests, temporary guests . . . and part of why we are here is to manage the place, to be stewards of God’s creation. In fact that’s our highest calling, our holiest vocation, to manage God’s creation.
John Buchanan, “Holy Earth,” September 17, 2006
Basis of Faith
God has made a covenant with all creation. As Christians, we are asked to approach the world God has created with a combination of joy, wonder, tenderness, and care and to be stewards of this great gift. The following Bible passages are just a few of those which speak of God’s gifts and God’s call to us:
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and le the birds multiply on the earth.”
Genesis 1:20-22 (NRSV)
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruits, you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.” Psalm 1:28-30 (NRSV)
All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; and they are holy to the Lord.
Leviticus 27:30 (NRSV)
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Psalm 19:1 (NRSV)
Oh Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104:24 (NRSV)
The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Isaiah 24:4-5 (NRSV)
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How the Presbyterian Church (USA) Interprets This
in Our Statements of Faith
Presbyterian concern for the created order begins with the confessional belief that the human being’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. Part of this includes glorifying God by responsible stewardship of God’s creation. To that end, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its predecessor denominations have issued many Statements of Faith—the earliest in 1951—that refer to caring for God’s creation.
The following are some excerpts:
Presbyterian Church (USA) 1990 Statement on Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice
- Human life and well-being depend upon the flourishing of other life and the integrity of the life-supporting processes that God has ordained.
- The love of neighbor, particularly “the least” of Christ’s brothers and sisters, requires action to stop the poisoning, the erosion, the wastefulness that are causing suffering and death.
- The future of our children and their children and all who come after is at stake.
- In this critical time of transition to a new era, God’s new doing may be discerned as a call to earth-keeping, to justice, and to community.
- Earth-keeping today means insisting on sustainability-the ongoing capacity of natural and social systems to thrive together-which requires human beings to practice wise, humble, responsible stewardship, after the model of servanthood that we have in Jesus.
- Justice today requires participation, the inclusion of all members of the human family in obtaining and enjoying the Creator’s gifts for sustenance.
Read more at http://www.pcusa.org/environment/restore.htm.
God as Deliverer acts to protect, restore and redeem the earth and its creatures. These have become co-victims with all humanity, victims of the sinful pride and greed that seek unwarranted mastery over the natural and social orders . . .
(Presbyterian Church (USA) 1984 Statement)
Therefore the 193rd General Assembly…urges continued strengthening and enforcement of the United States clean water standards to insure clean drinking water and adequate sanitation in the coming decades for all our residents.
(Presbyterian Church (USA) 1981 Statement)
While the ecological crisis threatens catastrophe, it also offers unprecedented opportunity for social reconstruction, protection of nature, and more rewarding lifestyles.
(United Presbyterian Church (USA) 1971 Statement on Christian Responsibility for Environmental Renewal)
Man is free to seek his life within the purpose of God: to develop and protect the resources of nature for the common welfare . . .
(United Presbyterian Church (USA) 1966 Statement)
Great natural resources have been entrusted to our nation by Almighty God. We call upon the Christian conscience to recognize that our stewardship of the earth and water involves both a land-use program which recognizes the interdependence of soil, water and man and the development of a responsible public policy which will resist the exploitation of land, water and other natural resources . . . for selfish purposes and maintain intelligent conservation for the sustenance of all living creatures through future generations.
(Presbyterian Church (USA) 1954 Statement)
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Fast Facts from the Environmental Protection Agency
There are a number of environmental issues that are critical—from water pollution to deforestation to climate change. However, it is the last of these that has received the most press and is generating the most concern. The following are a few excerpts from the Environmental Protection Agency’s information on climate change.
“There is no doubt this atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities. Confirmation of 20th-century global warming is further substantiated by melting glaciers, decreased snow cover in the northern hemisphere and even warming below ground.”
“In the United States, approximately 6.6 tons (almost 15,000 pounds carbon equivalent) of greenhouse gases are emitted per person every year. And emissions per person have increased about 3.4% between 1990 and 1997. Most of these emissions, about 82%, are from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and power our cars. The U.S. presently emits more greenhouse gases per person than any other country.”
“Rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea level, and change precipitation and other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies.”
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What the Denomination Is Doing
The 217th General Assembly (2006) accepted the Commissioners’ Resolution that “the Christian mandate to care for creation...impels and inspires us to reduce our energy usage,” agreeing that “the urgency, injustice, and seriousness of this issue calls us as Christians to act NOW and to act boldly to lead the way in reducing our energy usage.”
Under this resolution, the General Assembly of the PC (USA), “strongly urges all Presbyterians to immediately make a bold witness by aspiring to live carbon neutral lives. (Carbon neutrality requires our energy consumption that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere be reduced and carbon offsets purchased to compensate for those carbon emissions that could not be eliminated.)” For the full resolution, please click here.
For the past three General Assemblies, carbon offsets have been purchased to help offset the carbon emissions from the Assembly. In 2006, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterians Restoring Creation (PRC), the Environmental Justice office, and the Peacemaking Program partnered together to offset 84.3 tons of carbon by investing in a wind and a methane project via NativeEnergy.
Other 2006 resolutions included urging state and federal agencies to stop mountain top removal mining, and supporting the Citizens for a Strong New Orleans in their effort to close the operation of the Chef Menteur landfill.
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What Fourth Presbyterian Church Is Doing
We are actively pursuing ways to bring awareness of the call to protect God’s creation to the community of Fourth Presbyterian Church. Thus far, we have taken the following steps:
- Sponsored two Academy classes addressing topics of environmental stewardship.
- In cooperation with the Advocacy Subcommittee, screened the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” to help the Fourth Church community learn more about the problems of global warming.
- Worked with house staff to replace the iridescent light bulbs in the Paige Smith room with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
- Created information cards to help members and guests consider what steps they might take in their own lives to help protect God’s creation.
The 210th General Assembly “Urge(s) Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations and institutions to pursue energy efficiency and conservation in their buildings and property.” (Presbyterian Church (USA), 1998)
Additionally, Fourth Presbyterian Church, in cooperation with Growing Power, has created the Chicago Lights Urban Farm, a community garden that empowers youth and community residents in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood to have increased economic opportunities through access to organic produce, nutritional education, work force training, and microenterprise development. For more information on the Urban Farm, please contact Natasha Holbert (312.274.3831).
So it’s time to pay attention. It’s time for people of faith, people who believe in the Bible and the Judeo-Christian tradition of God’s holy earth, to wake up and acknowledge what has happened, to understand and accept it as the moral issue of our day, to change the way we think, to demand that our politicians act responsibly, and to make personal adjustments and decisions appropriate to our faith.
John Buchanan, “Holy Earth,” September 17, 2006
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What You Can Do
To reduce energy use, save money and to help lower air pollution, consider:
- Switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
- Using energy-efficient (Energy Star) certified products (www.energystar.gov) such as air conditioners, furnaces, refrigerators and water heaters.
- Weatherizing your home
- Setting the thermostat back in the winter
- Taking public transportation, carpooling, biking or walking, where possible
- Choosing fuel efficient, hybrid cars
- Offsetting your carbon footprint
Consider conserving water by:
- Repairing water leaks
- Installing a low-flow showerhead
- Installing an ultra-low-flush or toilet displacement device
- Turning off running water while brushing teeth and washing hands
To reduce waste and conserve resources, consider:
- Purchasing recycled products
- Buying products with minimal packaging
- Using a reusable water bottle
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Presbyterian Church (USA) Environmental Justice Office
Presbyterians for Earth Care
National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program
Faith in Place
Political Advocacy Organizations
Environmental Law & Policy Center
This group has a great directory of environmental groups in the Midwest region available at http://www.elpc.org/tools/directory.php.
National Resources Defense Council
Illinois League of Conservation Voters
City of Chicago, Department of the Environment
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Green Building Council
Center for Neighborhood Technology
Chicagoland Environmental Network
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