In this era of the global warming crisis, many churches have taken up the mantle of environmental stewardship. But why do churches care about climate change? The answer lies in the intersection of faith, ethics, and responsibility.
Climate change, a critical issue facing our world today, transcends the boundaries of science, politics, and socio-economics, deepening the realm of ethics and morality. As institutions rooted in faith, morality, and community, churches are increasingly recognizing their role in addressing this global crisis.
Churches are a prominent voice in the clarion call for climate action, recognizing that their spiritual mission extends to preserving the earth, our shared home. These faith communities are adopting sustainable practices among their members, underpinned by a profound respect for creation and a commitment to safeguard it for future generations.
Biblical Teachings on Creation Care
Old Testament Call to Stewardship
From the very beginning of the scriptures, God gives humanity a mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28), but this call isn’t one of exploitation. Rather, it is a call to stewardship, to nurture and protect the natural world.
God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:8-17) extends to humans and to “every living creature,” reinforcing our shared existence with all life forms. The Sabbath principles further highlight the need for rest and rejuvenation for the land and its inhabitants (Exodus 23:10-12).
New Testament Perspective on Stewardship
Jesus often used nature as a backdrop for his teachings. His parables reveal profound truths about God’s kingdom through everyday encounters with plants, animals, and the weather.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, speaks of creation “groaning” under the burden of decay (Romans 8:22), foreshadowing the environmental challenges we face today. The Book of Revelation envisions God’s ultimate restoration of all things, including the earth (Revelation 21:1).
Climate Change and Christian Ethics
God’s Creation and Ethical Responsibility
Many Christians view climate change as a moral issue. Theological underpinnings for environmental ethics stem from believing in God’s creation and our duty to protect it. This includes safeguarding the vulnerable and marginalized, who are often the most affected by the effects of global warming.
Christian ethics involve a profound respect and concern for God’s creation, out of a deep reverence and love for the Creator. As such, any harm done to the environment by human beings is seen as an affront to the Creator Himself, necessitating urgent and responsible action from believers.
Environmental Injustice and the Poor
Climate change disproportionately impacts the poor. Therefore, addressing this serious problem isn’t only about reducing our carbon footprint and preserving biodiversity. As Christians, we are called to see the face of Christ in the marginalized and the poor and to alleviate their suffering. In the context of a warming planet, this means taking deliberate steps to mitigate the effects of climate change and working to end the systemic injustices that exacerbate its impact.
Stewardship of Future Generations
We are called to preserve resources for future generations, balancing short-term gains with long-term consequences. Each generation of human life is merely a steward of God’s creation, and we have a moral responsibility to pass on a healthy and vibrant world to those who come after us.
Furthermore, intergenerational stewardship extends the commandment to love our neighbor to those generations yet unborn. This challenges us to consider how our actions today will impact our children’s lives. We must live more sustainably to secure a healthy planet for future generations.
Churches and Environmental Advocacy
The Church as a Voice for Creation
Today, churches and religious leaders have created organizations that promote environmental stewardship and actively combat climate change:
- Interfaith Power & Light (IPL): This is a religious response to global warming across the U.S. IPL assists congregations to green their facilities and educates them on energy conservation and efficiency. They advocate for climate-friendly policies at the state and federal levels.
- A Rocha: An international Christian organization engaging in scientific research, environmental education, and community-based conservation projects.
- Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN): A ministry that educates, inspires, and mobilizes Christians in their effort to care for God’s creation, and to advocate for actions and policies that honor God and protect the environment.
- Local church initiatives: Many churches have created ministries to lead their congregations in education and action in the climate crisis. Our Creation Justice Ministry here at First Plymouth Church is committed through worship and intentional practices to care for God’s creation lovingly. Our robust agenda includes electronics recycling, xeriscaping the church grounds, restoration projects, family hiking, and involving youth in green practices like organic gardening.
- Preaching, sermons, and classes. When pastors incorporate creation care into sermons, they inspire congregations to take action for the environment.
Partnerships for Greater Impact
Churches can extend their impact by collaborating with global environmental organizations and influencing policy through advocacy. Here are few examples of Church-Environment Partnerships:
- The Green Churches Network: This Canadian initiative supports Christian communities in greening their churches and promoting ecological practices. They collaborate with environmental organizations to facilitate tree planting, waste management workshops, and energy conservation campaigns.
- Catholic Climate Covenant: This organization educates and equips U.S. Catholics to respond to the moral call for action on climate change. They partner with national and international organizations to advocate for responsible environmental policies, a shift towards renewable energy, and caring for our common home, Earth.
- Operation Noah: Based in the UK, Operation Noah is a Christian charity working with churches to inspire action on climate change. They partner with the Bright Now campaign, advocating for churches and Christian organizations to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives.
Sustainable Practices within the Church
Advocating for Net Zero Buildings
Churches can lead by example when they transform their facilities into Net Zero buildings. A Net Zero building is one that produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year. Currently, there exists only a small number of highly efficient buildings that meet the criteria to be designated Net Zero, but more and more, churches are undertaking to convert their houses of worship into sustainable sacred spacers.
This can be accomplished gradually, by implementing energy-efficient lighting systems and heat pumps, which reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills. Installation of solar panels minimizes a church’s carbon footprint. Water conservation measures, like rainwater harvesting systems and low-flow fixtures, make a church building greener.
Waste Reduction and Recycling
Churches with responsible waste disposal practices and recycling programs help reduce the amount of waste in landfills. This is done by providing recycling bins and encouraging church members to use them. Furthermore, churches reduce their use of single-use plastics by providing refill stations for water bottles, using reusable dishware for church events, and encouraging members to bring their reusable containers for take-home meals.
Cultivating Eco-Conscious Congregations
Education can lead to eco-conscious congregations. Sermons, workshops, and presentations update members on the impacts of climate change, greenhouse gases, and the importance of sustainable living.
Mobilizing Church Communities
Church leadership has a crucial role to play in creating a culture of environmental responsibility. By leading from the pulpit, ministers can frame environmental stewardship as a natural extension of their faith. Churches affirm their commitment to caring for the Earth by celebrating Earth Day and the Season of Creation.
In our journey of faith, the call to stewardship extends beyond our fellow humans, reaching out to the Earth that sustains us all. Partnerships with eco-organizations amplify the impact, promoting advocacy beyond churches and building a culture of environmental responsibility to combat climate change.
By weaving environmental stewardship into the fabric of their faith, churches inspire both individual and collective action. In a world grappling with climate change, water scarcity and environmental degradation, the greening of the Gospel is more than a call to action—it is a testament to the enduring love for our common home, Earth. Let us affirm our commitment as keepers of creation, caretakers of our shared home, and stewards of a greener Gospel.