by John Frey, DMin
Over the history of humankind, people’s lives have been tightly intertwined with the earth. As farmers, shepherds, or fisherman, protecting and ensuring the vitality of the land and sea was more than an ethical obligation, it was a practical necessity. The sacred texts of many faith traditions, including Christian scripture, reflect this strong connection to the natural environment.
In the last few centuries, many have read God’s direction recorded in Genesis 1:27 to “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air” as permission to exploit the resources of creation with little thought to the consequences. Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato sí: Care for Our Common Home concludes that this behavior has resulted in “a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness.” This environmental destruction has disastrous consequences, particularly for those least able to adapt to the new realities of rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, water and food scarcity, air pollution, and global epidemics.
These new realities have resulted in debates globally between governments, businesses, medical and scientific professionals, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) about the cause of these impacts to the world and humankind, as well as the actions necessary to slow the degradation of our common home. Noticeably absent from many of these debates are the voices of people of faith. Of the world’s seven billion inhabitants, over six billion self-identify with a religious tradition that has care for creation as part of their ethos, yet these voices have not played a significant role in the debates thus far.
One reason for the lack of faith engagement is that many of the institutions that train faith leaders do not offer educational opportunities on creation care from a theological or practical ministry perspective. However, this educational gap is beginning to be recognized, and organizations, such as the Seminary Stewardship Alliance and the Green Seminary Initiative, are working to encourage seminaries to incorporate creation care into their degree programs by sharing curriculum. At the same time, the Association of Theological Schools, a primary accreditation body for U.S. Protestant seminaries, now includes recommendations for incorporating creation care as part of re-accreditation reviews.
To reach existing faith leaders, organizations such as Interfaith Power and Light and my own tradition’s Green Chalice Ministry, provide resources and training for faith leaders seeking to lead their congregations in creation care and advocacy.
As followers of Jesus, we should read God’s direction in Genesis 1:27 as it is translated in The Voice: “Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.” As trustees, we must raise our voices when creation is threatened by shortsighted or misinformed political and business motives. Secular organizations who seek to care for the earth and its vulnerable populations would welcome the addition of our mighty voices.
John Frey works for a leading technology company helping global corporations and governments work together to lower their environmental impact. He also serves Cypress Creek Christian Church as Teaching Pastor. John earned the Doctor of Ministry degree with a Missional Leadership specialization and the Master of Divinity degree from Houston Graduate School of Theology, as well as the Bachelor of Science degree in Safety Engineering from Texas A&M University. While walking along a sidewalk on the campus of the San Francisco Theological Seminary recently, Dr. Frey noticed this small clearing with a tree stump in the middle. Viewed from the perspective of the camera, the stump looks like a natural altar to God.