I hate being called an environmentalist. I avoid using the word “environment.” The phrase “climate change” is not in my lexicon. At least at church, that is.
Why? Because I have found that these and others like them elicit a knee jerk response from a good number of people in my church. When I’m labeled an environmentalist, I automatically lose credit with some. At the word, “Environment,” some eyes roll. If I were to utter the dreaded phrase, “Climate change,” some folks would begin reaching for their pitchforks and torches.
I know, because I used to be one of them.
In the United States today, the environment has become a political battleground between Republicans and Democrats. Generally speaking, whichever political party you are affiliated with seems to shape how you feel and react to every issue, including the environment. Bipartisan fighting has spread across our nation, and our churches are not immune to this.
I have always cared about the environment, even while rolling my eyes at that word and reaching for my torch and pitchfork against all climate changers. In my mind, and in the minds of so many like me, that terminology automatically identified people on the other side, and it was an undeniable truth that anyone on the other side is wrong about everything. No matter what side you are on, you probably feel that way about the other side, at least to some degree.
In my opinion, this is the greatest obstacle that Christians face when it comes to caring for creation. We have submitted ourselves to the politicizing of issues, and put those political agendas and positions ahead of far too many other things.
If we Christians are going to talk about Creation, the environment and how to take care of it- and we are!- then we need to figure out how to talk about it.
The environment is a political topic. It is also a social one. The environment impacts justice, poverty, hunger, health, and so much more. We cannot limit ourselves to political language in this conversation. If we are to talk about the environment as Christians, we need Christian language. We need theology.
I have already written about our failure to understand and practice dominion over Creation, as well as the responsibility God has given us for Creation. This is where I start when talking about the environment in Church. We must recognize that we have failed at the duties we were tasked with.
Redemption, I believe, is holistic. Not only are we made righteous for Heaven someday; through the blood of Jesus Christ we are made righteous in the here and now, to do good works in the here in now, as God intended from the beginning. (Ephesians 2:8-10) Redemption is God’s work in us to restore us to right relationships with God, our fellow human beings, ourselves, and the rest of Creation. Redemptions empowers us to be who God intended us to be, and to do what God intended us to do.
This is my theological understanding, and the mindset wherein I work. Maybe you’ve never heard it put that way. Maybe you agree with me about the need for Christians to take better care of the environment but never considered it a theological obligation. Or maybe you don’t agree with me at all! Either way, that is fine. My point is not to persuade you to my exact way of thinking, but to get you started thinking about environmental issues as grounded in our Christian theology, our beliefs, understandings and practices about God and ourselves. Once you’re thinking about it that way, I want you to start talking about it that way.
In my introduction to this topic, I mentioned words I avoid and the responses I expect when using those words in my church. I would guess that half of you would expect similar responses, while the other half is left scratching their heads as to what kind of church I’m at. You know your church better than I do; you are the best judge as to how to approach this subject in your individual setting. But here are a few tips.
Make the connections for others. If you explain something to me, I might get it. If you demonstrate something for me, I might get it. If you explain and demonstrate, I’ll get it. If you are to begin (or continue) this conversation in your church, it will not be enough to just explain these ideas. You need to make the connection for others, so that they will see how the actions of the church impact Creation.
Often churches consider themselves environmentally friendly if they have a recycling bin. If they want to go to the next level, they’ll use paper plates instead of Styrofoam at the next potluck. This is well and good, but it is not the be all, end all of caring for creation. Help your church see more. I’ve known individuals who have tracked the trash produced by their church, then brought that information before the church council: “When we throw out all of these disposable coffee cups, this is the neighborhood they end up in.” That placed a new level of personalized reality onto an otherwise invisible topic.
Plug in to what is already going on. Every church out there has some ministries. When introducing the topic of creation care and environmental stewardship at your church, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Connect this topic to what is already happening. Introduce it into the kids’ Sunday school lessons. Start using reusable coffee cups at Bible study. Advocate for pesticide free gardening in the church flower bed and lawn (or, hopefully, you have a church garden). Many churches are constantly looking for ways to reduce the budget; why not change the settings on the church thermostat? You can save money and reduce your energy usage at the same time!
Be ready to back up your words with actions. This is an important one. If you are going to get your church to stop using disposable plates and silverware, you had better be the first one at the dish sink. If you have convinced the church board to set the heat a little lower, you better bring a sweater with you to worship. We cannot advocate with our words only; our actions will always speak far louder. Both in our churches and in our personal lives, we need to practice what we preach when it comes to caring for the environment.
It is my hope that this article will make it easier for you to start the conversation at your church. It is a conversation we must have. There will always be those who are eager to talk about it… and those who want nothing to do with it. But the more Christians there are who are having these (sometimes difficult) conversations, the bigger the change can be.
How about you? What is your church doing to better care for the environment? How did these actions come about? Share in the comments below. And as always, help me get the word out by sharing this post with others!