Evangelicals and Pentecostals were missing from the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change prior to the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit.
One or two “evangelical” signatories on the statement calling for divestment from fossil fuel stocks does not an evangelical initiative make.
The interfaith event was mostly liberal Protestants, Hindus, some Muslims and a variety of other houses of faith. Some notable Catholics added their support.
Given the global growth and dynamism of the evangelical and Pentecostal communities – and the ever-shrinking size and energy of liberal Protestantism – those of us concerned about climate with its immediate adverse impact on the poor must double up efforts to connect with where growing Christian faith is.
Connecting begins with the Bible – not science, not shaming, not statements exaggerating involvement.
Seven biblical words ought to be in the lexicon of every person of faith concerned about climate change for their conversations with evangelicals and Pentecostals.
What are the seven words?
The first word is “dominion.” After God created men and women in “his own image,” God gave them the responsibility to “have dominion … over every living thing” (Genesis 1:28). The New Common English Bible uses the word “take charge.”
Dominion is not domination. Dominion and domination are often confused. Domination is how many Christians misinterpret this text.
The image of domination is that of a conquering king crushing the neck of a vanquished enemy. It is that of conquest, subjugation, exploitation, even good over evil.
The malformed theology of domination is foundational for the mismanagement of creation.
Ezekiel 34 contrasts the dominion of the good shepherd with that of the bad shepherd. The good shepherd feeds the flock “with justice.”
Dominion of the earth means taking care of it, working it for good, protecting it from harm.
The second word is “keep.” In another part of the creation account, God told “the man … to till and keep” the garden (Genesis 2:15). The New Common English Bible weakly translates “keep” as “take care.”
A robust and faithful translation of the word is “guard.” Psalm 121:7 uses the Hebrew word to mean the Lord will guard us from evil. Numbers 6:24 speaks of keeping in terms of the Lord’s guarding care.
We are given the guardianship of the earth.
The third word is “name.” God paraded every living thing by the man to see what he would call them and whatever label the man assigned became the name of that creature (Genesis 2:19-20). Human beings became collaborators with the Creator in naming the creatures.
In the act of collaboration, human beings took on the God-given responsibility for the creation.
The Hebraic understanding of naming bears a lot more substance – accountability – than we assign it.
The redundant message in the creation account is that human beings have a divinely given task to care for creation.
The fourth word is “covenant.” After the flood, God established a covenant with Noah and his descendants. We readily recall that story (Genesis 9).
Yet we often miss that God also established a covenant with every living creature through Noah. Six different times the text repeats this theme.
Make no mistake: Human beings are the crowning glory of God’s creation. We are not the only jewel in the crown, however.
God’s covenant extends to creation – creation, after all, adores the Creator (Psalm 19:1; 96:1; 148).
The fifth word is “Sabbath.” The Sabbath was a day of rest from relentless work; rest for human beings and for livestock (Exodus 23:12). Beasts of burden were given a day of rest, as were human beings.
After a cycle of six years came the sabbatical year, a time when the land could rest: “The seventh year you shall let it [the land] rest and lie fallow (Exodus 23:11).”
The sixth word is “world.” John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world.” The Greek word here for world is “cosmos.” Cosmos means the entire created ordered.
The word is not “anthropos,” which means “man.” Yet we interpret the passage anthropocentrically. We think God’s love is exclusively for human beings.
Textually and theologically, God’s love extends to the entire created order. As the covenant with Noah underscores, creation has value in and of itself apart from any value that we assign to it.
The seventh word is “neighbor.” Jesus said, “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39-40). We have traditionally defined neighbor as one who lives in our shared space – next door, across town, overseas.
Our neighbors are also those who live in the future – our children’s children and their children.
The only way to love a neighbor across time is to leave them a decent place to live. The only way to love a neighbor in time is to ensure that they live decently.
Now here’s the knotty problem. How do we move from the text to the context in which we live? How do we apply our faith?
Of course, we need to apply our faith, not live “as a hearer only” (James 1:22).
The first step at the moment, however, is getting evangelicals and Pentecostals to read from the same text as those of us do who are about climate change.
If good grammar makes good theology, then reading the Bible rightly makes sure that we pursue God’s moral vision.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.