The year 1990 is significant in the emergence of a Christian response to the environmental crisis. It was the year when the important World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation issued the Seoul Declaration.
This declaration registered concern over how “the processes upon which life itself depends are being systematically undermined by human pride of mastery and human sloth.”
As I indicated in “Community and Environment: Imperatives for Survival,” published in 1993, the process leading to the Seoul Convocation can be traced back to the Geneva Conference on Church and Society in 1966, where concern for “the responsible world society” emerged.
The encyclical “Populorum Progressio,” issued by Pope Paul VI in 1967, clarified the social nature of human dignity and affirmed the idea of “integral development.” It contributed to the emerging discussion, leading in the following year to the affirmation of “a new dynamic of human solidarity and justice” announced at a world conference in Uppsala, Sweden.
Between 1969 and 1974, a series of world conferences alerted the Christian community to the urgency of the ecological and technological crisis. Beginning with the 1974 Bucharest Conference on Science and Technology for Human Development and especially at the 1979 Conference on Faith, Science and the Future, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, people began more fully to realize the error of notions of limitless growth and the danger to the physical environment of assumptions undergirding certain theories of economic development. Furthermore, the contribution of science and technology to creating an environment that could sustain a decent quality of life for all people was elucidated.
By 1983, a world gathering in Vancouver, Canada, began to link the call for justice and peace for all with respect for the integrity of creation. Not surprisingly, by the time of the Seoul Convocation in South Korea, the international church community knew assuredly that it was coming to agreement on key theological affirmations related to the interconnectedness of justice, peace and creation. Malaysian poet Cecil Rajendra described clearly the urgency of the need in a poem he wrote for a conference held in Canberra in Australia in 1991. We will not quickly forget his words:
Where the acquisition of things
Has become an obsession
And the worth of a human being
Is measured by one’s possessions,
Where air, trees and seas
Are besieged by pollution
And purblind mercenary greed
Threatens our environment,
Come Holy Spirit
Heal our wounds
Renew our Whole Creation!
At the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Seoul in 1990, delegates agreed to a resolution on justice, peace and the integrity of all creation.
In some places, especially where Baptists participate in movements involving the wider church family, an intentional program of teaching emerged especially around the identification of the Sunday nearest World Environment Day as Environment Sunday.
Some Baptists revisited their traditional celebrations of the harvest festival to include, in addition to the thanksgiving dimension, an intentional emphasis on the gift of creation and a reawakening of Christian responsibility for the natural environment.
Coming two decades after these developments are two resolutions passed by the Baptist World Alliance at its Annual Gathering in 2008 and 2009. These resolutions expressed concern for the dimensions of the environmental crisis then in focus in the international discussion on the subject in the secular domain. The point of the most recent resolution has been canvassed on the BWA Web site and in other communication organs of the BWA where we have made available the full text of the resolution, which was also sent to all member bodies of the BWA.
During November, many Baptists and other Christians will be interceding on behalf of world leaders who will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December for a significant United Nations Climate Change conference, which is scheduled to amend the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
We expect that leaders of BWA member bodies have encouraged the believing communities that they serve to canvass their convictions to known delegates to the upcoming U.N. Conference. Local worshipping communities must no doubt have been mobilized to include the upcoming conference in their intercessory ministry and to awaken the need for united action in defense of Christian environmental stewardship responsibility.
Let us bear witness to our concern for the environment not only with our lips but in our lives.
Neville Callam is general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. This column first appeared in BWA Connect.