The degradation of our environment and the disastrous consequences of the extraction of natural resources, on one hand, and the awareness of several groups of people about these issues (such as the incredible Child and Youth Strikes for Climate), on the other, force us to question the importance we have given to the exercise of our Christian stewardship.
We need to face the fact that violations of the environmental rights of communities and individuals are on the rise.
In fact, these violations are primarily assumed by those who belong to the most vulnerable sectors of our societies, especially people who are living in the “environmental sacrifice zones.”
Christian stewardship, based on the biblical mandate, is developed in what Albert Wolters calls the “creational deployment” in his 2014 book, “La Creacion Recuperada” (“The Recovered Creation”). The idea of nurture and keeping the earth involves a process, a development.
We cannot assume that creational deployment has ceased after the Lord created his creation and rest.
In this sense, creational deployment continues in human stewardship, reaffirming what the Scriptures say, “You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet” (Psalm 8:6).
This deployment involves a creational worldview, where creation is not something static but changing. It implies human responsibility to make the most of the work of God’s hands.
This worldview invites us to see history itself through the light of our stewardship inside the responsibility that the Lord has given us.
In this context, it is difficult to doubt that dignity, equality and liberty are fundamental human attributes.
So, could they have their complete development in a polluted or even depleted environment?
In other words, is it possible to separate human rights protection – meaning, at least, those fundamental human attributes – from environment protection?
In the opinion of John Knox, the first independent expert on human rights and the environment appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, this is impossible.
The relationship between human rights and environmental protection has not been a straightforward issue, as Jessica Scott explored in her 2016 book, “From Environmental Rights to Environmental Rule of Law.”
Fortunately, the “greening” effect on human rights is broadening worldwide (see Alan Boyle’s 2015 book, “Human Rights and the Environment”).
Among the international community, an important element that has helped to clarify that relationship has been the adoption of the Environmental Rule of Law (UNEP, 2013).
It involves a wide understanding, respect and enforcement of environmental laws and the benefits of environmental protection for human beings and for the planet, providing “an essential platform underpinning the four pillars of sustainable development: economic, social, environmental and peace” (UNEP, 2019).
The interconnection between environmental protection and human rights is obvious, and the recognition of the important role of the defenders of human rights in environmental matters is critical.
The U.N. describes them as “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna” (UNEP, 2019).
But, more than ever, their human rights, especially their lives, are in constant risk.
Only in 2017, according to the Global Witness Report, globally at least 207 people have been murdered because of their role as defenders of human rights in environmental matters.
Facing this reality, what are we doing, as Christians, to protect and promote the rights of those who are defending human rights in environmental matters?
The human rights and environmental protection relationship gets stronger foundations for those of us who follow Christ – for those who have not been conformed to this world but are transformed by the renewal of their minds, for those who are willing to discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
We, as God’s people, the new humankind, are called to the reconciliation work. Christ has reconciled to himself all things (Colossians 1:19), and we are commissioned to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Therefore, a redeeming work exists with the creation, in which we are part. God sustains the creation, God has promised to free it from corruption’s slavery. And, that same creation is awaiting “in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19).
If God doesn’t abandon the handiwork of creation, neither can we.
Sebastián Vasconcelo is co-pastor of Iglesia Ministerio de Fe (Valparaíso, Chile); he is also a computer engineer and a musician. Rocío Parra is a lawyer and works in the Law of the Sea Centre at the Valparaíso’s Catholic University (Chile). Rocío has joined the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students’ Cross Current Environmental Sciences group in 2018.