Noting that 40 years have passed since the first United Nations conference on environmental issues urged governments to protect the natural environment and advance sustainability, a European Baptist theologian said that the current situation is drastic.
Helle Liht, assistant to the general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, presented a theological paper in a session on environmental justice at the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Santiago, Chile.
“For one generation I believe genuine attempts have been made by different groups to introduce, encourage and implement the principles of sustainable development. Yet the crisis and disappointment are growing, and more and more people are becoming the victims of unjust economic structures and environmental degradation. Is there at all a way forward?” wrote Liht.
She asked, “Is there anything Christian communities can offer in this struggle against exploitation, destruction, poverty and injustice?”
She recalled that a year ago after presenting a lecture on the church and the environment that an attendee said that “the church had lost its prophetic voice” related to the environment, an accusation that she acknowledged was difficult to defend.
Much evangelical theological reflection on creation care has been an attempt to address Christianity’s “individualistic and anthropocentric focus.”
Liht, instead, turned to one of the world’s leading theological thinkers, Jürgen Moltmann, who has called for “new Trinitarian thinking.”
Such an approach leads to a deeper understanding of one of the U.N.’s key concepts called “integration,” a concept intended to help human beings live harmoniously with the Earth.
The “open Trinity,” Moltmann’s term, “embraces unity and diversity in a proper relationship, creating space for others to enter,” wrote Liht.
The “different persons within the Trinity” are unique, live in unity and have a “reciprocal indwelling in the two other persons.”
Such an approach “understands each person of the Triune God not only as a person related to the two others but also as an open space because each person offers a dwelling place for the other two. It is a relationship in which each Trinitarian person in its wholeness limits itself to prepare space for the other two to represent the whole and one God,” she wrote.
Given the number of displaced people – due to extreme weather events and conflict – and the impact on the natural environment from our consumerist lifestyle, shared space becomes a critical issue.
“[T]he question everyone needs to ask is whether the space I shape and create with my consumption habits, daily work, social and political involvement, worship – the space I ultimately am – is a private comfort zone, which I enlarge for myself, or whether it is an open and safe space embracing others in their joy and suffering, and inviting others to dwell in there,” wrote Liht.
“Created in the image of God, our privilege and challenge is to image the Triune God, in whom each Trinitarian ‘person’ in its relationships and perfect love in a sense limits itself to prepare space for the other two,” she said. “It is therefore only by limiting our own space and offering space for others that we can more fully participate in the redeeming work of God who is embracing the entire creation, renewing it and bringing it to its wholeness.”
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.