If the Creation story describes humanity’s appointment as steward of the earth’s resources, then as caretakers, humans are called to protect, preserve and safeguard those resources so that all can benefit and enjoy its fruits.
Creation as gift means that all living creatures have a basic right to its products, and no group has the right to hoard all its resources. Hoarding the earth’s resources upsets the delicate balance between life and the resources needed to sustain life.
We in the U.S., as part of the world’s richest 20 percent, own 85 percent of the world’s income. Yet we are responsible for producing 66 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses and consuming 70 percent of the world’s energy.
But when the global community gathered to address the collective world impact of heat-trapping gases, the U.S. refused to participate, walking away from the Kyoto Protocol. Believing that the problem is exaggerated, our leaders do not see a need to protect our planet from the effects of global warming.
Ironically, Christianity, to some degree, has encouraged the destruction of God’s creation. The first creation story ends with God saying “fill the earth, and subdue it and have dominion” (Gen 1:28). Biblical passages such as these have led to human domination of nature–subjugating nature to Western Christianity–and thus contributing to the present ecological challenges facing humanity.
The belief that human destiny resides with God in heaven–and that the earth is but a place we sojourn through in order to get to that destiny–has encouraged, at the very least, a neglect of our environment.
The greatest Christian threat to the environment comes from those who hold an eschatological view made popular by the LaHaye and Jenkins novels published between 1995 and 2003. These stories focus on the tribulations faced by those unfortunate souls “left behind” during the “last days” of Armageddon when they must face the Antichrist.
Many Christians who read these novels accept the futuristic events more as Christian prophesies than fiction. For these Christians, who accept as truth a dispensationalist view of the “end times,” the destruction of the earth is welcomed. It indicates Jesus’ “Second Coming,” when he raptures (takes away from the earth) those destined to be saved from the apocalypse of a depleted earth. If the world will come to a conflagration, and such an end is close at hand, why then worry about the environment?
This view was best articulated by James G. Watt, secretary of the interior under the Reagan administration, and thus the cabinet member officially responsible for protecting the environment.
Imposing a dispensationalist Christian perspective in order to, as he said, “undo 50 years of bad [environmental] government,” Watt explained, “My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures, which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns.”
In short, Jesus is coming soon to rescue the faithful from an earth destined to total destruction. Any attempt to preserve or safeguard the earth is a waste of time.
Nevertheless, does our refusal in recognizing the damage being committed to the environment constitute the ultimate form of oppression, for it brings destruction to life (including human) on this planet? If liberation is to come to the earth’s marginalized, then it must also come to the earth.
The earth needs to be saved in order for individuals also to receive salvation. If nature is wasted, depleted and destroyed, then individuals will not be able to control their destiny. Such a sin cannot be easily atoned, for we are not gods that can resurrect extinct species. This calls for radical changes in the political sphere, changes that if not taken can lead to the domination of all due to limited resources, which would continue being controlled by the wealthy few.
Scripture articulates that the earth belongs to God. The psalmist boldly proclaims, “The earth’s is the Lord’s, and the fullness of world and those who live in it.” (Ps. 24:1).
The God who takes notice of the least of creation, the falling sparrow, is concerned with all of creation. “Man” is not called to dominate the earth. Rather, humans are called to be stewards of the earth’s resources, ensuring that each has enough.
Backer-Fletcher, a theologian friend of mine, insists that the incarnation, God becoming flesh, is the act of divinity joining the dust of the earth so as to reconcile the broken relationship between God and creation.
Humans, as creatures of dust, are part of creation. Believing in God entails environmental responsibilities. The abundant life Christ came to give cannot be accomplished on a depleted earth. Survival is a key requirement for any form of abundant living.
Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.