Participants in the seventh Baptist International Conference on Theological Education focused on practical – but often neglected – theological issues during a lengthy morning session July 28. About 135 educators and interested persons are meeting at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, the Czech Republic.
Two papers were designed to address ecological issues and a proper understanding of creation. Three others dealt with the rampant exploitation of women and children, serious issues on which churches have largely remained silent.
John Weaver, dean of the theology faculty at Cardiff University in Wales, is trained both as a geologist and a theologian. Addressing the global environmental crisis, he reviewed examples of present and looming ecological catastrophes and advanced a theological position that humans are called to be channels of God’s redemption for the earth as well as humanity.
Humans are made in the image of God, Weaver said, and given stewardship of the earth (Genesis 1-2), a role freighted with responsibility. Christians are also “en Christo,” he said, and thus involved in the mission of God that seeds to redeem the world as well as the humans living on it.
Following Christ implies that we are to “take up the cross-shaped life f sacrificial love – sharing God’s good gifts of creation with all; and follow Jesus – in his compassion for others and for the world.” Such a commitment involves living more simply, using less of the world’s resources, and treating it with care, he said, living sacrificially for others and surrendering our greed, appreciating the world as an expression of God’s love, taking special care of the poor and outcast, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
The implication for theological educators is that we should see creation care as a matter of justice. Promoting peace involves the welfare of the world. Repentance should include our failure to care for the world as well as the people in it, who depend on the world’s resources for life. Thus, aspects of environmental theology “should be a part of teaching in ethics, missiology, Christian doctrine, practical theology, and liturgy,” concerns that should also be expressed in the worship of the churches.
David Gushee, who writes widely and currently teaches at Mercer University, discussed a paper with the provocative title “Can a Sanctity of Human Life Ethic Ground Christian Ecological Responsibility?” Gushee emphasized that the “sanctity of human life” is a much broader topic than the abortion issue, with which it is most commonly heard.
Appreciating the sanctity of human life is something of a two-edged sword, Gushee said, because “the more we elevate the sacredness of humans, the more we downplay the rest of creation.” He called for “a radically reframed approach to God, humanity, and the rest of creation.”
The idea that humans are given “dominion” over the earth should be reframed to think in terms of “stewardship,” he said, with the recognition that God granted humans a great deal of power along with the mandate. Though some downplay human impact on the earth, humans have the power to care for the earth, or to render the planet uninhabitable, he said.
Gushee cited a long string of biblical texts that speak of God’s creation of and relationship with all of creation. God’s covenant with Noah, for example, was a covenant with all creatures, not just humans (Gen. 9:8ff). Likewise, laws about the Sabbath and the Jubilee, psalms that emphasize creation, and the wisdom literature (which is grounded in a theology of creation) can all be mined for instruction regarding human responsibility in a world where God, the creator, cares even for sparrows (Mat. 6:25-27).
Gushee suggested a number of moral implications for an ethic that extends the sanctity of life to embrace creation. These include paying attention to spillover effects of human actions on creation and looking for win-win solutions related to ecological and economic challenges. “Eco-sanctity reframes all human enterprises because all depend on the ecological systems that sustain life,” he said.
Following a round of lively discussion, Gushee concluded that Baptists need to get over their self-imposed insularity and be more open to conversation and cooperation with other religious traditions, many of which have been addressing the issue for years. “It has never been more clear that this earth is one community,” he said.
Amen, and amen.
More to come on why Baptists need to pay more regard to the exploitation of women and children. Stay tuned …