My life changed forever on July 7, 1988, when I became a father to a baby girl.
We named her Sarah, and I became acutely aware of my responsibility for another human being.
This was, at times, exhausting, when you had to stay up all night with a colicky baby, and other times exhilarating, when you were present for a new movement, look or sound that was entry point to a new phase of life for her.
Life was no longer just about me and my wife. There was another human being entrusted to our care.
My life changed again 30 years later when Sarah gave birth to my first grandson, August. Though he wasn’t placed in my direct care, he still became a perpetual part of my vision for the future.
I was incapable of looking into the future without seeing that it was his future, someone likely to live into the 22nd century.
The question, “How might I contribute to a better future for him?” became a focal point. The late Robert Parham, the founder of Baptist Center for Ethics / EthicsDaily.com, referred to this as loving our neighbors across time.
About the same time, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg was traveling from England to America to raise awareness for climate change.
The world was captivated by this Swedish teenager, who, like an ancient Hebrew prophet, chastised world leaders at the United Nations for their failure to take climate change seriously.
The rising CO2 levels are warming the earth, leading to the odd combination of more severe droughts and greater floods simultaneously. Habitable lands for animals and farms are being eradicated. Rain forests are being decimated for short-term profits.
The sustainability of the earth as we have known it is in jeopardy, according to the consensus conclusions of the international scientific community. To make matters worse, the poorest people, the ones least responsible for the crisis, are the ones who suffer from it the most.
I raised my daughters in the church, read them the Bible at night and nurtured a faith community experience that would provide a spiritual home for them that preceded me and would remain long after I was gone.
But my daughters live in a culture increasingly unsentimental about traditional religious institutions. This perspective change is a natural phenomenon, occurring with each generational changing of the guard.
The millennials aren’t interested in a church that ignores the great crises of our age: climate change, racial justice and the struggle of political democracy competing with authoritarian autocracy, to name a few.
The church’s silence in these social movements, or its complicity in cultivating and seeking to preserve the status quo, has accelerated the departure of the younger generations from the institutional church.
Millennials and Generation Z will not be silent. If the church won’t give them a voice, they will find other outlets to speak out.
Earth Day isn’t an official part of the Christian liturgical calendar. But perhaps it should be.
How the church disciples its members about our stewardship of the earth will have a great impact on the church’s future and the future of the earth.
Some will dismiss this role, laying the earth’s future completely in God’s hands and assuming God’s hands are totally disconnected from our hands.
This is a false disconnect theologically and a disastrous one ecologically. It completely disregards the divine order depicted in the Garden of Eden, where the relationship humanity is to have with God’s creation is established.
In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals.’”
The Hebrew word translated “rule” is radah, which is the word used to describe how kings were to rule over the people entrusted to them by God. They were to be shepherds guarding and protecting their sheep.
Radah is most often used in the Hebrew Bible as a warning against abuse of power. When radah is used in self-serving ways rather than in care-taking ways, the leaders are called out by God’s prophets.
The church of the 21st century is being called by prophets to repent for its failure to be faithful stewards of God’s creation.
Today, there are 2.4 billion Christians in a world of 7.6 billion people.
If only a remnant of the church will take up the mantle of faithful stewardship of the earth, then we will find a path toward environmental sustainability and a renewed credibility with young people who are yearning for someone to care about their futures.
Our grandchildren are depending on us to love them in more ways than attending their parties and ball games. They really need us to love the earth God has entrusted to us.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series this week for Earth Day 2021 (April 22).
An ordained Baptist minister, Gordon is the founder and CEO of Christians Caring for Creation. He is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board.