Should caring for God’s world be a church priority?

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climate1Bishop Geoff Davies, Executive Director of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI),  contends that Climate Change and Eco-justice should be mission priorities of the Church.

Read his edited presentation to the Ecological Debt and Climate Change workshop in Maputo, 2009.


Why should Christians be involved in caring for Creation?

The Biblical texts emphasise that we worship a creator God and that God is indeed concerned about all of his creation. “God so loved the world …” (John 3:16).  At the end of the creation story, (Genesis 1:31), we hear that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” The very first words of the Bible are: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible starts off by telling about this creator God, who out of nothing, brought about this amazing creation with the abundance and variety of life that we see around us, quite uniquely on this planet.

The Lord’s Prayer starts with the worship of God, “Hallowed be your name” We then pray that God’s kingdom will come and that God’s will, will be done on earth as it is already being done in heaven. In other words, God is concerned about the establishment of His kingdom on earth and that His will, will prevail on this planet earth. We also pray that our essential needs may be met with our daily bread. The Incarnation, furthermore, emphasises that God is concerned about our well-being in the here and now, but He is also concerned about all life in God’s creation. God’s kingdom is for all creation. For long, the church has behaved as if God is only concerned about the well being and salvation of humans, in fact, God is concerned about all of creation. In Romans 8:20 -23, we read “… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

God told us to care for all of creation: “...and God said to Adam…have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

In being given “rule” or “dominion” we were given responsibility to care for, nurture and look after creation. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till and keep it (Genesis 2:15).

In the past, the church gave the impression, that God was concerned only about us humans. The approach was what we call “anthropocentric”, that everything revolves around us humans. We need to recognise that God’s creation is in fact eco-centric - that we are part of the rest of creation and we have to work with God and with God’s creation if we are to find a sustainable future. In giving man dominion or rule over creation, God was appointing us to care for, look after, nurture and protect creation for God and for future generations. This is spelt out in Genesis 2:15, when God put the man in the garden to “till and keep it”.

The need for caring for God´s world

Up until now, generally speaking, the church has not been involved in environment or caring for creation. Among a number of churches there has been a fear they will be labelled “new age” if they were caring for creation. I hope the biblical basis points to the need for caring for God’s world. We can still ask why the church should be involved.

  1. We worship a creator God.
  2. Our very survival is at stake. If we don’t care creation, our survival is certainly not assured, yet, Jesus came to bring us life in all its fullness. God is concerned about us and our life here on earth and he wants us to experience life in all its fullness, our physical, mental, as well as spiritual wholeness.
  3. Caring for creation is a justice issue. Justice forms the foundation of biblical teaching. We should be seeking justice, for ourselves as well as for creation.
  4. The churches have a unique opportunity to make a difference as we have probably the most extensive network of any organisation so that we can get the message across.
  5. This is equally important as the churches have a moral authority.
  6.  Climate change and many environmental decisions are made solely on the grounds of profit that can be made out of various ventures, without considering the morality involved.
  7.  We have to place moral principles as the basis of our decision making.
  8. Finally, we believe this is  a great opportunity for mission, unity, peace and renewal in the world.

For mission, because it is a real challenge to young people that the church becomes involved in caring for this plane the earth and our future.

For Unity as we unite in caring for God’s world and can therefore transcend differences between different denominations and indeed, between different faith groups.

It is a force for peace, because as we unite in caring for creation and one another, so we will unite to bring about peace for all of creation.

In working for unity and peace, the church will also be undergoing renewal as it brings new life and challenge and opportunity to its mission. It is an exciting challenge to be involved with all people of this world in caring for this wonderful creation that God has brought into being. However, we are failing in our responsibility. Creation is being destroyed at an alarming rate.

Round about 1987, humanity’s ecological footprint exceeded the renewal and replenishment rate of the natural environment. Since then, we have become in debt, and are now almost 30% in debt to the natural environment. This means that we have gone beyond the replenishment rate in forests, in water, in sea fisheries, in agriculture. We are destroying the planet.

We humans somehow, have to reduce our insatiable demand for the natural resources of this world. We recognise this as we are dependent on them.

In 2005, a remarkable report was published – The Millennium Assessment Report prepared by 30 -60 experts, from 95 countries. It pointed out that everyone, obviously, depends on nature and its ecosystem services, that there are serious problems arising from the dire state of water, fish, agriculture, land, and that we are bringing the planet to the edge of a massive wave of species extinction, further threatening our own wellbeing.

There is an urgent need for us to recognise that life is dependent upon biodiversity – life itself supports life. The more we bring about extinction, the more fragile and vulnerable life becomes on this planet.

The Church and climate change

The most serious threat facing humanity and life on this planet as we know it, is arising from climate change. This is changing ecosystems, impacting on all aspects of life, including our natural resources, our agriculture, our health, and of course, our human wellbeing. We dare not allow the temperature of the globe to continue to rise! What is causing the problem? It is now quite clear; it is being brought about by humans and our burning of fossil fuels. Coal and oil are made of ancient fossilised carbon. Burning these fuels for our industrialised lifestyle, releases carbon into the atmosphere, as carbon dioxide. Rising levels of Co2 trap heat from the sun, causing global temperatures to rise and this is upsetting the delicate balance of gasses, which make life on earth possible.

Consider for a moment, our atmosphere. It consists of an amazing balance of gases which have allowed an ambient temperature on planet earth. We are upsetting that balance and causing major pollution, thereby bringing a change in our atmosphere, and therefore the very changes which allow life to exist. To have the right composition of gases in the atmosphere is a miracle in itself. How can we have the arrogance to disrupt that? There is now a higher level of CO2 than there has been for the last 20 million years! Since the Industrial Revolution started a 150 years ago, our Co2 levels have increased from 250 parts per million (ppm), and now almost  at 390ppm, if we carry on with business as usual, they could reach over 650 ppm. The world has said that they must keep them below 450ppm. This is still an unacceptable high level, when it was last at that level; oceans were 21 meters higher than they are today!

There are three forces bringing this about; 1, population growth; 2, consumption per person, and our societal values. Certainly there are more people on the a that can comfortable survive, but the more dangerous part is the level of consumerism among the developed and privileged and richer part of the world’s population, so that, a person in the developed Northern countries, and even South African will consume 30 or even 60 times more than a person in rural Africa.

We are driven by societal values, which demand cars, and more luxurious houses and holidays, while, poorer people don’t have clean water to drink. We create an unsustainable future though exponential population growth, growing consumption per person, deplete mineral resources e.g. oil, over-use fisheries, forests & natural resources, disrupt global climate, widen inequality and embrace crass materialism. All of these, we are involved in, and therefore bring about a dangerous state for the future.

The answer from governments seems to be, to get the economy going and so we are encouraged to buy, consume, and waste in the hope that this will create more employment and money. What are needed are greater economic justice and equity and real jobs.

Three factors should be taken account of in the Capitalist system; capital, society and labour and resources and the environment. The free market capitalists take account only of capital and the capitalists have done well since the collapse of communism, but the poor and the environment have suffered as a consequence. We know that the components of sustainable development are society, environment and economy. The reality has been that economy dominates the society and the environment, whereas the sustainable development should be based on sound ecology with economy being seen just as the means o bring about a sustainable lifestyle in the economy.

We believe a sustainable future is possible if we establish eco-justice that is both economic and ecological justice. In our present day world, there is a huge level of economic disparity, with South Africa being the most unequal country in the world. The latest figures from the United Nations show that the riches 2 % of adults own more than half the global wealth and the bottom 50% of the world’s population, owns barely 1% of the world’s wealth. This is an affront to God. This is not as God intended. He provides for our needs and not our greed. Consider the feeding of the Israelites in the desert when God fed them with manna from heaven. They all went out to gather what each needed and those who gathered too much had enough and those who gathered too little had the right amount. Each gathered what was needed. God wants to provide for our needs, not our greed. God also wants us to use the world’s resources wisely.

The greatest wastage of resources is from so called “defence”. Security comes in establishing true justice (Zech 7:9-11; Ps 37:3-16). Even half of the U.S Defence budget will solve the world’s problems of poverty and environmental degradation. The world’s biggest   armament spenders spend well over a trillion dollars on their so called defence. This is iniquities and should be condemned by the churches.

Ecological justice

Ecological justice requires that we treat the natural environment with respect and justice – that means living in harmony with God’s environment – not pillaging, poisoning and even destroying it. We must recognise that the decisions we humans make shape the future. Our aim, surely, is for a sustainable future. We must therefore make decisions regarding the use of our resources, the establishing of just economic systems, the care of our environment, a just society for all people, that cares for people’s health, their culture and their spirituality.

As Christian communities, we have a moral responsibility to God and to other species and to future generations. All of us are being called to action. Since this is a moral issue, it involves faith communities at the very centre of their being.

Bishop Geoff Davies the director of the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (SAFCEI). Please read more at


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Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. - Desmond Tutu