The Netflix documentary ‘Our Planet’, has helped re-energise another generation of climate change warriors. Along with the formation of Extinction Rebellion and the prolific use of social media, it’s not surprising that “single-use” was the most popular word of 2018 . But how should Christians respond to the climate change debate?
It saddens me having to preface this but firstly ignorance and denial cannot be our position. Climate change is happening regardless of how unhappy we are with the direction media or political extremists are taking the conversation. We as Christians must engage with the climate change debate with the limitless compassion of Christ and the gospel clarity that defines us as his people. Where there is pain, suffering, injustice and decay, all symptoms of a fallen world, we as Christians are commanded to speak into the mess and point people towards the gospel (Matt 5:16, John 17:15-18). Climate change along with the cultural climate we’re in, provides an opportunity to showcase our God-given role as responsible stewards and perform this duty with Christ’s kingdom in mind.
However, the term ‘stewardship’ is a complex one to unravel as the concept is never explicitly explained in Scripture. It’s absence doesn’t deny it’s relevance just requires more careful thinking.
In Genesis 1 God places Adam and Eve in a Garden named Eden. He commands them to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens”. Here, God establishes humanity to be divinely appointed to rule over creation. So where can we infer stewardship from and how does this inform our decisions today in the heat of the climate change debate? I wish to argue that stewardship is the process by which we implement our dominion. Although God has made us “a little lower than the heavenly beings” and given “dominion over the works of your hands”, we are to enact this rulership with wise, servant-hearted integrity. Firstly, Dominion was given as a human mandate at the start of creation. It is not solely the church’s responsibility nor should individual Christian’s take this upon themselves. Our ‘go forth and multiply’ mandate is given in Matthew 28, to bring new life into the Kingdom. Secondly, we must understand how sin has affected this role of dominion. Exploitation has become synonymous with Dominion yet that is not how it was intended. Systems of abuse, cycles of decay and entire industries built on the suffering of others are not in harmony of a Christian agenda and therefore we should step away from such practices. As “mirrors or carriers of Christ to others” we cannot employ methods of harm and abuse towards the environment, instead Christ-like Justice and Dominion must be exercised over all of Creation. Therefore, thirdly, we are to imitate Christ in how we exercise our Dominion over creation. If “for by him all things were created” then Christ is King over the melting glaciers, empty forests and dying wildlife and groans with his creation as it bears the scars of the fall. He is sovereign, therefore, we don’t despair yet he is our example and look how he feeds the birds and dresses the lilies. Who are we to despise creation if this is how our King cares for it?
Changes in the global environment are, if not to ourselves yet, reaching crisis level. Lives have been lost, species made extinct and vast swaths of natural habitat destroyed. Our society rightly is appalled by such horrors and we can respond with compassion to their upset. Listening, therefore, is crucial. Be informed of what is happening and be ready to change. If your waste disposal is putting wildlife at risk, reduce your plastic pollution. It may require humility to accept advice from those you don’t whole-heartedly agree with. Being informed and responding graciously with the facts put in front of us, save us from the stigma of Christians being uninterested or ignorant of the world around them. With a clear grasp of the conversation surrounding climate change, we then have a stronger position to lead the fight to protect our planet. Surely having Christian environmentalists, scientists, social activists, educators, campaigners, politicians at the forefront of this discussion will be beneficial for everyone. Not only can we imitate Christ in servant-hearted dominion but we can also by explaining to people why we do what we do, point them to the full message of the gospel.
The panic that fuels much of the Extinction Rebellion propaganda, appears to echo apocalyptic prophecy. However the End Times will look, the Christian can rest assured that God is entirely in control and mankind will not be able to predict when the end of the earth will be. If we begin to despair and lose our faith in God, we have lost our gospel clarity. Similarly, we must be wary of falling into incorrect thinking that says we can truly save the world. Having gospel clarity about who saves the world and God as creator, should affect how we interact with the world, will keep us from doubting God’s sovereignty or developing a saviour complex. Therefore, we should “stir one another up to love and good works”, not only pointing each other towards our eternal hope but also encouraging each other to be more active in our love, respect and appreciation of God’s world.
Finally, as we reorganise what we mean by gospel clarity, let’s recognise how our fellow humans are being affected by climate change. Natural disasters strip entire communities of their livelihood, overpopulation that leads to not enough food being distributed where it’s needed, drought, famine, floods, wars over natural resources – these are all events that will affect our planet’s most vulnerable people groups first. Forget saving the turtles by banning plastic straws, or reducing your carbon footprint by cycling to work – people’s lives are at risk because of climate change. A radical care for people is an imperative for the Christian primarily because they are made by God and are valuable in their essence but, secondly because their souls are eternal. How we adapt our lifestyles, our treatment of animals, engagement in social justice, must all be centred around a Biblical perspective of ourselves and those around us. The finite details of how that will look depending on our context and stage of life but servant-hearted dominion will seek to rescue humanity from danger and point them towards their saviour.
On a more practical side one may ask questions regarding zero-waste living and how this equates with Christian hospitality, how does our faith inform our diet (aka should we all be vegan?), can adoption be an avenue Christians take in reference to overpopulation and how, if there is a class bias within this whole debate, are Christians perpetuating this? At least I think those may be interesting! If you have any thoughts, please comment below or if you disagree with everything I’ve said, still comment!