Commentary

Is the stewardship of God’s creation a matter of faith?

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein;
for he has founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.

David’s exultant words from Psalm 24 help remind us that the Earth is indeed part of God’s creation, and that all those creatures and plants that “dwell therein” are also part of His creation. Throughout the Bible we find many references and directives about caring for creation, the stewardship of the Earth and its life.

Yet today we face a challenge of unprecedented proportions in caring for the Earth and its creatures, great and small. This challenge comes from climate change, sometimes popularly known as global warming. This climate change is driven by dramatic increases in what are known as “greenhouse gases” (principally carbon dioxide) that work like the glass panes of a greenhouse, keeping more and more warmth in the atmosphere.

Though throughout Earth’s history there have been periods of warming and cooling, there is overwhelming scientific agreement that human-caused greenhouse gases have dramatically increased and are fueling the change in climate. The scientific community, with remarkable consensus, predicts the probable consequences of climate change to include drastic changes in global weather patterns with unpredictable impacts on both water supply and food production across the Earth, extinction of many plant and animal species across the globe, and an intensification of social dislocation of peoples and political strife between nations in an intensified struggle for control of scarce resources.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of hundreds of climatologists and other scientists around the world, warns that unless urgent steps are taken to slow carbon emissions, the Earth’s average temperature will rise between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit this century.

James Hansen, chief environmental scientist for NASA, says, “We have at most ten years…to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions,” that allowing such emissions to grow at the current rate will result in “a far more desolate world”…”for all foreseeable generations,” and that “our children, grandchildren, and many more generations will bear the consequences of choices that we make in the next few years.”

Several recent studies published in March indicate even more urgency to act immediately. The scientists of these new studies — from the United States, Canada, and Germany — conclude that the world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.

Because of these dramatic threats to people around the globe and to the natural world, more and more faith communities have become involved. A group of leading U.S. evangelicals, for example, wrote recently in an open letter, “Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.” On March 10th, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement saying their denomination has been “too timid” on environmental issues and has a biblical duty to stop global warming.

The ELCA church has also sounded the warning bell on global warming. The Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA adopted a resolution last May on “Faithful Solutions to Global Warming and Climate Change,” urging adoption of a number of practical solutions to curb global warming. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson urged on Earth Day 2007 “to remember God’s exhortation to us to till and keep the earth (Genesis 2:15) in the face of a growing body of evidence from scientists around the world that global warming is threatening the future of creation and the health and well-being of all living things.”

This Earth Day, then, Lutherans and other faith communities should join the efforts of those across the country and around the globe in seeking immediate action to stem the rising tide of global warming.

Isn’t it conceivable that Jesus, always showing compassion for the vulnerable, could include the created order when saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”

Kevin Proescholdt has worked for nonprofit environmental organizations in Minnesota for more than a quarter-century. He and his family are members of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis, the congregation that brought forward the global warming resolution to the ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly last May.