“Talk about it.” Those three words are what Katharine Hayhoe tells the church and every other community to do if they want to learn how to support the long-term well-being of Earth and all its inhabitants. Talking about it, according to the well-known atmospheric scientist and evangelical Christian, is necessary if we are to care about it. And if we don’t care about our planet, we’ll never act.
Certainly, there are some in our churches that would shout a big amen to Hayhoe’s concern for creation care. Others, not so much. We don’t all agree that climate change exists or, for those who accept it as real and likely caused by human behavior, how best to address it. So what should church leaders do? Do we avoid conflict and stay silent? Or do we find ways to talk about it?
In three posts I will outline 10 arguments for earth care from Steven Bouma-Prediger’s penultimate chapter in For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. These reasons make great talking points—in conversation, in Sunday School lessons, even in sermons—that can help your church talk about it.
What is nice is that Bouma-Prediger not only collects 10 of the most common rationales for creation care, he also considers the strengths and weaknesses of each one. That means you can offer a balanced approach that, perhaps, can get congregants with diverse perspectives talking about it.
Reason 1: “If you breathe, thank a tree”
This is the argument from self-interest. It looks at the importance of trees for the air we breathe, the risks of pollution for the water and food that sustains us, and much more. It considers how dependent each of us is on the many resources of the earth.
The strengths of this argument are its nearly universal appeal. You don’t have to be religious, American, or an animal lover to accept this rationale for why we should care for the earth. The weakness, of course, is that it builds on self-serving principles. Especially for Christians, it lacks any motivation stemming from love of God or one another.
Reason 2: “On loan from our children”
This reason is about our obligation to future generations, including our kids and grandkids. It is better than the self-interest argument, but is limited to a very personal motivation (our offspring). The idea here is that “we not only inherit the earth from our ancestors but borrow it from our children.” The future of our families and the entire human race is the rationale here for why we should consider green solutions to today’s environmental challenges.
The strength of this argument is that it resonates with nearly every one of us. I immediately think about my children as adults (and any grandchildren I may have). But others will say we are only responsible for our own mess, not the mess caused by everyone else. Furthermore, we should also pursue prosperity for our children. So yes, we should probably pick up our trash, but we also have a right to enjoy the prosperity we earn. While there is merit to this critique, it also buys into a consumerist mentality that exacerbates the burden we place on the earth.
Reason 3: “'Tis a gift to be simple”
Bouma-Prediger quotes the Shaker hymn in naming this argument. Environmentalist Bill McKibben best summarizes it: “The secret weapon of environmental change and of social justice must be this—living with simple elegance is more pleasurable than living caught in the middle of our consumer culture.” As such, it responds to the consumerism just mentioned. Until a 2021 study, this idea was backed by scientific research that suggested no positive correlation between wealth and well-being. Now the connection between more (money or stuff) and well-being is less clear, but simplicity may very well be good for us.
Simplicity is not only an antidote to consumer culture, but it also allows us to focus on important things like virtues—how do we become more generous, grateful, humble, and even thrifty? The weakness of this argument is that at times simplicity can become overly focused on me and my family rather than our obligations to others.
…Stephen Bouma-Prediger models what a conversation about creation care might look like for BioLogos.
…Tearfund has created a 9-part small group video curriculum on care of creation featuring Katharine Hayhoe. It includes a leader’s guide and each video comes with discussion questions, an action step, and more resources from Hayhoe.
…Many of our denominations are engaged in some form of creation care. We have compiled a list for you and many of these links include additional resources that will help you talk about it.
Talking About It in and Beyond the Church
These first three rationale’s should be easy for anyone to support. They are not uniquely Christian, although our faith does speak to each one. So while these reasons may resonate with us, they are not first and foremost biblical or theological arguments. They are secular. If we engage them with integrity, they not only can get us talking about creation care inside the church, but they can provide an avenue for us to speak into culture and engage productively with large numbers of individuals whose earth-care rationale does not include God. And there is often more support for creation care outside the church than in it.
In other words, this might be a mission opportunity. If we agree on the need to care for creation, we can help the unchurched see that the reasons for it go much deeper for those of us who worship the God who created it all and asked humans and humans alone to steward the garden of Earth.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.