Front page of yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times: "2006 was nation's warmest year." The National Climatic Data Center reports that 2006 was the warmest ever recorded in the U.S. As highlighted in the film An Inconvenient Truth, the warmest years on record have all been in the last decade. Today's news report bears that out, as the world's six warmest years since the 1890s were 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Creation care was highlighted at Urbana 06 as one key dimension of Christian discipleship and mission. One video segment, "All Things," built off of the convention exposition of the book of Ephesians to spell out the implications of bringing to unity "all things in heaven and on earth under Christ" (Eph 1:10). Another verse it referenced that jumped out in a way I had never noticed before was Ezekiel 34:18: "Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clean water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?"
Environmental stewardship is a key responsibility for all Christians. What's perhaps most exciting is how Christians with particular vocations in global relief and development and in public policy are able to work toward sound environmental policies and practices that preserve ecological systems and help both humans and the environment to thrive. It's very encouraging that polluted rivers and waterways that were polluted and toxic a century ago are now much cleaner. We have a long way to go, of course, and global warming in particular is extremely daunting, but we have reason for hope.
I'm encouraged that creation care is now far more normative a value for Christians to embrace. I remember the commemoration of Earth Day 1990 during my senior year of high school, and it struck me that my church mentioned nothing about it whatsoever. I asked my pastor about it later, and he said something along the lines of it being a secular event, not a Christian one, not a priority for Christians. That seemed to me to be an example of where Christians have abdicated their responsibility of environmental stewardship and ceded it to the pantheists and New Agers. If anyone should be reclaiming the emphasis on creation care, it should be evangelical Christians. After all, to put it in terms more familiar to evangelicals, creation care is a pro-life issue. Bad environmental stewardship is harmful to millions of humans around the world, not to mention all the supporting ecosystems. Care for the earth is care for people, especially those in developing nations who are most vulnerable to diseases caused by lack of access to clean water supply.
Creation care is both a personal and systemic issue. If systems aren't in place, it's difficult for individuals and communities to practice good stewardship. I notice this whenever I'm at conference centers that don't have recycling bins. We're very diligent at home about recycling because the systems and bins are in place. But while traveling, it's so much easier to be wasteful. I remember one year at a staff conference that didn't have recycling, one of my colleagues very carefully packed up all of her empty plastic water bottles in her suitcase to take home to recycle. I was encouraged that many Urbana delegates put their recyclables on top of garbage cans rather than tossing them in a message to the convention center - please recycle!
For suburban Christians in particular, I think one of the most significant issues is suburban commuter culture. The physical geography of suburbia is designed for cars, and we often have no choice but to drive everywhere. So one of the best things we can do from a stewardship perspective is to do what we can to consolidate our lives as much as possible so that we live, work, shop and worship all in the same local community, whether that's a three-mile radius or a five-mile radius or whatever of our home. Not only will that cut down on fuel use, it also helps anchor us in local neighborhoods instead of being fragmented across a metro area. And there are many things we can do to counter the environmental waste of our consumer culture; my wife and I recently began bringing reusable canvas tote bags to the grocery store.
If you're not yet convinced of the significance of the issue or were not persuaded by An Inconvenient Truth, take a look at any number of good Christian resources on the topic, from Edward Brown's new Our Father's World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation to older books like Redeeming Creation, The Care of Creation and For the Beauty of the Earth. The Evangelical Environmental Network issued this declaration last year spelling out the significance of the issue, and it's gratifying to see so many evangelical leaders signing it (and a little annoying to see others pooh-pooh it). At any rate, let's do what we can to be good stewards of God's good creation. And let the earth rejoice!