REAL Creation Care? Or Just More Words and Trees Gone?

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Weighing in at 114 pages, including a biblically complete number of seven appendices, the Creation Stewardship Task Force Report (Agenda for Synod 2012, pp. 287-411) is the physical heavyweight of all reports this year. I wonder if anyone else picked up the irony that the issue it carefully deals with also results in using more natural resources in its publication than any other on the docket.

Perhaps that is an unavoidable, maybe helpful irony, precisely because it so poignantly illustrates the environmental pickle we have got ourselves into as the human race: If we wish to be careful stewards of God’s creation, is there any way not to use more resources in teaching and encouraging humanity to do more than reuse, reduce and recycle?

This lengthy yet readable report marks one of many efforts that the CRC has brought environmental issues to the denomination and church community. Already in the early 1980 the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship produced the pioneering study in Christian environmental studies and involvement with Earthkeeping (Eerdmans, 1980), later revised. (Fittingly, the chair of this task force is Calvin B. De Witt, a member of the team of scholars that produced Earthkeeping.) The Since then Faith Alive Resources has published its fair share of materials to teach and encourage creation care. In 2008 Classis Niagara presented an overture to synod (Agenda, 2008, pp. 269-274) on this issue. In response, “synod instructed the Board of Trustees to establish and maintain a webpage with up-to-date eco-justice resources” (Agenda 2012, p. 290). (Again I wonder: Do webpages and electronics use more resources than print and mailing efforts? Sorry….)

No matter the answer to that realistic, if somewhat cynical query, this report is bound to cause a long and, one hopes, substantive discussion at synod. It pretty well covers the waterfront of ecological issues, from concrete analyses of “The current status of creation,” with examples of degradation taken from around the globe—from the Artic to the Sahel to Pacific Ocean atolls and to the Bay of Bengal. Reports of species extinction and climate change are carefully documented. The reports’ authors are careful to a fault about not claiming outright that climate change is either part of a natural cycle or humanly caused. As one living 20 miles from New York’s infamous Love Canal, there is no doubt in my mind that humanity is fully capable of causing environment change and great damage locally and regionally. How examples of similar carelessness factors into global climatic alteration remains the big question, with often sharp lines dividing the debaters, both in and outside the CRC.

I am pleased to see environmental issues again on synod’s agenda. Creation care is vital issue to God’s people, since “the earth is the Lord’s [not OURS] and everything in it.” Yet difficult questions might cause despair or inaction: Will the sharp divisions also define the discussion at Synod 2012? Will we merely give homage again to the bandaids of reducing, recycling and reusing? Will we look seriously and deeply into changing lifestyles? Yet, if we do the last and even succeed in it, what about the nearly 9 billion people who aren’t part of the CRC? Will what we do matter in the bigger picture? Or will we do some right things regardless, just because we believe and want to live like our word does belong to God?

Posted in: Synod; Blog Photo courtesy of Mark Knobil - http://www.flickr.com/photos/knobil/2858661908/in/photostream/ Image: See Credit

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While I too have a concern for creation stewardship, I also have a greater concern for the focus of our denomination.  Herman Dooyeweerd had it right when he stressed the importance of "sphere sovereignty."  The church should focus on "church stuff" and education on "education stuff" and science---well, you get the point.  The "stuff" of the church is first of all the proclamation and promotion of the Gospel of Christ.  It seems that the focus of the CRC has been moving more and more in directions, though good in themselves, that are other than their sphere.  That concerns me since this is exactly how the mainstream denominations slipped into irrelevance and lost their ecclesiastical "way."

Ken Van De Griend

On the other hand we probably don’t need to be too concerned with an overemphasis on creation care in the CRC.  I think if we counted up all of the sermons, Sunday school, and catechism classes given over the last year in the CRC that focused on creation care--as a response of gratitude for God’s grace and as a way to show love to our neighbors--their percentage of the total number would be pretty low.  In my opinion, being concerned about these issues probably won’t cause the CRC to lose its way; divorcing the issue from the lens of scripture probably could.       

Kris: Respectfully, how would you possibly know what you assert when you say: "sermons, Sunday school, and catechism classes given over the last year in the CRC that focused on creation care--as a response of gratitude for God’s grace and as a way to show love to our neighbors--their percentage of the total number would be pretty low."

I only have my anecdotal experience, but I wouldn't say that "creation care" (whether by that more fashionable term or otherwise) has not been appropriately covered in the CRC churches I've been a part of.  Now, I'm quite certain that the conclusions pushed by this report have not been also pushed from the pulpit or in Sunday school, but if they were, I would have a pretty big objection to that, just as I do to much of this report.

Beyond that, consider how many CRC members are farmers, who tend to be professional experts at creation care (they actually do it).  I really don't think creation care is under-valued or under-articulated in the CRC community in general, unless of course you mean the particular set of conclusions this report comes to, which I would suggest represents (at least as to many parts) the thinking of only a very small percentage of CRC members.

But let's twist the analysis just a bit for illumination.  How many "sermons, Sunday school, and catechism classes given over the last year in the CRC ... focused on" the irresponsibility and immorality of our present generation of Americans stealing, using its government, from future generations by refusing to reduce entitlement benefits (even though such reductions reflect our actual available resources), given that borrowing from foreign sources to pay present levels of entitlements directly cause our future generations the unjust burden of having to pay that back?  We get the benefit and they get to pay?  Isn't that as much something our pulpits and sunday schools should be preaching/teaching about as whether we should encourage the government to do at this report does?  Indeed, if we run the government into the ground financially, that will trigger a world-wide depression, cause millions to die, create abject poverty for more millions, and disable pretty much any government from doing anything related to creation care.  Shouldn't we be hearing this message from our pulpits and in sunday school?  Why should some important political/economic/science issues get the CRCNA press but not others, and why should a very small subset of CRCNA members get to say what everyone in the CRCNA thinks?

The real answer of course is that our pulpits and sunday schools should be preaching/teaching NEITHER, and the CRCNA denomination should not be our political/economic/science proxy.  Making such a proxy out of the denomination (and a poor one at that) would diminish the CRCNA as a church institution, create division within our members, and distract the church (as institution) from doing what it is good at.  Yes, we should care for creation and we should do justice to others.  But pulpits, Sunday Schools, Synods, and CRCNA agencies should neither tell its members to buy into AGW alarmism, nor how to respond to the particulars of the federal government's budgets and over spending.

Right now, our denomination (though not our pulpits or sunday schools) is doing both and it should stop.

To clarify my comments above.  They are not meant to be taken as a criticism of the CRC or to devalue the many members, including farmers and the task force, who do great work in the area of creation care.  It is only anecdotal evidence for the sake of conversation on whether or not the CRC is in danger of overemphasizing creation care.  Apologies for any misunderstanding. 

I am so proud of our denomination for the serious scholarship being done in the area of creation care.  Good theology and scholarship applied in the area of ‘creation care’ does influence thinking and can lead to repentant patterns of behavior over time.  The mission heartbeat of God includes both the redemption of our polluted hearts ….and the redemption of our polluted rivers.  As people of biblical reformed theology we believe that all areas of life belong to the kingdom of God and are tended by His people.  Unfortunately, in many corners of evangelical Christianity whenever `creation care’ or the `environment’ is mentioned it is often assumed to be a ‘liberal’ or ‘mainline’ cause.  There are some churches that will not address `creation care’ or environmental concerns for fear that they will be labeled as ‘liberal’ and upset or annoy congregants.  Sadly creation care has become politically polarizing even in our churches.  Our children’s generation will be much less likely to engage with a church that does not take relevant care of the creation seriously.  And yes action is important… and change of long standing behaviors is the hard part right?!  My family has been trying to `reform’ in this area for several years now by taking small steps to save energy.  We have composted and recycled for a while …but next on our hit-list will be a large outdoor clothes-line to minimize the use of our clothes dryer.  Christopher Wright in his book ‘The Mission of God’s People’ says this:  “We cannot extract ourselves from the natural environment of the earth.  We were created as part of it and were created to care for it.  Whatever we do on earth, for good or ill, will have ecological impact because of the integration of human life and all other life on earth.  That is the way God arranged it, and we reap the consequences of our actions.  A greedy humanity will lead to a suffering earth-and a suffering earth will lead to a suffering humanity.”    Confession:  I like very long hot showers and the convenience of disposable Styrofoam cups that I don’t have to wash.  And I have to admit that often I feel entitled to those conveniences. They are a part of a life style that I have learned to assume and expect.  However, I am growing more uncomfortable with my entitlements.  And I believe the Spirit is giving me a growing concern to honor God by caring for his earth.  I often wonder about the next generation and if the earth they inherit will be cleaner than it is now.  Will the future earth be able to generously sustain more people and reflect more of God’s beauty?   Will my kids have to deal with the trash that I leave behind?   Someday I might have grandchildren and I also wonder if they will look me in the eye and say:  Granddad what did you and your generations do to care for the earth back in the `good old days’?  One of the core strengths of the CRC is our strong reformed scholarship and influence.  ‘Care of Creation’ is integral to our reformed heritage and how we teach and apply the whole gospel to a world desperately in need of comprehensive redemption.   Three cheers for a terrific work on `creation care’  being part of the synod agenda this year!!

To James D. Maybe we should ask the accountants at the CRCNA how much the corporate CRCNA spent on airline travel for the last ten years. Year by year so we could see the growth. Or if stewardly  the decline. "if somewhat cynical query," as per your comment.

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