In the second chapter of Genesis, we read about how God fashions human beings from dust, places them in the Garden of Eden and gives them dominion over creation (Genesis 2:8). For some Christians this has long been interpreted to mean the power to dominate and possess absolute control. Instead of stewarding or conserving creation, this has led to widespread exploitation of the Earth’s riches and the subjugation of peoples to assert control over natural resources.
The creation narratives give no hint that humanity should plunder or endlessly aim to consume as much as possible. The achievement of creation is celebrated by God’s desire to share its abundance. After giving over the birds of the air, fish of the sea, creatures of the earth and livestock, God blesses humanity and gives them care of all that is good. In the New Testament, we read in 1 Peter that there is great responsibility in having dominion, as it does not give license to domineer, but rather to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
For most of my time as the director of Stewardship Development, the focus of my effort has been on assisting parishes to create an atmosphere of generosity among their membership to enable the resourcing of ministry. This means helping people understand their own giftedness and how those gifts can be shared among the church community and beyond. Unfortunately, this has been interpreted by some to mean fundraising for the Church. Or, more inaccurately, to make people feel uncomfortable that they are not giving enough. This is an unfortunate interpretation of what I try to impart. After all, what is a steward? They are the managers of the household, tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that adequate provision is made for the various routines necessary to run day-to-day operations.
The Church is not interested just in your time, talent and treasure – the oft repeated chorus of stewardship educators. These common elements are important in helping members of the Church understand their own giftedness and how that relates to supporting ministry. There is a fourth, however, that I have only just begun thinking about in earnest: terrain. Perhaps it’s because of the climate crisis or the relentless clutter in my own house, but the care of God’s creation needs to be at the top of our stewardship list for the others to matter.
I am reminded of the Marks of Mission as adopted by the Anglican Communion, in which the fifth states: “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the Earth.” There needs to be some acknowledgement that human beings, including Christians, have not been particularly good at living up to this standard. We were given care of the Earth’s bounty, and we have done a remarkable job of mucking things up.
This lack of regard for creation is symptomatic of our fallen nature. There is a reason we confess our shortcomings at church. We have indeed failed, and there is too much that we have done and left undone. But there is hope.
Climate scientists tell us that there is still time to reverse the centuries of neglect we have imposed on creation and avoid the worst that climate change might mean for humanity. Next month I will review some of the ways the Church can step up and demonstrate our stewardship of terrain.