What does it mean to care for creation?

 on April 1, 2018

The Anglican Communion’s fifth Mark of Mission calls us to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth.” But what does it mean to be an earth-keeper, that first mandate given by God to humanity in Genesis?

In his reflection, Falling in Love with The Earth, professor Stephen Scharper of the University of Toronto’s School of the Environment calls us, as Christians, to find a new perspective where we redefine the meaning of creation care. He writes:

“This perspective suggests that the human strives not for domination of, but for harmony with, the rest of the created world, and that we as humans are participants rather than ‘master and commanders’ within the fabric of creation. This perspective also suggests that we can only be fully human, and fully true to our Christian calling, when the individual and communal elements of our social concerns are integrated to sustain all of creation… We are being invited to relationship – a relationship with all of creation that involves affection, compassion, celebration and joy. We are invited to fall in love with the Earth.”

This paradigm shift requires transforming our previous understanding of the concept of “progress,” which is our heritage from the industrial revolution and has resulted in a cultural acceptance of domination of the earth and its resources. Jesus and his disciples travelled light, so we must ask ourselves: are we living in a way that is ultimately sustainable on this earth? What are the moral and ethical dimensions of what it would mean to build a culture and an economy of sustainability?

Increasingly, international development organizations like the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, World Vision and Doctors Without Borders have begun to report that climate change is a major cause of poverty and famine in the developing world – especially in the global south – and that the industrialized world is a major contributor to this.

At a conference on the environment in 2011, Dr. David Atkinson, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Norwich, said, “We are in bondage to a neo-liberal economic model of perpetual growth.” He called us instead to remember God’s covenant with us – God’s commitment of faithfulness to his promise, and our commitment to follow. The whole created order lives under God’s grace and under God’s judgement.

In 2011, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, meeting in Dublin, issued a statement on climate change. It included this call: “We encourage all Anglicans to recognize that global climatic change is real and that we are contributing to the despoiling of creation. We underline the increasing urgency of this as we see the impact of climate change in our provinces. We press government, industry and civil society on the moral imperative of taking practical steps towards building sustainable communities.”

At a meeting in Canterbury in 2017, the Primates once again addressed our changing climate, speaking about the hurricanes in the West Indies that caused severe destruction to homes, crops and infrastructure. They spoke about extreme weather in other parts of the world, food insecurity in Africa due to draught, and the disappearing islands in the South Pacific due to the melting of ice in the Antarctic. Thabo Makgoba, the archbishop of Southern Africa, encouraged his fellow Primates to think about “caring for where the lambs and the vulnerable are, and to make the linkages between social justice and climate justice.”

Our Christian calling is to “speak the truth in love,” so the need to speak to government is part of this justice-seeking. We need to begin to ask ourselves: how do we advocate for the earth and safeguard the integrity of creation? How do we help sustain and renew the life of the earth?

This fight for the integrity of the earth – to wean us off our dependence on oil and develop new technologies for sustainable sources of energy and conservation – is in many respects analogous to the anti-slavery movement in Britain in the 18th century. The Church and the government at the time argued that the economy and people’s jobs would be sacrificed if slavery were ended. But justice and truth prevailed, and eventually that evil structure was formally ended.

Today, at a time of climate crisis, we who are people of hope and followers of Christ’s call to love justice and seek mercy, must speak out on behalf of the creation. We are members of the “beloved community” which has struggled throughout history for class, racial, and gender equality and justice, in the Church and in society. Our voice needs to be heard in advocating for the earth, our island home in the universe.


  • Diane Marshall

    Diane Marshall is a registered psychotherapist, a member of the Diocesan Creation Matters Committee, and parishioner of St. Peter and St. Simon the Apostle, Toronto.

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