As we approach the end of 2013, it is worth reflecting on the progress churches have made in the past year in following creation care practices. Creation care is the concept that God created the world and we should take care of it. The Biblical foundation for this is strong, notably evident in Genesis 2:15, when God gave man the responsibility to tend the Garden of Eden. Since then, our stewardship report card has been spotty at best.
Where We Are
Jerry Lawson, of Energy Star's Small Business and Congregations Network, part of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., has been observing the movement of green practices in churches for more than 15 years. Similarly, for the past decade Rev. Fletcher Harper has been witnessing the evolution of the creation care movement throughout America's churches as executive director of GreenFaith, a Highland Park, N.J.-based national interfaith environmental coalition that helps diverse faith communities put their beliefs into action for the earth. Lawson and Harper agree: there has been significant cultural movement toward engaging creation care.
As Harper says, "There has been 10 years of consistent growth in care of creation; it's a movement with a lot of momentum behind it now."
Lawson highlights how practically every faith tradition is embracing the message to be good stewards of God's creation, with continued growth in individual denominations and groups like GreenFaith, the Evangelical Environmental Network based in New Freedom, Pa., and the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life in New York. In this light, Harper exposes how the creation care movement is now present in many different theological and ideological backgrounds, including those [that] are more conservative. Harper attributes this subtle trend to a greater cultural movement, believing that churches that do not focus on good stewardship will fall behind in their ability to engage the community. While both Lawson and Harper agree there is cultural momentum, they also believe there is much room for improvement.
Ultimately, the church world needs to meditate on James 1:22 "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."
There [may need] to be a shift from preaching to practicing. Lawson and Harper are quick to point out that there is plenty of low-hanging fruit for energy efficiency and conservation. The resources for this are plentiful, including Energy Star (www.energystar.gov/buildings/sector-specific-resources/congregation-resources) and GreenFaith (www.greenfaith.org/resource-center/stewardship) resources for congregations as the tip of the iceberg.
Harper reveals, "In America, religious institutions own and manage at least as much real estate as all eating establishments." With this amount of space, having all faith traditions embrace the call to good stewardship would make a dramatic impact. At the end of the day, however, we are behind. Rather than stewardship being something we occasionally talk about, it needs to become a priority and tackled with a sense of urgency, Lawson and Harper conclude.