Teaching by example
When it comes to creation care at George Fox, education is key.
“Teaching by example is one of the best things,” Corwyn Beals, professor of philosophy and religion, said. “The younger people are getting it. Students don’t have as many entrenched ways of doing things. You can show them new ideas that they are receptive to. We could potentially be a real leader in this. Creation care is part of who we are as Christians, and as a Christ-centered university, everything we do should be rightly related to creation.”
Beals’ interaction with college students became a focal point when he went to Washington D.C. to lobby for Earth Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the environment. One of his messages to top-level government officials: The death knell for single-issue politics is ringing louder every election.
“Yes, students care about things like abortion, but they also care about clean water and clean air,” Beals said. “It’s an exciting time.”
Daniel Brunner, professor of Christian history and formation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, uses his classroom to engage students with the implications of creation care. He cites influential scholar Ian Barbour as a model for how evangelicals can move from an antagonistic stance on science to one of dialogue. He then couples that with evangelical theology.
“If the Earth continues in its present degradation, there aren’t going to be people left to save,” he said. “The more we keep creation alive, the more we’ll have to bring into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s become, for me, my justice issue. Leonardo Boff and other theologians make the tie of environmental degradation and the condition of the poor. What are you going to do for those that everyone else has forgotten? We, as followers of Christ, don’t get to forget. In my humble opinion, this is the moral issue of our time.”
At the national level, the divide over creation care often comes down to political lines and rhetoric about choosing to care for people or trees.
“Should we care for the earth, or should we care for humans?” Beals said. “Do we save babies or save whales? If you back up and approach it like Jesus did, he usually changed the question. We are now starting to change the question. How does the way I treat whales affect the way I treat babies? All these things are connected.”
Beals isn’t the only one tying creation care to people care. Four years ago, the Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network, said that the way to get evangelicals interested in environmental issues is to show how global warming and mercury poisoning impact family health and the health of unborn children.
As scientific evidence grows about threats to the environment, and as the biblical message of creation care spreads, more Christians are convinced that “going green” is an important cause.
“It’s becoming more and more of a central spirituality for me,” Beals said. “How we relate to God, to others and to creation affects who we are as human beings. The third one gets cut off a lot.”
Beals, who has a love for getting his hands into soil, said that the theme of interacting with nature is scattered throughout the pages of the Bible.
“Gardening is one of the deepest metaphors,” he said. “Abide in me. It’s God’s deepest metaphor for intimacy. Gardening teaches you things that are very concrete. They are very humbling.”
Brunner can quickly rattle off numerous passages in the Bible to show that although people are the pinnacle of God’s creation, dominion shouldn’t equate to destruction.
“Everything Jesus taught us about dominion is about servanthood,” he said. “We’ve taken the Imago Dei as something that is a privilege, that the Earth and its resources are here to make us better, to serve us. Take Colossians 1:15-20. God has reconciled the world through Christ. We almost always think of the reconciliation for the person, but there is a biblical understanding that says that redemption is not just for humankind. There is a way in which the whole of creation will participate.”
The professors know that if large numbers of young evangelicals push for more environmentally friendly lifestyles, real change may be a possibility. Christians, no matter how marginalized they’ve become in the scientific realm, still make up large enough voting blocs for politicians to care about. Education about creation care in churches and classrooms may lead to a science-religion dialogue not seen since before the Scopes Trial.
“The environmental community knows that if faith communities are mobilized, change can happen,” Brunner said. “There is a power there that transcends anything their meager organizations can do.”