When I was in high school, I got a “do not disturb” door-knob sign thingy from an interfaith environmentalist conference. On it was a charming illustration of several smiling animals sitting on top of a little earth floating in space. Below the image was this line from 1 Timothy 6:20: “guard what has been entrusted to your care.”
That made sense then. But now, something troubles me about the whole rhetoric of stewardship that characterizes the Christian environmental movement. Don’t get me wrong: I love the fact that the faith community is finally stepping up to the plate when it comes to environmental issues. But I think that stewardship isn’t really the best way to be thinking about it.
Some of the most beautiful and edgy teachings of Jesus have to do with compassion, equality, and humbleness. To me, the rhetoric of stewardship is actually a rhetoric of dominance, hierarchy, and submission, all of which are quite contrary to what has been revealed to us about the Peaceable Kin-dom. I see it as the modern equivalent of the “White Man’s Burden:” we were put on this earth to care for the poor unfortunate beings who are lower than us on the food chain.
I realize that Genesis has clearly stipulated that man should "rule" and "subdue" the natural world. I can't argue with that fact. However, I do know that the Living God continues to speak to us today, and these new revelations say otherwise. I have seen no evidence that the other living beings on this planet and the delicate soil, air, and water that sustain us are supposed to submit to our dominance. The rhetoric of stewardship—guarding what has been entrusted to our care—makes us ignore the obvious evidence: we humans are not, actually, the Lords of Earth. We are not its parents or its caretakers, although we have unfortunately become its destroyers. The fact of the matter is that creation would get along fine without our meddling and our pretenses to greatness.
I mean, who are we to lord it over the earth? We who are broken, confused, selfish, delusional, detached? I think that we need to shift our attention away from notions of stewardship and begin to focus instead on healing and restoration. It seems to me that healing ourselves goes hand in hand with healing the whole. This might be where we can begin to find a new rhetoric for Christian environmentalism.
Haven’t we realized that all things on earth are ecologically connected as though everything were one, big, living, breathing organism? Modern science has shown us this. Centuries ago, John revealed something similar: all of creation is united by the thrumming logos of the Creator that undervibrates all things and ignites them with breath and motion and pure being-ness. When we really take all this to heart, then, environmentalism becomes not a collection of acts We perform for Others but a way of living that emerges naturally from a realization of the kinship of all created things, as animated by the Creator. If Paul has called the church the body of Christ, then, would it be too far off to call the Earth the body of God?
Now, I don’t want to take the next step and make the simplistic claim that by abusing the earth we are abusing God. What I do want to say is that I have found all my fellow creatures to be my brothers and sisters, to be those very beings that Jesus commanded us to love as ourselves. If we extend to the rest of the natural world that radical love that dissolves arbitrary borders and boundaries, we find an unsettling assignment, one that far transcends any notion of stewardship or even the green guilt-tripping of secular environmentalism. God—once again—challenges us to work for the compassionate relief of the suffering of all created things, human or not. As in many areas, we have disrupted a delicate balance. How can we work to create and restore the balanced wholeness of the Peaceable Kin-dom here on our suffering earth? What am I personally willing to do to make it happen?