By Tom Rowley, Executive Director of A Rocha USA
At a recent conference, keynote speaker, author and Professor of philosophy Kathleen Dean Moore, invited the audience to “give up hope” for the environment. At one end of the hope extreme, she said, is “hopelessness”: The problems are simply too big and too complex; nothing we do will matter. At the other end of the spectrum is “uninformed hope”: Everything will turn out all right; we don’t need to do anything.
Rather than hope, she argued, we need “moral integrity.” We must recognize that the roots of the ecological crises we face lie in our choices.
I agree with Moore that we do, in fact, need moral integrity. Indeed, we need the highest form of moral integrity; we need biblical integrity. I also agree that neither hopelessness nor uninformed hope is of any value. I stop short, however, of discarding hope. No need to toss the baby out with the bathwater.
As a pastor of mine once taught, we must define our terms. And so I clarify that by “hope”, I mean the confidence we place in Jesus Christ, in whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together, and through whom all things are reconciled to God. Christ’s already-but-not-yet Kingdom brings shalom to the created order—human and non-human alike. Though the battle rages on--species die off, the climate changes and people suffer—the war is over. Victory is assured.
Therefore, we have hope.
That hope, however, is far different from the all-is-well-sit-back-and-relax hope that Moore rightly cautions against. This hope leads to action. The exact nature of the action, of course, varies according to context.
Within the international family of A Rocha projects, the action ranges from restoring marshes and bird habitats to teaching children about creation and Creator, from growing vegetables for those in need to helping others in need create jobs, and more.
Individual and family action will likely involve what pastor and author Tri Robinson calls “decreasing the footprint and increasing the handprint.” Examples of a smaller footprint include reduced use of fossil fuels, reduced consumption of foods from far away and reduced consumption in general. (These examples are, admittedly, from an American lifestyle that consumes far more than our fair share of the earth’s resources.) On the handprint side of the equation are such things as replacing invasive species with native plants to improve habitat, using earth-friendly farming techniques, and working to clean and protect water bodies.
For churches, the action might start with preaching and teaching about God’s very good creation—both human and nonhuman alike—and the command to care for it. From there, the action might spread to include greening the facilities by changing out the light bulbs, using less water, and recycling. And for churches who are looking for still more action, hope might lead to partnering with other organizations in the community to clean a local stream, remove invasive plant species or even adopt the local watershed.
These, of course, are just a few of the myriad possibilities for hope-inspired action Christians can take to care for God’s wondrous yet beleaguered creation. Whatever the exact actions, however, it is vital to remember from whence our hope and therefore our strength come. The work can be hard. The results may be small or even invisible. We are called only to be faithful. God is in charge of the results. And that is reason to hope and to act.