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3555SCOBA Hierarchs Endorse Statement on the Environment

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Jul 21, 2005
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      Published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, July 8, 2005

      SCOBA Hierarchs Endorse Statement on the Environment

      July 8, 2005

      A group of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant theologians, convened in
      Washington, DC by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA,
      released a letter recently calling all Christians to reject teachings that
      suggest humans are "called" to exploit the Earth without care for how our
      behaviour impacts the rest of God's creation.

      This letter, reprinted below, was endorsed by the hierarchs of the Standing
      Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) at their
      meeting in New York City, on June 21, 2005, following its approval by the
      SCOBA Social and Moral Issues Commission, and recommendation by the SCOBA
      Study and Planning Commission.



      God's Earth is Sacred:
      An Open Letter to Christians in the United States


      God's creation delivers unsettling news. Earth's climate is warming to
      dangerous levels; 90 percent of the world's fisheries have been depleted;
      coastal development and pollution are causing a sharp decline in ocean
      health; shrinking habitat threatens to extinguish thousands of species;
      over 95 percent of the contiguous United States forests have been lost; and
      almost half of the population in the United States lives in areas that do
      not meet national air quality standards. In recent years, the profound
      danger has grown, requiring us as theologians, pastors, and religious
      leaders to speak out and act with new urgency.

      We are obliged to relate to Earth as God's creation "in ways that sustain
      life on the planet, provide for the [basic] needs of all humankind, and
      increase justice." Over the past several decades, slowly but faithfully,
      the religious community in the United States has attempted to address
      issues of ecology and justice. Our faith groups have offered rich
      theological perspectives, considered moral issues through the lens of
      long-standing social teaching, and passed numerous policies within our own
      church bodies. While we honor the efforts in our churches, we have clearly
      failed to communicate the full measure and magnitude of Earth's
      environmental crisis - religiously, morally, or politically. It is
      painfully clear from the verifiable testimony of the world's scientists
      that our response has been inadequate to the scale and pace of Earth's
      degradation.

      To continue to walk the current path of ecological destruction is not only
      folly; it is sin. As voiced by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who has
      taken the lead among senior religious leaders in his concern for creation:
      "to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For humans to cause
      species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God's
      creation...for humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes
      in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forest, or destroying
      its wetlands...for humans to injure other humans with disease...for humans
      to contaminate the Earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life, with
      poisonous substances...these are sins." We have become un-Creators. Earth
      is in jeopardy at our hands.

      This means that ours is a theological crisis as well. We have listened to a
      false gospel that we continue to live out in our daily habits - a gospel
      that proclaims that God cares for the salvation of humans only and that our
      human calling is to exploit Earth for our own ends alone. This false gospel
      still finds its proud preachers and continues to capture its adherents
      among emboldened political leaders and policy makers.

      The secular counterpart of this gospel rests in the conviction that humans
      can master the Earth. Our modern way of life assumes this mastery. However,
      the sobering truth is that we hardly have knowledge of, much less control
      over, the deep and long-term consequences of our human impacts upon the
      Earth. We have already sown the seeds for many of those consequences. The
      fruit of those seeds will be reaped by future generations of human beings,
      together with others in the community of life.

      The imperative first step is to repent of our sins, in the presence of God
      and one another. This repentance of our social and ecological sins will
      acknowledge the special responsibility that falls to those of us who are
      citizens of the United States. Though only five percent of the planet's
      human population, we produce one-quarter of the world's carbon emissions,
      consume a quarter of its natural riches, and perpetuate scandalous
      inequities at home and abroad. We are a precious part of Earth's web of
      life, but we do not own the planet and we cannot transcend its requirements
      for regeneration on its own terms. We have not listened well to the Maker
      of Heaven and Earth.

      The second step is to pursue a new journey together, with courage and joy.
      By God's grace, all things are made new. We can share in that renewal by
      clinging to God's trustworthy promise to restore and fulfill all that God
      creates and by walking, with God's help, a path different from our present
      course. To that end, we affirm our faith, propose a set of guiding norms,
      and call on our churches to rededicate themselves to this mission. We
      firmly believe that addressing the degradation of God's sacred Earth is the
      moral assignment of our time comparable to the Civil Rights struggles of
      the 1960s, the worldwide movement to achieve equality for women, or ongoing
      efforts to control weapons of mass destruction in a post-Hiroshima world.

      Ecological Affirmations of Faith

      We stand with awe and gratitude as members of God's bountiful and good
      creation. We rejoice in the splendor and mystery of countless species, our
      common creaturehood, and the interdependence of all that God makes. We
      believe that the Earth is home for all and that it has been created
      intrinsically good (Genesis1).

      We lament that the human species is shattering the splendid gifts of this
      web of life, ignoring our responsibility for the well being of all life,
      while destroying species and their habitats at a rate never before known in
      human history.

      We believe that the Holy Spirit, who animates all of creation, breathes in
      us and can empower us to participate in working toward the flourishing of
      Earth's community of life. We believe that the people of God are called to
      forge ways of being human that enable socially just and ecologically
      sustainable communities to flourish for generations to come. And we believe
      in God's promise to fulfill all of creation, anticipating the
      reconciliation of all (Colossians 1:15), in accordance with God's promise
      (II Peter 3:13).

      We lament that we have rejected this vocation, and have distorted our
      God-given abilities and knowledge in order to ransack and often destroy
      ecosystems and human communities rather that to protect, strengthen, and
      nourish them.

      We believe that, in boundless love that hungers for justice, God in Jesus
      Christ acts to restore and redeem all creation (including human beings).
      God incarnate affirms all creation (John 1:14), which becomes a sacred
      window to eternity. In the cross and resurrection we know that God is drawn
      into life's most brutal and broken places and there brings forth healing
      and liberating power. That saving action restores right relationships among
      members of "the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).

      We confess that instead of living and proclaiming this salvation through
      our very lives and worship, we have abused and exploited the Earth and
      people on the margins of power and privilege, altering climates,
      extinguishing species, and jeopardizing Earth's capacity to sustain life as
      we know and love it.

      We believe that the created world is sacred - a revelation of God's power
      and gracious presence filling all things. This sacred quality of creation
      demands moderation and sharing, urgent antidotes for our excess in
      consumption and waste, reminding us that economic justice is an essential
      condition of ecological integrity. We cling to God's trustworthy promise to
      restore, renew, and fulfill all that God creates. We long for and work
      toward the day when churches, as embodiments of Christ on Earth, will
      respond to the "groaning of creation" (Romans 8:22) and to God's passionate
      desire to "renew the face of the Earth" (Psalm 104.30). We look forward to
      the day when the lamentations and groans of creation will be over, justice
      with peace will reign, humankind will nurture not betray the Earth, and all
      of creation will sing for joy.

      Guiding Norms for Church and Society

      These affirmations imply a challenge that is also a calling: to fulfill our
      vocation as moral images of God, reflections of divine love and justice
      charged to "serve and preserve the Garden (Genesis 2:15). Given this charge
      and the urgent problems of our age-from species extinctions and mass
      poverty to climate change and health-crippling pollution -how shall we
      respond? What shall we be and do? What are the standards and practices of
      moral excellence that we ought to cultivate in our personal lives, our
      communities of faith, our social organizations, our businesses, and our
      political institutions? We affirm the following norms of social and
      environmental responsibility:

      Justice-creating right relationships, both social and ecological, to ensure
      for all members of the Earth community the conditions required for their
      flourishing. Among human members, justice demands meeting the essential
      material needs and conditions for human dignity and social participation.
      In our global context, economic deprivation and ecological degradation are
      linked in a vicious cycle. We are compelled, therefore, to seek
      eco-justice, the integration of social justice and ecological integrity.
      The guest for eco-justice also implies the development of a set of human
      environmental rights, since one of the essential conditions of human
      well-being is ecological integrity. These moral entitlements include
      protection of soils, air, and water from diverse pollutants; the
      preservation of biodiversity; and governmental actions ensuring the fair
      and frugal use of creation's riches.

      Sustainability - living within the bounds of planetary capacities
      indefinitely, in fairness to both present and future generations of life.
      God's covenant is with humanity and all other living creatures "for all
      future generations" (Genesis 9:8-17). The concern for sustainability forces
      us to be responsible for the truly long-term impacts of our lifestyles and
      policies.

      Bioresponsibility - extending the covenant of justice to include all other
      life forms as beloved creatures of God and as expressions of God's
      presence, wisdom, power, and glory. We do not determine nor declare
      creation's value, and other creatures should not be treated merely as
      instruments for our needs and wants. Other species have their own
      integrity. They deserve a "fair share" of Earth's bounty - a share that
      allows a biodiversity of life to thrive along with human communities.

      Humility - recognizing, as an antidote to arrogance, the limits of human
      knowledge, technological ingenuity, and moral character. We are not the
      masters of creation. Knowing human capacities for error and evil, humility
      keeps our own species in check for the good of the whole of Earth as God's
      creation.

      Generosity - sharing Earth's riches to promote and defend the common good
      in recognition of God's purposes for the whole creation and Christ's gift
      of abundant life. Humans are not collections of isolated individuals, but
      rather communities of socially and ecologically interdependent beings. A
      measure of a good society is not whether it privileges those who already
      have much, but rather whether it privileges the most vulnerable members of
      creation. Essentially, these tasks require good government at all levels,
      from local to regional to national to international.

      Frugality - restraining economic production and consumption for the sake of
      eco-justice. Living lives filled with God's Spirit liberates us from the
      illusion of finding wholeness in the accumulation of material things and
      brings us to the reality of God's just purpose. Frugality connotes
      moderation, sufficiency, and temperance. Many call it simplicity. It
      demands the careful conservation of Earth's riches, comprehensive
      recycling, minimal harm to other species, material efficiency and the
      elimination of waste, and product durability. Frugality is the corrective
      to a cardinal vice of the age: prodigality - excessively taking from and
      wasting God's creation. On a finite planet, frugality is an expression of
      love and an instrument for justice and sustainability: it enables all life
      to thrive together by sparing and sharing global goods.

      Solidarity- acknowledging that we are increasingly bound together as a
      global community in which we bear responsibility for one another's well
      being. The social and environmental problems of the age must be addressed
      with cooperative action at all levels - local, regional, national and
      international. Solidarity is a commitment to the global common good through
      international cooperation.

      Compassion - sharing the joys and sufferings of all Earth's members and
      making them our own. Members of the body of Christ see the face of Christ
      in the vulnerable and excluded. From compassion flows inclusive caring and
      careful services to meet the needs of others.

      A Call to Action: Healing the Earth and Providing a Just and Sustainable
      Society

      For too long, we, our Christian brothers and sisters, and many people of
      good will have relegated care and justice for the Earth to the periphery of
      our concerns. This is not a competing "program alternative," one "issue"
      among many. In this most critical moment in Earth's history, we are
      convinced that the central moral imperative of our time is the care for
      Earth as God's creation.

      Churches, as communities of God's people in the world, are called to exist
      as representatives of the loving Creator, Sustainer, and Restorer of all
      creation. We are called to worship God with all our being and actions, and
      to treat creation as sacred. We must engage our political leaders in
      supporting the very future of this planet. We are called to cling to the
      true Gospel - for "God so loved the cosmos" (John 3:16) - rejecting the
      false gospels of our day.

      We believe that caring for creation must undergird, and be entwined with,
      all other dimensions of our churches' ministries. We are convinced that it
      is no longer acceptable to claim to be "church" while continuing to
      perpetuate, or even permit, the abuse of Earth as God's creation. Nor is it
      acceptable for our corporate and political leaders to engage in "business
      as usual" as if the very future of life-support systems were not at stake.

      Therefore, we urgently call on our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all
      people of good will, to join us in:

      Understanding our responsibilities as those who live within the United
      States of America - the part of the human family that represents five
      percent of the world population and consumes 25 percent of Earth's riches.
      We believe that one of the surest ways to gain this understanding is by
      listening intently to the most vulnerable: those who most immediately
      suffer the consequences of our overconsumption, toxication, and hubris. The
      whole earth is groaning, crying out for healing - let us awaken the "ears
      of our souls" to hear it, before it's too late.

      Integrating this understanding into our core beliefs and practices
      surrounding what it means to be "church," to be "human," to be "children of
      God." Such integration will be readily apparent in: congregational mission
      statements, lay and ordained ministries, the preaching of the Word, our
      hymns of praise, the confession of our sins, our financial stewardship and
      offerings to God, theological education, our evangelism, our daily work,
      sanctuary use, and compassionate service to all communities of life. With
      this integrated witness we look forward to a revitalization of our human
      vocation and our churches' lives that parallels the revitalization of God's
      thriving Earth.

      Advocating boldly with all our leaders on behalf of creation's most
      vulnerable members (including human members). We must shed our complacency,
      denial, and fears and speak God's truth to power, on behalf of all who have
      been denied dignity and for the sake of all voiceless members of the
      community of life.

      In Christ's name and for Christ's glory, we call out with broken yet
      hopeful hearts: Join us in restoring God's Earth - the greatest healing
      work and moral assignment of our time.


      Contact:
      SCOBA Office
      8 East 79th Street
      New York, NY 10021

      Phone: 212-570-3593
      Fax: 212-774-0202
      Email: scoba@...
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