3555SCOBA Hierarchs Endorse Statement on the Environment
- Jul 21 8:29 PMPublished 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
8 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10021
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