It is no news that the Christian church is divided. Pick an issue – theories of the atonement, view of Scripture, women’s role in the church, abortion, gender identity – and you will find a spectrum of differing opinions. Even more tragic: people on one side often view the others with anything from mild discomfort to outright hostility. We often find it difficult to dialogue, to humbly and openly engage with others’ perspectives, and to find the common ground on which we can move forward together.
I don’t claim that taking care of the earth is any different. Here, too, Christians are divided, with some claiming that we have little obligation to the earth because it will all be destroyed in the end anyway, while voices like Pope Francis and Desmond Tutu speak for countless others in the faith when they call us take up responsibility for “our common home”.
Could it be that taking care of the planet can be a means of bringing the vast diversity of the “house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15) together? Could it be that our “common ground” is real ground, real air, real water? It’s the basic elements of existence we all share and need to live. We can debate Christus Victor and penal substitution theories all we like, but at the end of our debate, we will still need to quench our parched mouths. Will it be polluted? Will it be accessible? Will there be enough? As industrial waste contaminates water systems, and as climate change builds momentum and drought conditions exacerbate the world over, these questions are not merely theoretical. They are affecting millions of people around the world, from California to India to Syria, many of whom are our brothers and sisters in the faith. And as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). We are one family, and large parts of that family are facing increasing ecological hardship, to which the bonds of kinship call us to respond.
If we’re talking about the “house of God”, though, it’s helpful to remember that the origin of the word “ecology” is the Greek oikos, meaning “house”. “Ecology” literally translated means “study of the house”. Earth-keeping is not only a call intended for all of God’s people, but it is a call to love and protect the “house” we share with every human being and every living creature. The whole of creation is God’s house, the place God’s glory dwells, for “heaven is my throne and the earth my footstool” (Acts 7:49). So the choice is ours: will we work together and live as respectful tenants, watching over one another with tenderness and care? Or will we close our eyes and bicker while our fellow householders suffer?
I believe we can choose the better way.
-Jason Wood, Earthkeepers