By Megan Grindstaff
Environmentalism is oftentimes thought of as a social or political issue, but environmentalism reveals itself as an issue of faith when Christians analyze biblical text and apply the idea of stewardship to the earth.
Baylor staff members Smith Getterman, Susan Bratton and Burt Burleson hope to help students make the connection between their faith and their green responsibilities.
“This is an issue of how we are living our lives, how people see us as Christians living our lives, appreciating and worshipping God and the creation that he gave us,” said Getterman, assistant director of sustainability and special projects.
At a Faith Forum in January, Dr. Susan Bratton, professor of environmental science, showed students how Biblical texts indicate the Christian responsibility to preserve the environment. In Genesis, God creates man from the earth and commands Adam and Eve to be caretakers of the Garden of Eden. In the New Testament, Jesus does his preaching outside, in nature in Matthew 5-7, The Sermon on the Mount. Examples of stewardship and reverence for the earth permeate the Bible. In modern ministry, water is a renewing symbol during baptism, Bratton said.
Current Baylor students have grown up in an age of environmental awareness. According to EnvironmentalHistory.org, the ‘90s featured huge strides toward environmental consciousness. In 1990, 76 percent of Americans identified themselves as “environmentalists” in a Gallup poll. During President Bill Clinton’s time in office, he protected 58 million acres of national forest, earning him a conservation record second only Theodore Roosevelt. Students have been exposed to basic green ideas, like recycling and water conservation, their entire lives, so as millennials, it is easy to take the green movement for granted.
“With regard to environmentalism, what happened was, for the most part, the church reflected the values of the culture, which is not at all unusual,” said university chaplain Burt Burleson. “The church is sitting in the culture all the time and can be coopted by it.”
Amid contemporary political and social movements for a more sustainable society, Christians can use their faith to shape their relationship with the earth.
“When we think of things like water or paper or technology, we often write our Christianity off,” Bratton said in her lecture. “We don’t think it can really inform us on something we think is a technical issue.”
Churches can start by taking small environmentally conscious steps, like recycling bulletins and making modest decisions regarding lighting and air conditioning. Organizations like the Evangelical Environmental Network are actively working to tie together Christian ministry and sustainable practices. Churches can take even more initiative by incorporating environmentalism into the message on Sunday morning, Getterman said.
“To not do a sermon at least once every few years on God in the environment is really missing a big piece of the pie here,” Getterman said.
Individuals can make a big difference through small changes, like the length of a shower or the temperature at which you set the air conditioning. Getterman sees environmental efforts, like recycling a can or taking a shorter shower, as little acts of worship. Acting in a way that respects the environment shows appreciation for God’s creation, Getterman said.
To turn these efforts into daily habits will take effort, but the dividends to be reaped are well worth it, Burleson said. Baylor students who live off campus have to work particularly hard to be green, because they do not always have access to recycling.
“There is no such thing as real love that does not involve sacrifice,” Burleson said. “In my mind, that is the message of the cross.”