Why Creation Care Counts as Missions

In October of 2008, Manila, Philippines was hit by two massive typhoons. According to some reports, 80% of the city experienced flooding, much of it severe. Homes were inundated to the top of the second floor that had never been flooded before. Over 1500 people lost their lives.

On the heels of these storms, an environmental seminar, “Hear the Call to Care for Creation” was held that had been planned almost a year earlier. From homes still damaged by flood waters, more than 70 people spent two days together seeking to understand what God might be saying through what was generally understood to be an environmental disaster.

“This is God’s timing,” said Alice Pineda, director of the sponsoring organization. “We are experiencing the results of sins against the environment, [and] it is time for the Philippine church to address this problem more intentionally and concretely.”

Sins against Creation

Many of the world’s ills – from poverty to political instability – arise from a rapidly intensifying environmental crisis, or to put it in theological terms: sins against God’s creation. Church leaders in the Philippines understood that their recent trials were not due to an ‘act of God’. Typhoons are not pleasant, but they are an indispensable part of God’s creation. However, God has also provided forests to absorb rainfall and wetlands to act as flood barriers when typhoons come.

With most of the forest removed (the Philippines has less than 16% of its original forest remaining), with wetlands replaced by culverts channeled through the middle of Manila, whose population is now more than 10 million, and the storms’ intensity aggravated by climate change, the consequences of accumulated ‘environmental sin’ are obvious.

The Philippines are not alone. Mudslides in Haiti, drought in Kenya, failing wells in India: all signs that environmental abuse increases human suffering. And it is not possible to alleviate that suffering without dealing with that underlying cause. We cannot truly ‘love our neighbor’ without addressing environmental issues.

A God-centered Response

There’s another, just as compelling reason for making the environmental crisis a priority of Christian missions and ministry: As with most human problems, this crisis is rooted in sin. Ecological disaster is a result of human behavior that is selfish, prideful and greedy. A crisis that is caused by sin cannot be solved by science. A problem created by pride will not be corrected with policies.

The environmental crisis is the number one problem in the world for most people outside the church, but it is a crisis that cannot be solved without reference to God. As Paul says in Romans 9:14, ‘How can they call on the One they have not believed in?’ This is one crisis that will not and cannot be resolved without the leadership of the church. It is a sin problem, and there is only one answer to sin.

‘Environmental missions’ is, quite simply, an effort to connect the problem of the environmental crisis with the solution of God’s redemption. Further, it is an opportunity for people in the church who love God’s creation to connect that love with love for God and love for people.

Good Theology, Sound Science, an Integrated Plan

What might a God-centered response to the environmental crisis look like? First, it has to be rooted in good theology. That is, we need a solid biblical understanding of God’s redemptive plan that understands that God’s goal goes beyond human salvation to include all of creation (see Colossians 1:15-20 and Romans 8:18-24). Second, our response has to bring the best environmental and ecological science available to the task. God’s world is complex. We have learned to our regret that simple solutions which do not adequately understand how the world works can make things worse instead of better. And third, our response has to be integrated in every way – across geography, politics, disciplines and organizations. When a problem like deforestation in rural Kenya is driven by poverty in the slums of Nairobi, neither will be solved unless both can be resolved together.

A Call to this generation

If the church is to respond to this environmental crisis, we will need a massive mobilization of people like you: theologians who can articulate the Biblical call to full redemption to the worldwide church. Environmental scientists who can help us understand the problems and who can propose effective workable solutions. And yes, missionaries who can integrate and implement those solutions effectively through local church bodies around the world.

As one of the participants in the Manila seminar said, “My eyes have been opened to what we as God’s children have not done, but praise God we can still do!”

Ed Brown is executive director for Care of Creation Inc. and author of Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation, and When Heaven and Nature Sing.