Saturday, December 15, 2007

Riffing, Stewards and the Concept of Christian Economy...

Consider this post a riff on my wife's recent thoughts concerning Christianity and environmentalism.

In her post Jinny is essentially asking whether or not environmentalism should be at the core of a well constructed Christian morality. My answer to this is, not at all surprisingly, yes. It seems to me that God has created the world and that, as the most intelligent of his creatures, we have been given the responsibility of taking care of that world. This is a very easy case to make if I'm allowed to refer to the Christian story. All I have to do is tell the story of Genesis 1-2. If I were to have any trouble convincing people that taking care of the natural world is humanity's responsibility, one would consequently imagine that it would be people who don't believe in the Christian story. Strangely enough, however, that is not the case.

The people that I most often hear condemning environmental activism are conservative Christians. Please don't take this to mean that all conservative Christians are anti-green, or even that most of the conservative Christians I know are anti-green. I'm just saying that if I meet someone who thinks global warming and climate change are lefty propaganda, that person is usually a conservative Christian. This strikes me as not only wrong, but weird.

It seems that some Christians have lost touch with their own story. I think that this loss of connection might be related to the concept of stewardship that I grew up on. I'm not sure where exactly I picked it up, but at some point in my young, evangelical Christian life, I was given the impression that stewardship and being cheap were essentially the same thing. I was taught that as Christians we are supposed to be good stewards of the money that God has given us, which seemed to entail not being materialistic, getting good deals on everything, saving wisely, and, of course, giving to the church. That all sounds great on the surface, and some of it is perfectly good financial advice, but it doesn't really have much to do with stewardship.

Stewardship has nothing in particular to do with saving money or hoarding money or spending money or money at all for that matter. The relationship between stewardship and money is tangential at best. A steward takes care of someone else's possessions, that's his job. As I just mentioned, the argument for suggesting that humanity is meant to steward the earth and all that is in it is pretty easy to make if I can just quote Genesis I will.

26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." 29 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, [I have given] every green plant for food ";and it was so.

Now perhaps some daft fool will argue that this passage indicates that we as humans are allowed to do with nature as we will. Strictly speaking this may be true, a steward does indeed have the opportunity to piss away all that has been entrusted to him, but I feel fairly confident that the true master of this world will not look kindly on a race of stewards who destroy his creation. The world does not belong to us. It never did and it never will. It is someone else's possession, and consequently it seems to me high-time that we start treating it that way.

Do you know the Greek word that we translate as "steward"? It's oikonomos. Sound like any English words you know? Economy perhaps? Coincidentally it is this word, economy, that is most often sounded as the trumpet-call against more stringent environmental regulations. "It will destroy business," we are told. "It will damage the economy," cry the naysayers. Which economy? We have allowed the meaning of the word economy to be reduced to one single context, the world of capitalism. What if there are other kinds of economy? The Greek concept of economy has more to do with the management of a task or of a divine mandate. Maybe we as Christians need to untangle ourselves from our political and material task-masters and realize that their economy is not our economy. Our economy, the task for which we have been given responsibility, is to manage God's world in a way that honors him as its creator.

Given this alternative Christian economy, the question now becomes: How can we not be environmentally minded?