One of my fondest childhood memories was story time with my growing mother. We always read before bed and I loved picking out the book.
Stories have a way of imprinting themselves on us. I have been told sacred stories from my childhood throughout my journey into adulthood in the church. I was comforted by the story of a God who created the Earth (Gen 1: 1-2: 4). I loved that next to this creation story there was another one with this beautiful garden and a gardening God who got into the dirt taking care of creation (Gen 2: 4b-25 ). Holding these two stories together allowed me to deeply understand that I belonged to the Earth and that I belonged to a God who called me to take care of it. I was part of God’s story.
The biblical texts and their compelling call to be good stewards of the Earth are inextricably woven into the fabric of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. As I grew in my disciple life, the connection between sacred stories and sacred times with creation deepened my faith. Many summers of counseling young disciples in the sacred grounds of Christian camps have shown me the powerful testimony that land and water have for our spiritual development. But, sometimes I find Christian communities treat caring for the Earth as another area of concern for some in the congregation. However, there is no part of our discipleship that can be separated from our calling to be good stewards of the Earth and to care for those who have been made vulnerable in our community. I often meet well-meaning people who proudly claim Christianity while standing up for behaviors and systems that harm the earth. In our polarized political climate, it is difficult to engage in conversations about climate justice and its important place in Christian discipleship without aggravating a political identity that can shut off the conversation altogether.
Jesus met injured people and used creation stories and illustrations as a way to restore the fragments of their lives to their entirety. Jesus used a mustard seed to illustrate the kind of God, showing how a small seed could impact an entire community (Matthew 13: 31-32). Jesus’ actions and stories aroused controversy within his own religious community and made him a target of the empire. The community that Jesus created had values that centered their work and their impact on service to the poor. In Greek, the word for poor is πτωχός (ptochos). In Luke 4: 18-19 (NRSV), Jesus made his commitment clear.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he anointed me
bring good news to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim liberation to the captives
and sight recovery for the blind,
liberate the oppressed,
proclaim the Lord’s year of grace.
In verse 18, “good news for the poor” can be better translated as “good news for those who have been impoverished”. This change of language paints a very different picture from that of the generally understood poor. This account with Greek meant that there was a system at play which had created poverty. And that the community that Jesus came to earth to create was entirely dedicated to those who suffered the oppression of this system and needed to be released from it.
What does this focus on “those who have been impoverished” mean? to do with the care of creation? The short and ugly truth is that we live and occupy land that belongs to a people who have not abandoned it. We are linked through our baptisms to the community of vulnerable people, Christian or not. Jesus made no distinction. In fact, our greatest act of evangelism is solidarity in liberation, not the conversion of doctrine or ideas. We who embrace a Christian lifestyle and a commitment to the Good News must address the issues of our native brothers and sisters. Climate, care of the land, fair management of its resources and protection of communities and their interests that have been made vulnerable by extraction empires are therefore Christian issues and responsibilities.
My hope is that other Christian readers will hear the call to discipleship and grapple with the realities of what it means to occupy land and benefit from the harm done to them and its indigenous peoples, historically and today. I hope more Christians will recognize their community responsibility and start taking action for climate justice.
Reverend Kristin Wolf Peters is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is the interfaith organizer and member of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition.