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Theologians Warn of 'False Gospel' on the Environment

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2005 In an effort to refute what they call a “false gospel” and to change destructive attitudes and actions concerning the environment, a group of theologians, convened by the National Council of Churches USA, today released an open letter calling on Christians to repent of “our social and ecological sins” and to reject teachings that suggest humans are “called” to exploit the Earth without care for how our behavior impacts the rest of God’s creation.

The statement, “God’s Earth is Sacred: An Open Letter to Church and Society in the United States,” points out that there is both an environmental and a theological crisis that must be addressed.

“We have listened to a false gospel that we continue to live out in our daily habits - a gospel that proclaims that God cares for the salvation of humans only and that our human calling is to exploit Earth for our own ends alone,” says the statement. “This false gospel still finds its proud preachers and continues to capture its adherents among emboldened political leaders and policy makers.”

The statement calls on Christians to take two important steps to enable socially just and ecologically sustainable communities for future generations: first, to “repent of our sins, in the presence of God and one another,” and, second, to pursue, “with God’s help, a path different from our present course.”

In its call to repentance, the statement confesses that, “we have abused and exploited the Earth and people on the margins of power and privilege, altering climates, extinguishing species, and jeopardizing Earth’s capacity to sustain life as we know and love it.” It goes on to identify eight norms to guide us on a new environmental path: justice, sustainability, bioresponsibility, humility, generosity, frugality, solidarity and compassion.

The NCC’s Eco-Justice Working Group decided to ask leading theologians to gather in the fall of 2004 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., to work on a theological statement to counter arguments that the environment is not an issue that should concern Christians. In order to produce a theologically grounded statement, the group issued invitations to theologians who were well versed in ecumenism and the doctrine of their own church bodies.

According to Father Chris Bender, an Orthodox priest who helped to bring the gathering together, “Some people say that the environment doesn’t matter” because the second coming of Christ will usher in the end of the world as we know it. “To make such a statement is the height of arrogance,” said Bender. “We don’t know when the Lord is coming back but we do know that one day we will have to give an account for making the environment unlivable for those who come after us and for those who are the poorest among us,” he said referring to the belief by Orthodox and other Christian churches that each person will have to stand before God and give an account of their actions. According to Bender how we treat God’s creation “will be on God’s agenda.”

Said the NCC’s Associate General Secretary for Faith & Order, Dr. Ann K. Riggs, “No one can read Scripture and deny that caring for creation is part of what God has asked us to do.” The Old Testament makes that point clear, she notes, adding, “There is nothing in the New Testament or early church traditions that suggest we no longer have to care for or protect creation. Care of creation is part of the Gospel,” she said as she expressed her excitement about the release of the statement and noted her hope that it will have a profound impact on both the Church and society.

In addition to refuting false teachings about the environment and calling Christians to repent, the statement also appeals to Christians and “all people of good will” to join together in understanding humans’ responsibility to care for creation, to integrate this understanding into what it means to be the church, and to advocate boldly on behalf of those most vulnerable to the negative effects of the global environmental crisis.

NCC President and Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop, Rev. Dr. Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., who participated in the gathering and applauded the release of the statement, said, “As humans, we have a tendency to desecrate earth and minimize the biodiversity of life. While theology is usually ahead of practice at least we must aim for a relevant theology that informs what we ought to be and do. Theology and ethics are joined here to the end that human communities may be more just and all of life may be respected,” asserted Hoyt.

The NCC hopes that the statement, “God’s Earth is Sacred,” will stimulate conversations in churches, seminaries, colleges, universities and throughout society.

“We will begin circulating this statement to all of our member churches and others to stress the importance and urgency to begin to change how we care for God’s creation,” said Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary. “From Genesis to Revelation it is clear that God has given us the responsibility to care and seek justice for all of God’s creation and we want to make sure that people in the pews are equipped to be ambassadors for this message and good stewards of the environment.”

The “God’s Earth is Sacred” statement is part of a growing religious awareness of humankind’s role in protecting creation. It was released on the heels of a grassroots campaign that just last week released “God’s Mandate: Care for Creation,” which was signed by more than 1,000 clergy and laypeople from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish traditions - and it came just before a broadbased effort on Feb. 16 to lift up the international Kyoto Protocol on climate change, an effort that included the participation of faith based groups.   See www.nccecojustice.org for the “God’s Mandate” statement and signatories, and “Christian Response to Kyoto” resources.

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Click here for the theological statement and the list of theologians issuing it.

Media Contact: Leslie Tune, (202) 544-2350, ext. 11, (202) 297-2191 (cell); Ltune@ncccusa.org


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