I wonder whether we as Salvationists are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to share the message of hope—the message of salvation. You may have noticed, as I have, that there appears to be an increased awareness and concern about environmental issues in society. 

This is an area that may be a positive point of resonance with The Salvation Army. To share a common concern for earth with those who are not Christians, and to reveal the message of love and hope that Jesus has for all of earth, has great potential for growing the kingdom of God (literally and spiritually).

As April 22 marks Earth Day, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on this theme. The first Earth Day was held on this date in 1970, which some credit as the beginning of the modern environmental movement. This idea of Earth Day can include a spiritual element. 

Religion and nature scholar Bron Taylor coined the term “dark green religion” to help describe “the belief that everything in the biosphere is interdependent, intrinsically valuable and sacred.”

Taylor has also argued that present in dark green religion is “a feeling of belonging to nature and kinship with its diverse life forms, and a corresponding sense of responsibility for their well-being.”

What this means is that for many in today’s world, people who may not have any experiences, or who have had negative experiences with Christianity, nature can form a substantial part of their spiritual reality. Subsequently, as humanity lives in and is part of nature, it is our ethical responsibility to love and care for the earth.

In this climate of increasing concern about the health of the planet, how do we, as Salvationists, relate to those who may identify or empathize with “dark green” ideologies? Do any Christians and Salvationists resonate with these ideas? What affinities, connections and understandings might there be?

Creation Versus the Creator
Unfortunately, for many “dark green” or environmentally concerned people, Christianity may have negative connotations. Aldo Leopold, a leading ecologist and environmental ethicist of the 20th century, asserted that “conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, more specifically noted that “Christians have denounced this idea as worshipping the creation and not the Creator. Yet in the name of the Creator, they have advocated the destruction of the creation.”

Many Christians also agree that there has been significant destruction of God’s creation. This is partly due to a reading of Scripture that prioritizes select verses like Genesis 1:26-28, in which humanity may be understood to “dominate” creation. In contrast, we see within Scripture, such as in Genesis 2, a broader narrative where humanity is seen more as being part of the earth. Here, we are called to care for it.

In An Inconvenient Text, Lutheran theologian Norman Habel questions whether Christians should reread the Bible with all of God’s creation in mind. He points to the story of Job as one where “God calls Job to listen, respect and be humble before nature—not to be arrogant.”

The theologian points us toward the way of Jesus, where “serving, rather than dominating, clearly stands in tension with the mandate to dominate in Genesis 1.” Habel argues that “the way of Jesus supersedes the mandate to dominate.”

The gospel as a whole, this “way of Jesus,” as Habel calls it, and the way of the cross indicate that having an attitude of service and humility, rather than power and exploitation, are the appropriate responses to the grace and love of God. The more we live out “the image of God,” the more likely we are to give a voice to the poor and marginalized, as well as the entirety of God’s creation.

A Vital Message
I wonder if the growth in environmental concern is a stirring within the hearts, to use John Wesley’s sentiment, of all sinners and Christians alike to join together in becoming more responsible, fill ourselves with grace and love, and to care more deeply for all of God’s creation. Could this “dark green” religious movement have emerged because of a lack of care for God’s earth within the church?

Considering the views of this “dark green” movement may help motivate us as the church to live out the full, holistic nature of the Christian faith. May we strive to convey holiness, healing, freedom and love to those who might otherwise be antagonistic toward the grace of the Creator.

Following in the way of Jesus is the main difference between “dark green” religion and the Christian faith. At the same time, there is reason to bridge the gap—to share the love of Christ to all.

Colossians 1:16-20 states, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth ... and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

What an exciting hope and incredible message we have, centred on the love of God and brought to earth by Christ. We have a hope that we can place in none other than the Creator of the vast cosmos.

Dr. Matt Seaman attends Nambour Corps and is a Salvation Army representative for the Qld Churches Environmental Network in Australia.

Reprinted with permission from others magazine.

Illustration: cienpies/iStock via Getty Images Plus

What stance does The Salvation Army take on protecting the environment?
The Salvation Army International Positional Statement holds to the conviction that people are made in the image of God and have been entrusted with the care of the earth and everything in it. Environmental degradation is not only a pressing issue, but its effects are felt mostly by vulnerable communities. Their health, livelihood, ability to find suitable shelter and opportunity to have choice are negatively impacted. The Salvation Army is concerned about the effects of environmental damage on present and future generations. Sustainable environmental practices are required to meet today’s global needs without compromising the lives of future generations.

How did we get here?
In the past century, the earth has suffered unprecedented levels of degradation resulting in unnatural changes to biodiversity, air and water pollution, ozone depletion and land destruction. Scientific opinion predicts that increased temperatures from human activity will lead to more extreme and less predictable weather patterns.

Coal, natural gas and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012. In 2040, liquid fuels, natural gas and coal are predicted to account for more than 75 percent of total world energy consumption.

The consumption of finite resources coupled with an increasing global population and industrial activities is unsustainable.

Why do we believe this?
The Salvation Army’s response to environmental issues is based on three principles:
  • God is the creator, governor and preserver of all things. We, as the people of God, share responsibility to care for creation and work to heal the world (see Genesis 2:15).
  • The relationship of God to creation is one of loving care and concern. Humanity’s stewardship of the earth is a reflection of God’s glory and we are to take care of it to that end (see Psalm 19:1-6).
  • The degradation of earth is, in part, the result of human activity and it is therefore our responsibility to work for its healing (see Isaiah 24:5-6) and to see that the most vulnerable are treated justly (see Micah 6:8).

How are we responding?
Here are six practical ways The Salvation Army is responding to environmental degradation:
  • Having an attitude as an organization that leads to a more responsible use of the environment and its resources.
  • Encouraging Salvationists to reflect on current and best practice toward the use of the environment and its resources.
  • Enacting environmental policies and practices such as recycling, environmentally sensitive purchasing and waste management practices, and developing innovative ways to reduce the destructive use of natural resources.
  • Making training and education available to Salvationists to improve their environmental practices.
  • Providing practical care and advocacy for those who are impacted by damaging environmental situations.
  • Seeking opportunities to partner with governments, people and organizations who are working toward a common goal of sustainability and environmental care.

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