I’m currently beginning a long-term project on faith communities and the environment. I’m moved by a sentiment similar to that of David Orr, who puts matters this way: “The crisis of sustainability, the fit between humanity and its habitat, is manifest in varying ways and degrees everywhere on earth. It is not only a permanent feature of the public agenda; for all practical purposes it is the agenda.” To say that the ecological crisis should be the only thing on the public agenda is too strong. Nevertheless, I think the line from Orr properly suggests the seriousness of our situation.
What is especially interesting to me the way faith communities, as well as the organizations they support, have made positive contributions in this space and how this might be enhanced. There are good theological reasons for faith communities to do this. There is also the simple fact that sound environmental practice contributes to the common good. But why has this not been integral to the way more faith-based organizations serve their communities and the world at large? I’ve been thinking about these things in an informal way for a long time. For instance, as a college student I worked as an environmental educator and wilderness guide. Those who listen to me preach may have noticed that I try to be deliberate about crafting sermons that enhance our ecological awareness. The project I’m embarking on now, however, is intended to engage these issues more formally and more broadly. Here’s how the project is unfolding:
- In the fall of 2019, while on sabbatical from my pastoral responsibilities, I enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for the Environment. I completed courses in the economic, legal and scientific dimensions of the ecological crisis and related challenges of sustainability. Part of my rationale for doing this is develop a deeper understanding of the connections between these fields and the theology practiced and taught by communities of faith.
- I am now preparing to dig deeper into the experience of actual organizations. I’m curious why we’re currently seeing the development of new, faith-based organizations solely focused on environmental matters. Why, for example, has this sort of work not been high on the agenda of mission (or faith-based humanitarian) organizations? Why is it that Christian communities cannot be relied upon to publicly advocate for creation care?
- I’ll communicate some of what I learn here on my blog. I will also be writing a column for the Mennonite Creation Care Network. As with my other research projects, I intend to share what I learn in scholarly venues as well.