This paper will mainly focus on the role of church in promoting care for the environment. Environmental degradation is a global phenomenon. Human beings are the agents of the environmental degradation. People have come to depend entirely on the natural resources which then result in major impact on the environment. Population growth has effects the environmental change. Nurnenrger states clearly that global economy has impact on natural environment. He says the impact on the environment increases when the population increase (1999:71).We need to come to an understanding that economy and ecology do not separate as human has separated it. God has designed it to relate very well together. God’s desire is to see human life flourish through environment. Therefore Christians as the custodian of stewardship need to take a leading role in providing care for the environment. People’s unfaithfulness to the environment has resulted in environmental changes and climate change and this causes discomforts on nature and human wellness. Every natural resources has a price tag to it and this make it to be on demand, hence encouraging environmental degradation. The Church should engage more through practical strategies that will help in providing care for the environment. Not only that but also use the nature and the platform given to it so as to influence change through policy making. Church is a respected body that has committed audience such that if they can work towards ensuring dealing with environmental situation, change can be noticed. In addition, the church cannot work in isolation, there are state institutions who are also fighting the same battle. Collaboration with such institutions will enhance and speed the process of dealing with environmental degradation.
Environmental degradation is known as the exhaustion of world’s natural resources such as air, land, water, soil etc, and human contribute extensively towards this. They dispose waste anyhow and pollute the environment. Furthermore, they overuse the renewable natural resources such as agricultural soil, forest tress and ocean fisheries. In response to short term needs, it is ideal but in long term it becomes hard when natural resources are depleted and loses will be irreversible (El-Hagger 2007:Np). Sub-Saharan Africa is confronted with serious environmental crisis which includes soil erosion, desertification, wetland degradation and insect infestations. It is suspected that Africans have been particularly oblivious to the quality of the environment. Therefore, protecting the environment in Sub-Saharan Africa is a key issue that needs more attention so as to avoid continuous changes in the environment (Maboguje 1998: Np).
Environmental changes actually demonstrates the nature of the relationship between people and the environment. These changes on environment, natural resources use and climate have negative impact on the livelihood and overall well-being. It is again noted that people are major contributors to environmental changes because they hunt and kill animals for food, cut wood for making fire and use in their construction projects and have vast land for grazing (Vogel 2011: Np). It is a fact that population growth has serious negative effects on the environment. People deplete natural resources which the leads to environmental degradation. In some cases people end up leaving their places to settle in other places that might be having resources they need (Kok and Tonder 2011:15). In rural areas, most people depend on land for agricultural production, they cut trees and grass and do business with these resources. In as much as it is part of their life, if it’s overdone it contributes to environmental degradation (Twine 2011:17).
Maboguje (1998) believes that other contributors to environmental degradation is the structural adjustments programs in many countries in Sub-Suharan Africa which left many people jobless and their living deteriorated such that they turned to survival agriculture. This forced people to resort to using natural resources which eventually put strain on the environment. Therefore, Maboguje blames the African governments whose mechanisms of turning around their economy contributed to the environmental problems.
In South Africa, a study done by Erusmas shows that in areas where there is poor institutional governance capacity and high unemployment rate result in general population depending on natural resources for survival. Therefore when the population of that nature increases then the demand for these natural resources is increased. This causes the ecosystem to face difficulty in constantly supplying goods and services (2011:20). On the other hand, those with economic and political power claim the world for personal benefits. They own the earth and exploit its resources to profit themselves not for common good. Nature has been commodified such that every natural resource is for sale. Consequently, there is another way to look into this issue. We cannot have full grasp of the ecological issues without involving God and Christians. The blame for this can be traced on the process of colonization, on-going neo-colonization and globalization because a lot of injustices takes place when ecological resources are being taken from South to North without compensation ( Warmback 2017:18). The commons such as water and land have been privatized such that basic natural resources have prize tags. Evidently, the present economic systems are destroying the natural environment which in turn is worsening climate change. The continuation of ecological injustice results in food insecurity and ultimately hunger. Agricultural land will face problems of food production and people remain hungry (Warmback 2017:22).
God, Christians and the environment
It is so painful to see wealth and environment in Africa deteriorate yet they there is a deep connection between the two. Economy and ecology have deep relations, economy - ‘oikos nomos’ phrase that means rules of the house and ecology – oikos logos is a greek word that means ways that the house is set up to function (de Gruchy 2015:140). Economy should resonate in harmony with ecology because that’s how God has designed it. God has been shepherding the earth into existence so that it can sustain life. In God’s perspective economy and ecology cannot separated for they sustain life on earth. To God economy concerns to how bountiful world in terms of earth, air, water, and plants helps human life to flourish. Unfortunately this relationship between has been destructed as human now view economy as generating wealth using natural resources. Everything is now a commodity to be sold and bought at any given time, there no relationship at all (de Gruchy 2015:141).
Therefore, the environmental problems as well as climate changes we are confronted with results from wrong relationship we have with the planet. Our environmental problems will only begin to change only when we rethink who we are on earth. This would have to motivate us to get involved in these environmental issues because there are many people who are already suffering as a result of climate change. Christian’s duty is not only to save people from the dying world through telling them about the good news of heaven but it is also they should bear in mind that God also cares about how people live on earth as well as other species and the earth too (Frost 2008:12). In fact, the book of Genesis shows us that it did not start with the Great Commission but it started with caring for the earth which is a job for all and that is what we have been commissioned to first before the great commission. It is in consideration of this where we see it necessary for the Christians to be involved in environmentalism because the environment was created by God who cares for both, humans and the planet. Therefore all Christians are called to care for the earth and its creations (Frost 2008:12).
I think people have failed to be stewards as they are supposed to, instead they have dominated the environment. The mentality behind this is causing them to be want be destructive and say all natural resources were made for them and therefore they can do as they please and this is wrong. Consequently, the world has been appreciated and taken care of because it’s God's creation which reveals his presence. People have contributed in environmental degradation in three ways. They have participated in global warming. The fuels needed for energy production have increased greenhouse gases causing the earth to get hotter and caused sea levels to rise. In natural resources, they have used more raw materials and more energy per year as a result natural resource run out. Poor and irresponsible farming techniques causing the land to be not fertile, overgrazing. People have polluted the environment through sewage and chemicals in lakes and rivers, toxic chemicals used in farming and are not good for the plants. They cause cancer. Smokes and gases from cars and industrial gases pollute the air, and causes health problem and ozone layer damage (No author and year: No Page - Extracted from the Internet – Stewardship and dominon).
Strategies that the church could use to care for the environment
There has been an ongoing misconception that the church is silent when it comes to confronting the real world challenges. This is not true, the church can engage in these issues such as environmental crisis and climate change. There are a number of ways with which the Church can get involved to care for the environment. James Gustafson offers four methodologies known as discourse engagement. These are Prophetic, Narrative, Policy and Technical engagement. I will only focus on two. The Church can engage using Prophetic discourse, this where it will challenge and confront or even attack what it sees as the root cause of the environmental problem and seeks to offer a better solution. It can also engage using Policy discourse where it engage critically with those in power or authorities that take decision which influences lives of millions.
Other than discourse engagement, the Church can use practical engagement. The environmental challenge we are confronted with is cannot be simply prayed away, it is a developmental issue that calls for action. The Church can also draw from David Korten’s participatory engagement known as the fourth generation concept because it goes beyond the traditional separation between theory and practice. It also goes beyond the common interventions, relief and community development and moves to third and fourth generation development intervention which can be used by the church to provide care for the environment. The third generation is sustainable systems development and it has the ability to change the policy and the systems. The fourth generation is the people’s movements. This is where people on the ground become the agents of change. It is a movement that has the ability to mobilize voluntary action at national and global scale. This movement is driven by nothing other than the needs of people (Venter and Swart 2002).
There are different forms of church and they can all participate in responding to this phenomenon. Church at a congregational level can come up with a wide range of very creative practical earth keeping activities. These may include information sessions on environment, development of catechetical material, outdoor activities to ensure environmental awareness, camps for youth groups, recycling projects, gardening and tree planting campaigns (Conradie 2008:13). The Church as a worshipping community can do something as well. It can intentionally have sermons and themes that focus on climate change and environment. At denominational level the church is respected and it can make resolutions with regards to matters that need attention from the church. The church in ecumenical form has the ability and power to address crucial issues such as change environment and change in environment. Christian para-Church organizations is also another form that emerges from churches but they are not controlled by the government, e.g. Hospitals, Schools, Orphanages and old ages homes. They can therefore make independent contributions by addressing climate change issues and environmental concerns (Conradie 2008:22). The church at individual level has to do with daily lives of believers. They can begin to minimize their domestic usages such as electricity, water or even create lift clubs to help with transportation and they even participate in decision making process and support victims of environmental degradation (Conradie 2008:23).
Church’s role in the development of policies on environmental care
Development of policies cannot indeed be a small task for the church, it is macro development and there is very little that the church can do. But considering different manifestations of the church, policies on environmental care can be drawn. Denominational level and Ecumenical Structures has power to do this (Conradie 2008). The Church at denominational level cannot effectively engage with local concerns, nither can it change people’s life styles, or educate children or even administer local earth keeping projects but is to adopt resolutions, establish commissions, develop position papers, develop material for liturgy and Bible study resources. The Church at denominational level is viewed as the face of the church and its public figure in current affairs is monitored by the public. They’re very few denominations that have adopted resolutions about climate change or environmental problems (Conradie 2008 16, 17). It is at this point I believe that they can use Gustafson’s methodologies in developing policies on environmental care. The policy discourse is relevant in this case because the church at denominational level can engage with those in power and offer a voice that can assist in the development of the environmental policy. Ecumenical structures are very important because they are also known as public face of the Church and through participation in these structures such as World Council of Churches, South African Catholic Bishop’s Conference the church can influence policy because these structures have concern about climate change, environmental degradation threating sustainability and they want sustainability and justice for all. They can call upon the government to introduce regulatory legislation on issues of climate change and they can also urge churches to lobby for the desired changes (Conradie 2008:19).
Church’s collaboration with state institutions for the creation of conducive environment
It is evident that the environmental crisis is a growing problems that disturbs the wellbeing of the people and therefore it seeks for more collective effort to deal with it. The church on it’s on cannot win this battle, neither the government can on its own. State institutions have done some amazing work in response to environmental crisis and the church has done some good work as well. However, taking into consideration that the church has been entrusted with stewardship, benefitting results can be witnessed if it collaborates with the state institutions to create a conducive environment for people to experience wellbeing. I believe that in order to achieve this the church has to identify different stake holders. The church can roll out environmental awareness that will involve all these different stakeholders. It can begin with students and strike working relations with them, do the same with business people, trade union, municipality as well as traditional healers. It can then move to the department of Tourism, Agriculture and Environmental departments. I believe will be appropriate for the church to employ the approaches from James Gustafson and David Korten. The Church can begin at ward level being the driving force of all the activities, teaching and encouraging environmental care. People will respect the work done in joint efforts and to see the state institution working with church. From the ward level then they can move to district level then move to nation with the same message and same agenda.
There should be an ongoing relationship between the nature and humans. We need to first establish relationship with God, then with others, then with self then with nature. Creation feeds us and we need it. Even as some people feel that natural resources have been given to them by God they should be able to care for the environment so that it does not exhaust all the resources. It is without doubt that most people have little care for the environment. This has caused huge damage to our ecosystem such that the wellbeing has been compromised. It therefore calls for all concerned citizens to join arms in bringing environmental awareness to all people because this is our home. Different stakeholders can come on board and the church can take the leading role and demonstrate through practical ways and show that it is possible to work together to create conducive environment for people to experience wellbeing.