One of my fondest memories as a kid was story time with my mother growing up. We always read before bedtime, and I loved choosing the book.
Stories have a way of imprinting on us. I’ve been told sacred stories from the time I was little throughout my journey into adulthood in the church. I was comforted by the story of a God that created the Earth into being (Gen 1:1-2:4). I loved how next to that creation story was another one with this beautiful garden and a gardening God who got into the dirt caring for the created (Gen 2:4b-25). Holding both of those narratives together formed a deep understanding that I belonged to the Earth, and I belonged to a God that called me to care for it. I was a part of God’s story.
Scripture 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’ve grown in my discipleship, the connection between sacred stories and sacred moments with creation have deepened my faith. Many summers counseling young disciples on the holy grounds of Christian camps have shown me the powerful witness the land and water have on our spiritual development. But, sometimes I find that Christian communities treat care for the Earth as another area of interest for some in the congregation. However, there is no part of our discipleship that can be separated from our call to be good stewards of the Earth and to care for people who have been made vulnerable in our community. I often come across well-meaning people who claim Christianity proudly while upholding behaviors and systems that harm the earth. In our polarized political climate, it’s difficult to engage in conversations about climate justice and its important place in Christian discipleship without aggravating a political identity which can shut down the conversation entirely.
Jesus encountered hurting people and used stories and illustrations about creation as a way to restore the fragments of their lives to wholeness. Jesus used a mustard seed to illustrate the kindom of God, showing how a tiny seed could impact a whole community (Matthew 13:31-32). Jesus’ actions and storytelling raised controversy within his own religious community and made him a target of the empire. The community Jesus created had values that centered their work and impact on service to the poor. In Greek, the word for poor is πτωχός (ptóchos). In Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV), Jesus made clear his undertaking.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
In verse 18, “good news to the poor” can be better translated as “good news to those who have been made poor.” This shift in the language paints a very different picture than the generally understood poor. This reckoning with the Greek meant that there was a system at play that had created poverty. And, that the community Jesus had come to earth to create was entirely devoted to those who have experienced the oppression of that system and were in need of liberation from it.
What does this concentration on ‘those who have been made poor’ have to do with creation care? The short and ugly truth is that we live on and occupy lands that belong to a people who did not surrender them. We are bound by our baptisms to the community of the vulnerable, Christian or not. Jesus made no distinction. In fact, our greatest act of evangelism is solidarity in liberation, not conversion of doctrine or ideas. We who posture a Christian lifestyle and commitment to Good News, must engage the issues of our Indigenous siblings. Climate, care for the lands, just stewardship of its resources, and protection of communities and their interests who have been made vulnerable by empires of extraction are therefore Christian issues and responsibility.
My hope is that fellow Christian readers hear the call of discipleship and wrestle with the realities of what it means to occupy land and benefit from the harm done to it and its Native peoples, historically and today. My hope is that more Christians will recognize their communal responsibility and begin to take action toward climate justice.
Rev. Kristin Wolf Peters is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is the interfaith and member organizer at the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition.