Let’s start with three basic theological principles.
- “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24). Theologically speaking, we human beings don’t own anything. We’re merely stewards – caretakers – of a creation that belongs to the Creator.
- As wonderful as the creation is, it has its limits. We cannot exploit the earth’s resources with abandon. When we do, we disrupt the balance God built into creation from the beginning. That, more or less, is the lesson Adam and Eve learned when they ate the forbidden fruit. Without limits, the whole system goes haywire.
- Human beings are made in the image of God to live in community with one another. The answer to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is “Yes!” We cannot love God without also loving our neighbors. I cannot honor God without honoring God’s image in my neighbor. Hence, it’s not enough for me and mine to flourish. I must see that my neighbor flourishes as well, living in dignity, freedom, and justice.
These basic theological principles prompt a moral mandate to care for the earth not merely for our own sakes, but also for the sake of others. Environmental stewardship is not just a choice. It’s a “vocation ” — a calling, the will of God for humankind.
As simple as these concepts are, they are easily forgotten, even by Christians, who ought to know better.
While I’m happy to see corporations jumping on the “Green” bandwagon to market their products as “sustainable,” and while I support governmental regulations to limit the unbridled exploitation of the earth’s resources, I don’t look to market forces or to regulation to get us out of the mess we’re in. What’s required is what Christians call “repentance” — moral realignment – a purposeful change in the way we live our lives.
That realignment must begin with communities of faith. We can’t very well expect others to change their lives if we’re not willing to change our institutional lives first. My own congregation came to that conclusion four years ago when we committed to reduce our “carbon footprint” to zero.
We began by retrofitting our 1950’s-era Education Building with double-paned windows and modern fluorescent fixtures. Then we tore off the old roof and put on a new one, aligned to get the maximum benefit from the sun’s rays.
Next we installed a solar voltaic generating plant on the roof, following the example of the Unitarian Universalist Church, the first congregation in town to install solar panels. Our 25.5 KW panels produce about 25% of our total electrical needs. When we’re not using all the electricity the sun generates, our meter, in effect, runs backwards, and we sell the surplus back to the City. Since it was installed, the system has avoided the production 235,580 pounds of carbon dioxide and saved enough energy to power eight homes for one year. (For a real-time readout, click here.)
The next-to-last step was to renovate our sanctuary, built in 1838. We replaced our venerable air conditioner with a state-of- the art system and retrofitted the entire building with the most efficient lighting systems we could find.
We did all this not to save money. (The project cost a great deal of that!). We did it to be better environmental stewards. We called the project “Light from Light,” borrowing a phrase from the Nicene Creed. A final step remains. When we’ve saved enough money, we’ll modernize the HVAC system in the Education Building
Having reduced our carbon footprint, we asked a partner congregation in Frenchtown if they knew folks who needed to make their own homes more energy efficient. When invited, we went into homes with caulking, CFL’s, low-flow showerheads, window film, and other accoutrements to make our neighbors’ homes more energy efficient. In future years we plan to contribute to Sustainable Tallahassee’s Community Carbon Fund.
Other congregations are making similar life-style changes. I applaud these efforts. We preachers can huff and puff all we want about the need for environmental repentance, but repentance starts at home. Unless communities of faith live out our calling to be stewards of creation in our own institutional lives, our words will be no more than “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”