Christians and Earth Day

(Photo by Kay Panovec, United Methodist Communications)

CASPER, Wyo. (UMNS) — The Rev. Rebekah Simon-Peter began to understand that, for her, taking care of the world is not just an ecological issue, but a moral and spiritual issue.

“It reflects the way we treat the life God has given us,” Simon-Peter said. “It’s about what happens to our neighbors, family and the future generation.”

You can’t love God and ignore the Earth.

Simon-Peter minces no words: “You can’t love God and ignore the Earth.”

Sometimes we just have to put something in words people can understand, which is what Simon-Peter (rebekahsimonpeter.com) does in her books Green Church and Seven Steps to Green Your Church. After more than a decade of pastoring churches, the ordained United Methodist elder now shares the “green” gospel with congregations, interfaith groups and community groups through BridgeWorks, an extension ministry she directs in Wyoming.

“I’ve seen a lot of burning bushes in my time,” Simon-Peter said. “Eight years into pastoring churches I began to see headlines about Global Warming and Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” In 2007, I joined a group being trained by him.”

God so loved the world

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” (John 3:16).

“The word ‘world’ is actually ‘kosmon’ in Greek: the cosmos,” Simon-Peter said. “Jesus’ love is not just for humans, it’s for all creation. That’s why he said to the disciples, ‘Go to all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15).

He loves the Earth as much as he loves us.

Simon-Peter describes Jesus as the “midwife” of creation: “He loves the Earth as much as he loves us.”

“As the Earth sickens, we sicken as well,” Simon-Peter said. “I felt, and still feel, myself grieving for the earth and for the people and creatures that are dying as well.”

Creation care is not ‘no big deal’

Although there are skeptics, naysayers and the self-serving, Simon-Peter tells it like many believe it to be.

“It’s not the Rapture,” Simon-Peter said. “But in this diverse web of life created by God, fully half of all species on earth may be gone in 50-60 years.

“It’s the largest mass destruction since the age of the dinosaurs,” Simon-Peter said. “We can’t fill the earth to the point we push everything out of existence. Before God blessed us with the command to be fruitful and multiply, he gave the birds and fishes the same commandment. We have to balance out our blessedness with their blessedness.”

Scientists insist the doom and gloom stuff isn’t just hogwash, Simon-Peter pointed out. The sixth extinction crisis is already underway, according to her. Currently, there are two million species on Earth. Every year 200-2,000 of those species become extinct.

Thinking little about a big problem

“We are a denomination that preaches what the Bible says, ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those that live it,’” Simon-Peter reminded us, quoting Psalm 24:1. “Creation is the Body of God. We are part and parcel of it. We cannot separate our life with God from our life on earth.”

Many churches say, “But we’re recycling and we’ve stopped using Styrofoam cups during coffee hour.” “That’s not enough,” said Simon-Peter, adding that the church has to think bigger, do more.

Simon-Peter said it’s not just about appointing a church “Green Team,” nor is it just about floating patches of garbage in the Pacific Ocean, not just about disappearing monkeys, melting icebergs and dying coral reefs. She said it’s about counting nature’s blessings and honoring the Creator by protecting them.

Simon-Peter suggested churches channel their passion into things that make a true difference: installing solar panels, harnessing wind power, or creating a community garden that can be used to feed the homeless or working poor.

From the pulpit

But it’s up to church leadership to inspire their congregations, according to Simon-Peter.

“It’s on the pastor to be courageous and visionary,” Simon-Peter said. “Preachers have to use the power of the pulpit to talk about the relationship with the Creator and the Creation because if it doesn’t come from the church pulpit, it doesn’t become real for the congregation.

Simon-Peter said we confuse the political with the biblical. “Our focus for so long has been on humanity, which is a good thing, but we have not paid attention to the health of the rest of Creation,” she said.

Church ministry tends to be comfort-focused, according to Simon-Peter. “We comfort people in distress,” she said. “[United Methodist Committee on Relief] does fabulous work with responding to natural disasters, which are actually un-natural disasters. The problem is that we’re not addressing why the disasters are happening with such increasing frequency.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that if the United States’ more than 300,000 houses of worship cut back on energy use by a mere 10%, we could save nearly $200 million for missions.

It’s not what we save, Simon-Peter pointed out, it’s what we can do with the money we save.

Connected to the planet

And God said it was good.

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, but the mess is ours,” Simon-Peter said. “God has created a world that is designed to be self-replicating. God replicated [God’s self] in us and we act on [God’s] behalf when we treat Creation with benevolence and creativity."

Editor's note: Susan Passi-Klaus is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn. This article is excerpted from Christians and Earth Day: ‘You can’t love God and ignore the Earth’ on umc.org.

For further study

  • Click here for Bible verses and commentary by the Rev. Pat Watkins. These will serve as a way to think about and discuss a theology of Creation care. Watkins is a missionary with General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). He is guiding a new, globally focused United Methodist Ministry with God’s Renewed Creation, based at GBGM and closely related to the Council of Bishops. He is an expert in educating others about how theology relates to caring for Creation.

    “The United Methodist Church is an amazing and powerful group of Christians because of our scriptures,” Watkins said. “We just don’t use that power enough. We need to be the voice of Creation care.”

Letter to the Editor