An Evangelical Call to Action On Biodiversity
In September 2020, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Lausanne / WEA Creation Care Network and A Rocha International joined a variety of faith groups in signing a ‘Faith Call to Action for the UN Summit on Biodiversity’. In so doing, we affirm that action on biodiversity conservation - caring for God’s creation - is a task entrusted to all humanity regardless of how our beliefs and values differ in other areas. At the same time, we felt it valuable to have an explicitly biblical rationale for evangelical involvement in biodiversity conservation. This is offered both as a call to action to fellow evangelical Christians, and to assist the broader conservation movement in understanding our motivations.
THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S AND EVERYTHING IN IT (Psalm 24:1)
We affirm that planet earth and all its ecosystems, life-forms, habitats and resources belong to God, who created and sustains all life. All creation arises from and reflects the love within the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Furthermore, all things – including the wealth of biodiversity of which humans are one part – was created by and for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-16), and ‘holds together,’ or finds it coherence, in him (1:17). As a consequence, biodiversity, the variety of life in the earth, oceans and skies, has beauty, purpose and inherent value. This is affirmed by the repeated ‘And God saw that it was good’ in Genesis 1, culminating in ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (1:31). The ‘all’ clearly includes plants, animals and other creatures (biodiversity) described in earlier verses, as well as soils, seas and natural systems and processes. A further important implication of ‘the earth is the Lord’s’ is that the ultimate owner of all creation remains God.
Humans are granted the enjoyment of creation as God’s good gift, but are only to use the earth’s ecosystems in ways which honor God’s purposes and enhance and develop the ‘goodness’ of the whole creation. Thus, excessive human use that leads to the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems, or human-induced extinction of fellow species, is a form of rebellion against God, or sin. John Stott is quoted as saying such human-caused ‘extinction is sin’, because it erases a unique revelation of God’s character and purpose within the created order (Romans 1:20). Humanity is also uniquely made both from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7) and also in the image of God (1:28), giving us a dual role both as creatures within God’s creation and as called apart with a vocation to glorify God by reflecting his plans for and care of our fellow creatures.
GOD’S GOOD PURPOSES FOR BIODIVERSITY
Today, we exist in a world damaged by human sin. Relationships between God, human beings and the natural world are fractured and distorted. Whilst humans were created to live in harmony with nature, we struggle and suffer as a consequence of our selfish choices (Genesis 3:17-19), and we see the damaging impacts of human sin within the natural world (Hosea 4:1-3). We observe that the whole creation is ‘subject to frustration’ and ‘groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ (Romans 8:20-22). Yet, the Bible is clear that God is committed to all creation, including the riches of biodiversity. The Psalms repeatedly affirm God’s care and provision for all creatures. Job 38-41 expresses God’s delight in creatures that are beyond human understanding or control.
Most importantly, biodiversity is at the heart of God’s good plan for redemption and renewal. This is illustrated in Genesis 7-9, where God directs Noah to rescue breeding pairs of every ‘kind’ in the Ark, including species that were harmful, inedible and ritually taboo. The motive is clearly Theocentric rather than anthropocentric, as God wishes ‘to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth’ (Genesis 7:3), a text that could be seen as a clarion call to biodiversity preservation. Moreover, God’s covenant in Genesis 9 is not only with humanity but repeatedly includes ‘all living creatures of every kind on the earth’ (9:8-17), a concise definition of biodiversity.
With the coming of Jesus Christ, we see God’s plans for redemption come to fulfillment. Jesus is God made ‘flesh’ (John 1:14), a term that is broader than humanity and includes all animal-kind. Thus, the incarnation is God’s affirmation of creation itself, as well as God’s identification with sinful humanity. In Jesus’ life we see a close affinity with wild creatures and a repeated use of natural examples in his teaching. Jesus’ call to earnestly study the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (Matthew 6:25-34) echoes the Christian vocation to biological science and conservation which begins with Adam differentiating and naming the animals. However, it is in Christ’s death and resurrection that God’s good plans for all creation come to fulfillment. Jesus’ death on the cross restored peace as, through him, God reconciled ‘to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven’ (Colossians 1:20). The ‘all things’ is comprehensive and implicitly includes the variety of life we know as biodiversity. Romans 8 also affirms the hope ‘that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God’ (8:21).
The biblical vision of the future of the earth and its biodiversity has often been contested amongst evangelicals. We condemn the misuse of biblical texts to permit the greedy, selfish and destructive exploitation of the earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity. Rather, we point to the profound vision of future harmony and hope beyond judgment that is found throughout the biblical texts. This is often characterized by the term ‘shalom’ in the Old Testament, a word encompassing restored and harmonious relationships between God, humanity and the natural world, specifically including wildlife (Isaiah 32:15-20). In Jesus’ teaching, the ‘Kingdom of God’ is at the heart of the good news of the Gospel, and includes God’s loving rule ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). The final chapters of the Bible envisage every creature in sky and earth and sea worshipping Christ in glory (Revelation 5:13) and conclude with a vision of eternity where nature’s flourishing and human creativity combine to God’s glory.
A CALL TO ACTION ON BIODIVERSITY FOR EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS
Thus, because of Christ, evangelical Christians have biblically-based hope for biodiversity. Despite devastating losses in wildlife populations, and the overwhelming failure of political leaders, business and the wider public, including many of our evangelical Christian community, to take the actions necessary to prevent wildlife’s decline, we affirm God’s commitment to his whole creation, and as a result we are called to join God’s ongoing work to redeem and restore all creation through radical and decisive faith-consistent actions.
We call on ourselves, our fellow evangelical Christians, our churches and organizations to:
Lament the tragic and avoidable losses in biodiversity and natural habitats around the world, caused by human sin and greed, which lead to particular suffering for the poorest communities and which diminish God’s self-revelation through nature’s diversity and flourishing.
Repent of our past silence, complicity and abuse of scripture in justifying the destruction of biodiversity, in persisting in damaging and unsustainable lifestyles, and in failing to act sooner.
Teach a vision of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven, based on the biblical basis for the care of creation, including biodiversity conservation as a core element of Christian discipleship and mission, including relevant spiritual formation and practical steps to putting this into practice.
Inform ourselves of, and be guided by, the latest scientific research on biodiversity loss both locally and globally, and encourage Christians to see wildlife conservation and science as God-given vocations.
Listen to the voices of the worldwide church, and particularly of indigenous communities, of women, ethnic minorities, and those in the majority world most affected by biodiversity loss. We also commit to listening to those of other faiths and worldviews in order better to understand our impact upon nature.
Collaborate cross-culturally and openly with all who seek to protect biodiversity and vulnerable communities affected by its loss.
Reduce our negative impact upon God’s world by changing our personal habits in areas such as travel, energy use, food, waste and buying consumer products. Living more simply to God’s glory should be seen as an act of worship.
Engage our workplaces, businesses, educational establishments and political leaders, from local to global levels, to ensure that the voice (the groaning) of biodiversity is heard clearly and given due weight in all decision-making.
Initiate and implement solutions, projects, and programs that are needed to protect and restore ecosystems in addition to advocating and employing known best practices. Wherever possible we seek to engage communities and collaborate with others who are seeking solutions to our biodiversity crisis.
Celebrate and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, taking delight in nature’s diversity, beauty and complexity, and seeking signs of God’s self-revelation through creation.
A Rocha International
Lausanne/WEA Creation Care Network (LWCCN)
Renew Our World
World Evangelical Alliance
Dr. David Boan (Director, WEA Department of Relief and Development)
Matthias Boehning (Director, WEA Sustainability Centre)
Rev. Dr. David Bookless (A Rocha International, Lausanne Global Catalyst for Creation Care)
Dr. Ed Brown (Care of Creation, Lausanne Global Catalyst for Creation Care)
Dr. Chris Elisara (Director, WEA Creation Care Network)
Peter Harris (co-founder of A Rocha International)
Matthew Maury, (CEO, Tearfund Australia)
Stephen Mbogo, (CEO, African Enterprise and Lausanne Regional Director for English, Portuguese & Spanish Africa (EPSA)
Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher (WEA Associate Sec. General Theological Concerns)
Dr. Simon Stuart (incoming Executive Director of A Rocha International & winner of 2020 Blue Planet Prize)
Bp Efraim M. Tendero (WEA Secretary General & CEO)
Dr. Ruth Valerio (Tearfund, UK)
Dr. Rosalee Velloso Ewell (Executive director, WEA Theological Commission)
Rev. Dr. Christopher Wright (Langham Partnership)