Eco-theology is the ‘highest calling of Christians’

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Eco-theology is the “highest calling of Christians” at the present time.  

This was the message that came out of the Wellington Theological Consortium’s seminar, “Caring for our Common Homeland”, held on the last weekend of August through Zoom. The seminar was moderated by David Wardle from the Salvation Army.   

Business journalist Rod Oram noted “one of the very best expressions” of how ecological, economic and social issues fit in a theological framework is Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’.  

“I hunger for a similar integration of all these issues expressed wonderfully in theology and spiritual terms, and how we might apply them,” he said.   

At the seminar, he described the current situation, based on a study being done by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which has “established what the geophysical chemical boundaries of the planet are, and how we are performing on each of them”.  

“So, now, we’re thinking about things not in terms of a climate crisis, but also the crisis of ecosystem collapse, and the two are very, very interdependent, both within their causes and their solutions,” he said.  

New Zealand Christians In Science director Dr Nicola Hoggard Creegan, an Auckland-based theologian, said theology needs to catch up if Christians are to protect God’s creation.  

She remembered, as an intensely religious Catholic child, learning that the spirits of humans go to heaven and that those of animals “go to ground”.  

“I love the natural world, but that was like a switch. I remember being much less interested in animals after that,” she said.  

“In retrospect, I would say theology, in practice and in theory, has had [a] massively unhelpful emphasis, which has left us on the back foot when it comes to ecological work.  But now we have to catch up. It has divided humans and divided humans from animals,” she said.  

Fortunately, an encounter with the works of Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin, as well as with other theologians and philosophers, “gave me a new vision of the whole of life on earth and evolution as swept into a spiritual continuum, and it’s having a point in Christ”.  

“I had become increasingly convinced that eco-theology requires not only a knowledge and activism, but also a mystical connection to nature,” she said.  

Dr Hoggard Creegan said we need to return to the heritage of St Francis, which Pope Francis has done.   

“Although eco-theology has been seen as a sideline and an eccentricity, leading this charge is the highest calling of Christians, I think, in the current age,” she said.  

University of Otago lecturer Dr Andrew Shepherd voiced a similar proposition.  

“I want to strongly advocate that it’s a fundamental marker mission, and that it’s imperative, and a normative part of Christian discipleship,” he said.  

He said he becomes concerned when the care for the environment falls into the “progressive Western narrative”, and becomes disconnected from the Christian tradition.  

“I want to suggest that part of the Christian contribution to conservation is telling the story beneath that motivation of caring for creation,” he said.  

Finally, he said, “I want to suggest that our actions come as an expression of worship”.  

Dr Shepherd said our motivation for caring for the planet is not “to be successful and to prevent climate change”, but an “understanding of hope, and that it is an action of faithful worship towards our creator”.  

 

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Rowena Orejana

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