Christianity and Environment @ First Church of Berkeley
In the second of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley’s series titled, “Interfaith Perspectives on the Environment,” I had the opportunity to sit down with Marilyn Matevia, a recent PhD from the Graduate Theological Union in ethics and social theory. We discussed the theological interpretations of environmentalism as rooted in the Bible, as well as the emergency of alternative strands of Christian thinking about our relationship with the environment.
Matevia first laid out the scriptural underpinnings of Christian environmentalism. In the Bible, God places humans above the other creatures in creation. According to Matevia, some Christians interpret our “dominon” over nature as permission from God to use what we want from creation — that everything is here for our benefit. Other Christians interpret our relationship to nature as one of “stewardship,” but even this interpretation has its problems because it implies a right to ownership.
“We may choose to use wisely and fairly, or may not — depending on our circumstances,” Matevia told me. “Instead, my preferred way of talking about our relationship with teh rest of creation is as a ‘covenantal’ one.”
We also discussed the idea of resurrection in Christianity and how that ties to environmentalism. Specifically, if Christians better themselves as they better creation, can they resurrect Earth from its place after the fall, back to Paradise? Matevia said this is a distinctly Christian notion of environmentalism — that paradise is achievable again, if Christians follow the teachings of Jesus, live in moderation, care for the vulnerable, and try to make the world better for each generation.
After the talk, we received many great questions and observations from audience members regarding the tension between our modern lives and Christian environmentalism, as well as concerns about overpopulation. One woman recounted a story of a wolf befriending a camper and a bear sitting next to a baby. Matevia noted that many Christians have claimed a special relationship with the creatures of creation — Saint Francis of Assisi apparently persuaded a wolf not to attack the village people anymore. Perhaps we are taught to fear creation more than we should.
Like the talk with Ameena Jandali about Islam and the environment the week before, it felt like we could have kept the conversation with Matevia going for hours. The connection between Christianity and environmentalism is so complex and rich, that a lot was left for (hopefully) a future series at the First Church on the subject.
If you’re interested in learning about the Jewish connection to the environment, I would encourage you to attend the talk with Rabbi Stephen Pearce on October 19 at the First Church of Berkeley. I’ll be there, so you can ask me some questions too!
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