Biblical Environmental Stewardship: Defining the Mandate

A report from Peyton Knight:

Before a packed audience today on Capitol Hill, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA), along with the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and the Institute on Religion and Democracy held a lunch briefing at which top theologians and policy experts articulated a vision of Biblical stewardship based upon the Cornwall Declaration.

The title of the briefing was: “Pulpits, Pews and Environmental Policy: How the Cornwall Declaration is helping define the mandate of Biblical stewardship.”

According to a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated April 13 by Senators James Inhofe, Jim DeMint and Larry Craig: “The Cornwall Declaration is a powerful statement of ethical belief that strongly affirms the importance of caring for creation, but in a way that is based on sound theology, sound science, and sound economics, and takes into account the needs of the poor.”

The Declaration has been signed by over 1,500 clergy, theologians and other people of faith.

The ISA also announced the launching of a new partnership effort with congregations around the country called the “Cornwall Network.”

Some highlights from the luncheon…

Dr. Calvin Beisner, Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Florida, took issue with those who “mistakenly view human beings as principally consumers and polluters rather than producers and stewards.”

He noted that this outlook “ignores our potential as bearers of God’s image to enhance the Earth’s abundance.”

“While we recognize that some environmental problems are well-founded and serious, we are concerned that some are ill founded or greatly exaggerated,” said Beisner. “We are interested in priorities placed on well-founded concerns, especially those that put large numbers of people, usually the poor, at risk.”

According to Beisner, some well-founded concerns include “widespread diseases in the developing world arising from inadequate sewage sanitation and drinking water purification; use of primitive biomass fuels like wood and dung for heating and cooking; and primitive, low-tech agricultural, industrial and commercial practices.”

“On the other hand,” said Beisner, “Ill-founded or exaggerated concerns include fears of catastrophic man-made global warming, overpopulation, resource depletion and cataclysmic species extinction.”

Speaking about the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a statement signed by some members of the evangelical community that promotes the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming, Beisner said “[We] disagree with their assessment of the scientific evidence of the extent of human contribution to global warming, their prediction of the impact of climate change on human communities and the rest of the ecosystem, and their prescription of major reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as a solution to the alleged problem. The ECI does not specify how much emission reduction is needed to achieve its goals [to counteract global warming]. [This is] to ignore one of the most important aspects of the climatology debate: How much benefit would be gained at what cost to the global economy. And the global economy is not just an economist abstraction. It is real people who depend on that economy for jobs, income and the food, clothing, shelter, transportation and all other goods that they need.”

Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality, admonished celebrities, media and wayward religious leaders who are “twisting common definitions of ethics, morality, social responsibility and compassion for the poor to justify global warming agendas.”

Driessen also noted, “It is often the very policies they promote that actually represent the greatest threats to the world’s poor. Over two billion of the world’s people still do not have electricity for lights and refrigeration in their homes, for hospitals and clinics, for schools, shops, offices and factories, for wastewater treatment and other modern technologies that we often take for granted,” he said. “And yet these poor countries are told they mustn’t build coal or gas-fired electrical power plants, because First World countries are concerned about global warming.”

Dr. Kelvin Kemm, president of STRATEK Business Strategy Consulting in Pretoria, South Africa, warned that misguided policies such as the ban on DDT can have consequences beyond rampant malaria death from mosquitos. “An African mother who has just watched her child die from malaria and is then told this is related to United States policy becomes a candidate to join an organization like Al Qaeda very quickly,” said Kemm. “In Africa, one African dies from malaria every 40 seconds. That’s the equivalent of seven Boeing 747s, full of people, dying per day. That’s one Boeing hitting the ground every three hours, with 100 percent loss of life.”

Rev. Dr. Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, stressed the importance of recognizing human beings as part of God’s creation, as opposed to intruders on Earth: “The Bible values humans as makers who take the raw material of creation — the stones, the trees, the mineral waters — and shape them and create with them. In fact, the creation is incomplete without human beings shaping it. Even in the Garden [of Eden], God calls humans to tend the Garden and to rule Earth’s creatures. The Bible sees human activity as a positive good in the midst of creation.”

Rev. Abdul Karim Sesay, senior pastor at Kings and Priests Court International Ministries, gave a stirring first-hand perspective of the deadly consequences that policies promoted by the environmental establishment are having in Africa. Rev. Sesay lost his father to malaria.

Rev. Ralph Weitz, stewardship pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia, stressed that “We need to avoid guilt-ridden, emotional, and manipulative materials that center on a political agenda versus personal responsibility.”

Addendum, 4/20/06: covers the event here.

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