In preparation for our Spring issue of the Journal on “The Christian’s Responsibility to the Environment,” I sent several questions to Lowell Bliss, the director of Eden Vigil, about creation care. See Wednesday’s post for Part 1 of his interview.
1. The Spring issue of William Carey International Development Journal (out next week) is “The Christian’s Responsibility to the Environment.” I know this is a huge question, but in a nutshell, what do you believe is our responsibility to creation?
There’s a medieval legal term which we would be wise to resurrect. Usufruct is a right of enjoyment which allows a person to derive profit or benefit from property belonging to another, so long as the property is not damaged or destroyed. This seems to be what John Stott had in mind when, referring to both Psalms 24:1 and 115:16, he claimed that the earth is God’s by way of ownership and ours by way of delegation. It’s interesting that in the Genesis account, the command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth was given six verses (i.e. one day) earlier to the animal kingdom than it was to the human race. Unless we believe that the second pronouncement so quickly abrogated the first, then the only conclusion is that our stewardship of a flourishing existence includes care of the non-human kingdom as well. It’s hard to believe that we are doing a good job when, here in what’s being labeled the Anthropocene Era, species are going extinct at 1000 times the normal background rate. In the end though, my opinion is that our most high leverage theological reflections on creation care are going to focus on the Second Person of the Trinity—Christ, the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of all Creation. Already the Cape Town Commitment is trying to re-word your question: not what is our responsibility to creation, but rather what is our responsibility to the whole gospel and its inclusion of creation care? I look forward to reading your Spring issue.
2. What has been the biggest motivation for your work? For example, a scripture passage, or a person, or an experience you’ve had?
A lot of the fear and hatred on both sides of environmental disputes has to do with attributing responsibility. Is the human burning of fossil fuels responsible for global warming? Do corporations—alá Milton Friedman’s famous pronouncement—have any responsibility for anything other than maximizing profits for shareholders? I once heard John Perkins speak. He is an African-American pastor who was jailed and beaten during the Civil Rights movement. Blacks apparently approach him and say, “I’m not responsible for the problems in the Black community. My ancestors didn’t ask to be brought here as slaves.” Whites approach him and say, “I’m not responsible. My ancestors were Free State, or I’m not a racist.” Perkins said that when people ask him who is responsible, he answers, “I don’t care.” His full answer is “I don’t care who’s responsible. I choose to make myself responsible. I respond. Which means, I do care.” Perkins said that this is the message of the cross. Jesus was not responsible for our sin and evil. He chose to make himself responsible. This is grace. Who is responsible for sea level rise in the Maldives? I, Lowell Bliss, am. That’s not a statement of egotism or psychological pathology. It’s a statement of my freedom in Christ. I don’t know if this is my “biggest motivation,” but any exercise of freedom is a joy, and thus a motivation.
3. In what ways would you encourage our readers to be more involved in Eden Vigil?
Above all else we try to bring people into this through prayer. If you can’t pray for something, you can’t minister in it. Consequently, we invite people to subscribe to the Environmental Prayer Digest (EMPD), a free monthly e-letter which features a few prayer requests for just a few people groups and their environmental needs. (You can sign up and read past issues at www.edenvigil.org. You can even request a “creative access” version.) We’ve also begun to publish podcast and blog postings at www.agabusproject.org. Our first podcast episode was an interview with Peter Harris of A Rocha about the creation care legacy of his dear friend, John Stott. Other than that, involvement usually begins with an e-mail to me at lowell[at]edenvigil.org. I count it a high privilege to hear your story. Often it happens that, just a week earlier, I heard a similar story from “someone you’ve got to meet!” Our greatest successes in Eden Vigil have been these cross-introductions (pun intended. . . after the fact.)
Lowell Bliss is the director of Eden Vigil, an environmental ministry organization, and is the author of a forthcoming book, Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees. He podcasts and blogs on environmental ministry and creation care issues at www.agabusproject.org. Cross-cultural workers for fourteen years in India and Pakistan, Lowell, his wife Robynn, and their three kids now live amidst the tallgrass prairie of the Kansas Flint Hills.