4 Ways to Practice Christian Stewardship of the Environment
Both the Christian and secular media is currently abuzz with the upcoming encyclical on environmentalism from Pope Francis. Following in line with Saint Pope John Paul II’s sense of mountain-climbing adventure and Pope Benedict XVI’s call for stronger environmental protections, Pope Francis urges believers to adopt a strong environmentalism as an integral sense of their Christian identity. In a homily he delivered in February of this year, Pope Francis asserted, “A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us.”1
There are, however, detractors to both Francis’ statements and to Christian environmentalism overall. Many of these opponents, especially those who affiliate with forms of evangelicalism, stem from the sharp liberal vs. conservative disparities in our nation’s politics. Many fundamental and evangelical Christians profess unwavering allegiance to the Republican party, while liberal politicians tend to promote environmentalism. If environmentalism is part of a socially liberal agenda, why should Christians support it if they oppose other social liberalism such as abortion and euthanasia?
The whims of American politics should not determine the beliefs of a Christian. As Pope Francis has expressed, to be pro-environment is to care for God’s creation, just as being pro-life supports God’s creation. Whether you vote Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian, all Christians should strive to exercise care for our creation. In the words of Pope Francis, “Take good care of creation. St. Francis wanted that. People occasionally forgive, but nature never does. If we don’t take care of the environment, there’s no way of getting around it.”2 The consequences of not caring for God’s creation affect our lives here and now and the lives of future generations.
So how can you care for God’s creation? Here are 4 ways to practice Christian stewardship of the environment:
- Spend time in nature.
Many of the psalms, including Psalm 104, praise God for the beauty and goodness of his creation. “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.”3 Nature is beautiful and good because God created it so; to enjoy the beauty of the environment is to praise God. So lace on your hiking boots or walking shoes, leave your phone behind, and climb a mountain, relax by a lake, or walked down a wooded path. The trees and hills create natural cathedrals, as they spiral up towards the heavens and lift the viewer’s mind to God.
- Minimize your waste.
Whether it is food, plastics, or other items, try to minimize how much waste your household produces. When you grocery shop, buy only what you need and use every last bit: save surplus for leftovers, boil bones from meat or vegetable scraps for stock, and meal plan so nothing goes bad before you can use it. Our country wastes obscene amounts of food, and wasted food creates a higher demand for food (more needs to be produced to feed the same amount of people), which can strain the land.
As cliched as it sounds, recycle and reuse everything you can. Check with your county’s guidelines for recycling and spend the extra ten minutes each week sorting through your recyclables. Use totes for shopping instead of getting plastic bags, and if you do get plastic bags, save them for walking your dog, lining your trash cans, or packing your lunch.
- Treat your water well.
Toothpastes, facial scrubs, and cleaning products now often contain microbeads, which provide a deeper scrub. However, these pose a two-fold risk to our oceans and to our nation’s lakes, particularly the Great Lakes. Most microbeads are made from plastic and are not biodegradable. Because of this small size, many of these microbeads pass through water filtration treatments and pollute the water. In 2014, scientists found an average of 17,000 tiny bits and beads of plastic per square kilometer in Lake Michigan. And it is not merely water pollution to worry about: fish consume these beads and process the toxins. This endangers fish populations and can expose people to the toxins if they eat the fish.
Similar adverse effects occur when you flush medications. Be cognizant of what you pour down the drain or use in the shower. If you want to use exfoliating skin products, consider making your own using natural ingredients.
- Eat vegetarian at least once a week.
Try abstaining from meat once a week, even outside of Lent. In addition to being a penitential practice, eating meatless for one day a week is good for the environment. 2500 gallons of water and countless pounds of GMO corn and grain go into producing one pound of beef. So swap out beef for black beans in your burgers, top a salad with chickpeas and feta, or enjoy a filet of sustainably-raised fish. If you want to go another step, purchase in-season vegetables or shop at a farmer’s market. Eating locally and seasonally minimizes the environmental costs of shipping food from halfway across the world.
These, of course, are only a few suggestions for how to practice Christian stewardship in your own life. There are countless ways to conserve energy, enjoy God’s gift of nature, and preserve the forests, lakes, and oceans all around us.View Sources