Pope Francis I recently made a strong statement in support of creation care, or the uniting of religious, theological beliefs with a concern for environmental protection. Though care for the environment has often been a part of Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity has been slow to come to the defense of Mother Nature. Many consider the launching of the Evangelical Climate Initiative in 2006 to be a watershed moment in bringing Judeo-Christianity and its works on the environment into mainstream media.
Creation care arguments often focus on values of charity, protecting the poor, and providing a healthy world for future generations. Francis has repeatedly spoken out about the values of charity, has decried the poverty specifically relative to the wealth of some priests. It may come as no surprise, then, that Francis links these values to caring for the environment “because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.” The full remarks can be heard here, which outline Francis’s emphasis on balance between humans, humans and the environment, and humans and their spirituality.
Referencing his namesake (St. Francis of Assisi), Francis encouraged his followers, and indeed all of humanity, to be “custodians of creation.” This phrase is interchangeable with the “stewardship” of creation that reflects Genesis 2:15 which calls for humans to “work and take care of” the Garden of Eden (New International Version). The story of Genesis is often considered to be in contradiction with itself, as it contains phrases that seem to laud the role of humanity as having dominion over the world and also phrases that support taking care of cultivating the earth. This reflects a difference in interpretation, which Francis is trying to push towards the latter view where Creation is a gift rather than property to be exploited.
The recent, more prominent exposure of the creation care movement is promising. Religious leaders have the unique ability to communicate to those might normally be unreachable by scientific arguments. Although there are groups that use religious language and mandates to advocate against creation care (such as the Cornwall Alliance), and some scholars are skeptical of their ultimate reach and efficacy, creation care and its movement are still a potential avenue for encouraging citizen participation. The concern raised by science can be given a moral imperative and a theodical urgency to act.