Why should Christians care about the environment?

Creation care and confidence in God

January 25, 2022

In 2021, leaders from around the world gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss ways that countries can help to prevent some of the more catastrophic predictions related to climate change. The meeting culminated in several declarations of promises and plans, but few details of how to achieve these goals. Some criticized the meeting for all the jet fuel expended to get everyone to Scotland, and others have taken aim at groups that have wrongly advocated fewer babies as a means of fighting climate change. However, the goal of stewarding creation is worth considering, not out of fear for the future or making an idol out of the Earth, but out of care for what God has given to us. Southern Baptists articulated this in a 1990 Resolution on the topic: “We . . . are charged by our Creator with caring for creation (Genesis 1:28, 2:15), and are called to be faithful stewards of that which is entrusted to us.” Creation care was part of the first command given to humanity (Gen 1:28) and should continue to be part of our work even after the fall. 

Creation care is rooted in confidence not fear

At the core of much of the discussion about creation care, at least in its secular version of environmentalism, is a fear that verges on apocalyptic. Instead of the Four Horsemen of war, famine, death, and pestilence, there are scientists warning about a temperature limit and the increased incidence of extreme weather events. Rather than watching for wars and rumors of wars, people are looking at rising sea levels and the melting ice caps. This has reached the point where some media outlets no longer speak of “climate change” but use “crisis” and “emergency” in their articles in an effort to alert people to the approaching doom. As one New York Times writer says, “It’s coming for you, wherever you are, and we need to do whatever we can to limit the damage.” Even if things change, they say, it may be too late to prevent the coming catastrophe that they predict.

Instead of fear, Christians should recognize that calls for creation care within the church arise from God’s Word, which has bestowed on us the obligation to steward and cultivate the Earth as God’s agents. We should not dismiss these concerns about the environment as unimportant or throw up our hands in panic. Rather, we ought to set about the task given to us by God to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). 

Part of the task of exercising dominion is the act of taking responsibility for and exerting proper authority over the creation. In contrast to those who work out of fear, Christians recognize that the demands of today are the same as they were in Eden: stewardship and cultivation. And as we care for creation in a fallen world, we look forward to the day when God renews everything (2 Pet. 3:13). That should give us both a sense of security and peace as we look at the world around us and hear the constant rhetoric of fear and outrage. This does not mean we are resigned or apathetic about sin’s effects on creation. But it does mean that we can go about our work while full of hope and resting in God’s sovereign hand over all things.

Creation care is partly rooted in cultivating and stewarding God’s creation

As Christians take steps to steward the environment around them, they work not out of a sense of self-preservation, but a desire to fulfill the task given them by God of cultivating the environment (Gen. 2:15). At the heart of creation care are the linked, but distinct, goals of cultivation and stewardship. Cultivation is about doing all that is possible to maximize the flourishing of an item. For example, when a farmer cultivates the land, he prepares it before he plants by clearing the debris from the field and tilling the soil to ensure that the seed will be placed in the best environment possible. The farmer does not just cast his seed about, but rather does all he or she can — such as crop rotation to give the land rest or using better seeds — to maximize the return. Similarly, humanity is called to cultivate the earth and do all that is necessary to maximize the potential for flourishing. This could mean sustainable farming and fishing practices which look at ways of minimizing the effects of pollution on the environment or the development of crops that can grow with less water. These are all ways of maximizing the earth’s production and are in line with Scripture’s call to cultivate and care for the planet.

At the same time, Christians should keep in mind that the goal of cultivation is not just our own enjoyment. Rather, the Christian must give an account for everything that is done (Matt. 16:27), and this includes the stewarding of God’s creation. Part of what it means to steward is to cultivate, but to do so for the benefit of the owner. Christians recognize that we do not own the world, even though we have been called to care for and subdue it. So as we go about the task of cultivation, we bear in mind the responsibility that comes with the knowledge that it all belongs to God, and as the psalmist declares, it all testifies to God and his glory (Psa. 19:1). We wish to show ourselves like the servants who faithfully managed their master’s money and were able to give him a return on his investment (Matt. 25:14-30). It’s not that God needs more from us — he owns it all anyway — but we work to care for what God has given us because we want to honor him. 

Creation care is ultimately bounded by the fallen reality of the world

In John Steinbeck’s classic novel East of Eden, he opens not with a description of the major families or even a nod to the ways that they will fight, fall, sin, and be redeemed throughout the novel. He begins with a description of the land that they will farm and develop and which hems them in. The most stunning descriptions are of the flowers that cover the valley floor: blue lupins edged with white “so that a field of lupins is more blue than you can imagine” and poppies that are “a burning color—not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies.” Just as important as the characters of the novel is the environment that shapes and which sustains them. However, in the midst of the beauty is the reminder that the characters are East of Eden, which means estrangement and a cursed ground that produces thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17-18). 

And this truth grounds the task of creation care. We do not live in a world that is free from the taint and corruption of sin. So every action we take must reckon with the limits of what can be achieved, as well as the recognition that the earth will pass away. This does not mean that we should do nothing, for it is clear cultivation and stewardship are part of what it means to be human. It does mean that we do not give into the false belief that humanity is able to control nature and bend it entirely to our wills. We are finite creatures, made all the more so by the corruption of the fall. So we must not give in to the delusion of thinking that we can overcome all limitations, problems, and results of sin’s influence in the world. We fight against it. We push back where we can. But we do not give into despair when we don’t see the end of brokenness this side of creation’s redemption as it groans for its release from sin (Rom. 8:22). 

While the 2021 Glasgow meeting did not likely mean the end of dire predictions of Earth’s imminent climate apocalypse — as there will always be predictions of some impending apocalypse, whether Mayan doomsdays or computer glitches and Y2K — Christians should take this opportunity to consider the environment around them. And as we see both the beauty and brokenness of creation, may we be the people who seek to steward the world around us as an act of obedience to God, and for the flourishing of others.  

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24