In June Pope Francis released a statement about the environment, about Christians' duty to care for creation, and to care for the poor. This statement was getting a lot of media attention even before it was released. The media folks have learned that with Pope Francis, you had better keep on your toes, because you just never know what he will say. Insiders call it "the Francis effect." It is true that Pope Francis seems to be cut from a different cloth from his predecessors. But what the papal encyclical actually says about the environment is not new. It may be new to people ill-informed about the long Judeo-Christian tradition of caring for creation. It may be new to people who think that we have to choose between jobs (people) and the environment. It may be new to people whose understanding of Christianity is deeply colored by a commitment to making money.
But it is not new to people who believe that God created the universe and everything in it. It is not new to people who believe that God so loved the world-the whole world-that God gave up everything for it. The ELCA is part of a tradition that values creation and sees a holy calling in the tilling of the earth, the care for animals, the preservation of rivers and streams, the protection of the air. We do not see care of creation as being in competition with justice for the poor.
Our Social Statement, "Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice," (adopted in 1993) outlines biblical, theological and ethical perspectives on the care of creation. Among the provisions in the Statement are the following:
"We live within the covenant God makes with all living things, and are in relationship with them."
"Creation depends on the Creator, and is interdependent within itself."
"The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. No person or group has absolute claim to the earth or its products."
"The Sabbath and justice laws of the Hebrew tradition remind us that we may not press creation relentlessly in an effort to maximize productivity."
The entire Statement can be found on the ELCA website, www.elca.org/Faith/Social-Statements/Caring-for-Creation.
In 2001, Catholic Bishops in the Northwest United States released a pastoral letter on the Columbia River watershed, of which western Montana is a part. In late June of 2015, religious leaders from the US and Canada wrote to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper requesting modernization of the Columbia River Treaty. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote:
"According to Genesis 2:15, our role within creation is to serve and keep God's garden, the earth. This earth, all of creation and that beautiful part of it known as the Columbia River are a gift entrusted to us by God. And this gift is entrusted not just to particular countries or to a particular generation, but to all countries and to all of humanity. When we seek to make faithful decisions about the tending of then Columbia River or any natural resource, we must remember that it is not, nor can it ever be, just about us or just about now."
Supporting the religious and indigenous leaders, I wrote: "The Columbia River is the lifeblood of the tribes who have lived in its watershed from time immemorial. And rivers are the lifeblood of the planet. As a matter of justice and as a matter of survival, I join others across the watershed in urging the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty."
Caring for creation is an ongoing responsibility for all of us, in our actions-large and small-in our prayers, and in our advocacy. We join with Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans, and all others in caring for the earth.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA