In 1993, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted its 4th Social Statement: "Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice." Like all ELCA Social Statements, it is available at www.elca.org/socialstatements, as are interpretive materials. Much has happened in the last 2 decades in the area of the environment. There has been a dramatic increase in scientific documentation of climate change and other environmental impacts. Public opinion on environmental issues has intensified, as is evident in the frequency in which they are part of political debates. And there has been a great deal of moral discernment on environmental issues since 1993, both in the church and in the society at large.
Based on robust Lutheran theology, the social statement identifies "The Current Crisis" thus:
"The earth is a planet of beauty and abundance; the earth system is wonderfully intricate and incredibly complex. But today living creatures, and the air, soil and water that support them, face unprecedented threats. Many threats are global; most stem directly from human activity. Our current practices may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner we know."
The social statement identifies two interconnected problems: excessive consumption by industrialized nations and the growth of human populations worldwide. It lists depletion of non-renewable resources, toxic emissions, erosion of topsoil, destruction of habitats, depletion of the ozone layer as some of the damage to the environment. No mention is made of rising oceans or of mass extinctions. Nor is desecration of lands and waters sacred to indigenous peoples mentioned.
The social statement spends a lot of time on what is sometimes seen as the conflict between the economy and the environment. In response it states: "Meeting the needs of today's generations for food, clothing, and shelter requires a sound environment." And it describes the power of hope: hope as gift, and hope in action.
Next is a discussion of justice:
"Caring, serving, keeping, loving, and living by wisdom-these translate into justice in political, economic, social and environmental relationships. Justice in these relationships means honoring the integrity of creation, and striving for fairness within the human family.
It is in hope of God's promised fulfillment that we hear the call to justice; it is in hope that we take action. When we act interdependently and in solidarity with creation, we do justice. We serve and keep the earth, trusting its bounty can be sufficient for all, and sustainable."
The social statement goes on to describe various ways that justice is lived out:
+Justice through participation
+Justice through solidarity
+Justice through sufficiency
+Justice through sustainability
The final section of the statement is a series of commitments of the church, including as individuals, as worshiping and learning communities, as a committed community, as a community of moral deliberation, and as advocate.
As an ELCA we have pursued the goal of advocacy in environmental issues. One of our full-time advocacy positions in Washington is dedicated to environmental issues, and there is a Bishops' Ready Bench also dedicated to it.. Most of our social statements do not get the same kind of institutional commitment to follow through. Although the statement is 23 years old, much of it still applies. If anything, the crisis is even more real than it was 23 years ago.
In the section on moral deliberation, the statement promises:
"We will play a role in bringing together parties in conflict, not only members of this church but also members of society at large. This church's widespread presence and credibility provides us a unique opportunity to mediate, to resolve conflict, and to move toward consensus."
What a gift it would be if our congregations could be communities of moral deliberation in this fractious time, not only on the environment, but on any number of issues that face our communities. It would indeed be a treasure.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA