Living Ecological Justice: What is Stewardship?

Theologically, the stewardship model has deepened to embrace the notion of “creation care.” Rather than seeing ourselves as domineering but benevolent “land managers” of a planet that has been entrusted to us (as the steward model has suggested to some), there is a growing sense that we as humans are not managers but co-inhabitants of the larger life community.

As such, we are called to a deeper “ecological conscience,” where our sense of community is expanded beyond the human family to embrace the community of life itself. Realizing our deep interconnection with all of creation, we are sensing that we are both potent shapers of the unfolding of creation and yet at the same time entirely dependent upon creation for our very survival.

Creation care thus helps people of faith move away from the suggestion that humans are lords, masters, and conquerors of nature. — an excerpt from “Falling in Love with the Earth,” by Stephen Bede Scharper in Living Ecological Justice.

The concept of stewardship often triggers conversations about management of finances and resources within a faith community. However, Stephen Bede Scharper challenges us to step beyond monetary responsibility to the broader scope of intentional  ecological accountability. Being a good steward means taking care of what has been bestowed upon us as our responsibility. Parents are to be good stewards because children are gifts from God. Pastors are to be good stewards because the Word and Sacraments are gifts from God. Following that formula, the budding trees and caressing winds as well as the hovering eagles and croaking frogs are all gifts from God and humans are to be good stewards of all such things.

One of the greatest tasks of a good steward is to love and to care for their gift as the Creator would. The phrase “creation care” is suggested by Scharper to replace or supercede stewardship, but I challenge that instead of displacing “stewardship,” the church must redefine and transform its limited understanding of dominion in Genesis 1:26-28. Even though God has the capacity to dominate all of creation, it is with grace, love, and compassion that God accompanies the world, exercising justice with the same gentle hands that molded Adam and Eve out of clay. God is not seeking to dominate humanity, but to empower us to become partners and agents of justice and peace. God calls humanity to be good stewards of creation because God has breathed into us a love for God’s handiwork and a care for God’s imaginative creations. In this loving care, humanity is moved to cultivate the land with tenderness, to hunt the forests and the seas with compassion, and to restore an ecological balance that God once exclaimed as “very good.”

If this were to be the call of a good steward, how is that different from the human-centred corporations seeking to profit while destroying non-renewable natural resources? If to be good stewards, one must love creation as one’s own body, why are there piles of garbage pumped into the blood streams of the earth? If we are good stewards of creation, why are there people still denying the responsibility of informed choices to soften our impact on creation, allowing space for creation to restore and to renew? Creation care goes beyond recycling and composting. The call of a harmonious relationship with creation is to regard even the mosquitoes and earthworms as valued parts of creation. For humans to be stewards is not to exercise a power or authority that is destructive but one that embodies the divine love from the moment each aspect of the world became a reality as God spoke them into being. We are stewards because we have the capacity to love as God loves the world. Now turn not only to the human neighbours and see the face of God, but look intently at the trees, stroke knowingly the frozen soil, and pray intensely that each of us awaken to the call of being a good steward of God’s gifts in creation.

Author

  • JoAnne Lam

    JoAnne Chung Yan Lam is a Hong-Kong born Chinese-Canadian who has travelled many countries and enjoys learning about new cultures. She is the proud mother of Deborah (2005) and Gideon (2007). JoAnne was baptized at the St. Philip's Lutheran Church in Hong Kong, trained in The United Church of Canada, and was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, Switzerland from 2002-2012. After 10 years in Geneva, JoAnne returned to Canada. Currently, she is a member of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Kitchener. She has a Master of Theological Studies from Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology, as well as a Master of Advanced Ecumenical Studies from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, affiliated with the World Council of Churches and the University of Geneva.

1 thought on “Living Ecological Justice: What is Stewardship?”

  1. Neil Douglas-Klotz, in his
    Neil Douglas-Klotz, in his book “Desert Wisdom”, has a great commentary on the Hebrew words that get translated as “dominion” and “subdue” in Genesis:

    The Hebrew “khibeshu,” normally translated as “subdue” can also be understood as “the ability of human consciousness to move with a greater amount of free will” which “was here extended to include an ability to override its own subconscious self, instincts, and other interior abilities, which are a heritage from the interiority of older beings.

    Similarly, the word “îreddou”, normally translated as “dominion,” “points to a singular power to radiate diversity and differentiation, a power that spreads out, unfolds, and occupies space by its nature, that moves with firmness and perseveres in its own will” (p. 162).

    In both cases, the words can be understood to portray creation entering a new phase in which a capacity is given to humans to exercise free will, to act consciously and make choices, to differentiate and diversify. In other words, to understand this passage as giving humans a license to dominate and subdue is not really justified by the text – it is both inadequate translation and bad interpretation.

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