Come with Me into the Fields: Inspiring Creation Ministry among Faith Communities

Erin Lothes Biviano

Abstract


Climate change is a dominant reality of our time, a series of physical changes to earth’s systems that will impact human wellbeing, social stability, biodiversity, and the familiar patterns of harvest and storms on God’s green earth.  The Fifth Assessment Report clearly states that climate change is already having an impact on our planet and will worsen the lot of the poor in particular.  A critical link between this scientific assessment of the state of the planet and Christian faith is thereby found in the gospel invitation to care for the poor.  Yet arguably many Christians have not internalized this reality, and the central symbols of Christian faith are not yet consciously intertwined with the reality of climate change in the ways needed to summon strong action.  Therefore, the critical question addressed here is how ministers can help lead their communities to understand the links between climate change and faith -- and then inspire them to act.

My focus group research among over 135 faith-based environmentalists show that the motivation for environmental advocacy is effectively created through group discussion in the kinds of trusted groups that congregations and faith communities exemplify.  Congregations and faith communities are privileged places for engaging potential environmental leaders, and for supporting the work of already active environmentalists.

Research Objectives: Empirical research was conducted while a fellow of the Earth Institute, Columbia University, and was approved by the Columbia University Institutional Review Board.  The objective was to engage environmental decision theory as well as theological analysis to understand the factors that motivate faith-based environmentalists.

Methods: Participants were chosen from mainstream congregational sustainability committees.  The Christian groups included Baptists (WA), three groups of Catholics (suburban NJ, urban NY, rural WA), two groups of Episcopalians (suburban and urban NJ), megachurch Christian Evangelicals (FL), Reformed Christians (NJ), two groups of Presbyterians/ PCUSA (MD), Unitarian-Universalists (NJ), and southern pastors (NC).

Participant statements provided the primary starting point for analysis. I asked questions about congregational activity, personal motivations, how beliefs developed, and behavior change, and employed semi-structured questions to permit systematic comparison and analysis.  Discussions were transcribed and coded both inductively and deductively using NVivo 8 content analysis software (QSR Software, Melbourne) to compare and rank the responses. This essay represents analysis of a small portion of the data collected and the conclusions drawn from it.


Keywords


environment; creation ministry; environmental decisions; faith-based environmentalism

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ISSN: 2169-1088