The Greening of Theology: Religious Thinkers Weigh in on Ecological 'Crisis'

By Witham, Larry | Science & Spirit, March-April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Greening of Theology: Religious Thinkers Weigh in on Ecological 'Crisis'


Witham, Larry, Science & Spirit


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Theologians from a wide spectrum of backgrounds are promoting a green theology to aid the new ecological movement. They are gearing theological schools to the topic, and reaching out to ministers and the public in the cause of "creation care."

But the task of changing the ecological habits of modern society is not easy, according to the theologians, who range from liberal to conservative and are both Protestant and Catholic. They say they often feel like "voices crying in the wilderness."

In the past, "Efforts in this direction have been treated as fads," such as recycling or tree planting, says theologian John Cobb of the Claremont School of Theology near Los Angeles. But now, the growing environmental "crisis" may give theology schools a new relevance to society.

There are about 250 theological graduate schools in North America with approximately eighty-one thousand students. However, many of the schools are declining as a source of clergy for congregations, since fewer people are entering the ministry and many new ministers now train as apprentices in local churches.

Given this situation, Cobb says, "there is another way" for theology schools. They should, he says, help all kinds of "spiritual people" deal with pressing environmental concerns. Unlike other institutions, he says, seminaries are geared toward teaching justice, peace, liberation, and inclusiveness.

In the more liberal mainline Protestant schools, the Green Seminary Initiative is now trying to promote an "ethic of ecological care" and "foster seminaries that are models of creation care," says David Rhoads, professor of the New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

In Australia, theologian Norman Habel leads the educational movement "Eco-vision," which seeks to change seminary education. "The current context for theological education is ecology," Habel argues. He espouses new rituals to remind the public of the environment. These include the "Seasons of Creation" during September each year--a time of worship in "a sanctuary called planet Earth."

At one recent assembly during the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting, a panel of theologians marked forty years since the 1967 publication of historian Lynn White's famous talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. White said that Christianity was complicit in the ecological crisis.

As a Christian, White contrasted how Saint Francis looked at nature with how the West used the "dominion" in Genesis to abuse natural resources. Amid the "ecological crisis," White said, science and technology were "out of control" and "Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt."

The new ecological push, while galvanized by headlines on global warming, is also driven by the need for theology to keep up with a changing world. The historical church has always "added the best knowledge of the day to theology," according to the new green theologians.

Evangelical theologians, who tend to be more conservative, have also joined the advocacy of "creation care." In January 2007, evangelical leaders and secular scientists held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D. …

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The Greening of Theology: Religious Thinkers Weigh in on Ecological 'Crisis'
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