Stewardship and War's Collateral Damage

By Schmalenberger, Jerry L. | Currents in Theology and Mission, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Stewardship and War's Collateral Damage


Schmalenberger, Jerry L., Currents in Theology and Mission


Petek Philippe Genene watches have a magazine ad that pictures a father embracing his young son. Below the picture are these words: "You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation." That is what is meant by stewardship. It is managing something not our own. It is taking responsibility to care for people, things, and the nonhuman world as if they belonged to us.

In Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night, Malvolio is the steward of Olivia. That means he managed her affairs and properties on her behalf. They did not belong to him, but he was to care for them as if they did. Makers of Petek Philippe watches understand that stewardship concept and use it well to sell their watches.

We who occupy this universe right now are its stewards. We must, on God's behalf, care for the people, natural resources, mental and physical health, social programs, and conservation, not only because of the resource inheritance of future generations but also because all of this does not belong to us in the first place. Like past generations, we use it for a while and then depart, handing it over to the next generation.

Christian, Muslim, and Hebrew Scriptures speak of our role as stewards of God's, Allah's, and Yahweh's creation. In the Koran it is mentioned in Khalifah 33:72. In the Bible there are twenty-six direct references to stewards. In the Old Testament, the steward is the servant of a royal personage, a foreman who must make decisions, manage, give directions, and assume responsibility for others. The steward is not irreplaceable, nor the final authority. He is responsible for his position to the owner of the people, properties, and resources he has been charged to manage.

For Christians, in the New Testament, the steward is also pictured as a servant-manager of things and persons not belonging to him. In Luke 12:48b we learn that this super authority is also a greater responsibility. Douglas John Hall calls stewardship the summing up of the Christian life. (1) And even though it is a Christian idea in North America, those outside the Christian tradition, like secular humanists and many scientists, champion the concept.

John Muir, the great conservationist and father of America's national parks, claims that there is an even "deeper stewardship." He wrote in his personal journal that we are faithful stewards of creation simply because it belongs to God. (2)

When we go to war, there are tremendous stewardship implications for people of any faith. We rarely hear this mentioned today as the "war on terrorism" proceeds. Consider the stewardship of our natural resources, human lives, and social programs and the cost to future generations.

Perhaps the most obvious stewardship collateral damage is in the waste and consumption of our natural resources in order to fight a war. Ponder what it takes just to transport the hardware, munitions, and people. Then there are the resources used up to shoot, torpedo, mine, and bomb. Consider all the natural resources and plants and animals polluted and destroyed--like those we saw pictured in the Gulf war. Then there are the materials needed to rebuild. In the United States we may be tempted to sacrifice all our stewardship of the environment and conservation efforts in the name of patriotism and the war effort--something some have wanted all along and are now using this (so far) popular war to accomplish.

The financial cost needs to be looked at as well. In a hungry, starving world, is it the best stewardship to put our money on getting revenge on a whole country for what a few did on September 11? Then there will be the cost of rebuilding what we are now destroying. …

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