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Religious leaders issue calls for biblical view of ecology

WASHINGTON (BP)–Religious leaders issued two documents April 17 rejecting radical environmentalism and supporting a biblical approach to ecological stewardship.

The statements, released at a Washington news conference the same week as the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, affirm God created human beings uniquely in contrast with the rest of his creation and has given them responsibility to care for and develop it. The documents also assert the welfare of human beings is an important factor in devising sound environmental policies.

In so doing, the documents refute some radical segments of environmentalism that consider animals equal to human beings and espouse worship of the earth.

“The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship” has been endorsed by more than 1,000 people, including Protestant, Catholic and Jewish religious leaders, as well as academics. Nine religious conservatives signed onto “A Faith Community Commitment to the Environment and Our Children’s Future.”

Southern Baptist ethics agency head Richard Land, who signed both documents, said he hopes they will help redress an “imbalance” in the debate on the environment.

“The Bible is very clear that God owns the earth and that He has made human beings the primary stewards of His creation,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We have been given a divine mandate (in Genesis 2:15) to ’till’ the earth and to ‘keep’ it. To ‘keep’ the earth is to guard it and to protect its resources and to preserve them. ‘Till’ means to develop the earth’s resources and to cause it to give forth its bounty for the benefit of humankind.

“So from the very beginning we have a mandate both to preserve and to develop the earth as stewards of His creation, understanding that we will give an account of our stewardship to God himself.

“Unfortunately, there are many today who want to stress the preservation mandate and ignore the development mandate,” Land said. “Such people, as the ‘Cornwall Declaration’ states, ‘mistakenly view humans as principally consumers and polluters rather than producers and stewards.’ As the declaration concludes, ‘Consequently, they ignore our potential, as bearers of God’s image, to add to the earth’s abundance.'”

Robert Sirico, president of the Action Institute, said at the news conference introducing the Cornwall statement the “welfare of people comes first … there is a clear distinction between the human race and all other living creatures.

“Reason and sound science are our concern, and this is what should guide our policies, not emotions, not high-decibel-level street theater or discredited predictions of global famine and resource depletion.”

Both statements call for development policies that not only protect the environment but produce economic advancement.

The Cornwall document, named so because it was initiated in a meeting at Cornwall, Conn., says the “tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is sadly self-defeating.”

Thomas Coleman, an African-American pastor from Muskegon, Mich., said at the news conference, “While there is no consensus either in the religious community or the scientific community, as to the effects of global warming, there is a growing consensus among minorities that this is just another scheme for government and regulators to intrude upon and impair and impede the progress of the poor.”

While some concerns about the environment are valid, the Cornwall statement says others are not, including “manmade global warming, overpopulation and rampant species loss.”

The “Faith Community” statement is more politically and public-policy oriented in its approach. It calls for presidential and congressional candidates to address the issues raised in the statement. A list of several legislative initiatives consistent with the statement accompanied the document.

The statement calls for improvement of the environment “through the application of scientific and technological knowledge,” the encouragement of conservation based on private ownership rather than government management, ecological policies that “expand economic opportunities for all Americans” and policies that protect the future, including job opportunities, for “our children and grandchildren.”

In addition to Land, others signing the “Faith Community” statement included Jerry Falwell, Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition and Lou Sheldon of Traditional Values Coalition.

Among those endorsing the Cornwall document in addition to Land and Lapin were James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family; Charles Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship; Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ; Richard John Neuhaus, president of Institute on Religion and Public Life, and Diane Knippers, president of Institute on Religion and Democracy.

In conjunction with release of the Cornwall statement, the formation of the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship was announced.