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Environmental Stewardship

I. A Theology of Stewardship and the Environment

All creation is under the authority of God and all creation is interdependent. Our covenant with God requires us to be stewards, protectors, and defenders of all creation. The use of natural resources is a universal concern and responsibility of all as reflected in Psalm 24:1: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof."

In the Bible, a steward is one given responsibility for what belongs to another. The Greek word we translate as steward is oikonomos, one who cares for the household or acts as its trustee. The word oikos, meaning household, is used to describe the world as God's household. Christians, then, are to be stewards of the whole household (creation) of God. Oikonomia, "stewardship," is also the root of our word "economics." Oikos, moreover, is the root of our modern word, "ecology." Thus in a broad sense, stewardship, economics, and ecology are, and should be, related.

The Old Testament relates these concepts in the vision of shalom. Often translated "peace," the broader meaning of shalom is wholeness. In the Old Testament, shalom is used to characterize the wholeness of a faithful life lived in relationship to God. Shalom is best understood when we experience wholeness and harmony as human beings with God, with others, and with creation itself. The task of the steward is to seek shalom.

Stewards of God's Creation. The concept of stewardship is first introduced in the creation story. In Genesis 1:26, the Bible affirms that every person is created in God's image. But this gift brings with it a unique responsibility. Being created in God's image brings with it the responsibility to care for God's creation. God chose to give human beings a divine image not so we would exploit creation to our own ends, but so we would be recognized as stewards of God. To have dominion over the earth is a trusteeship, a sign that God cares for creation and has entrusted it to our stewardship. Our stewardship of all the world's resources is always accountable to God who loves the whole of creation and who desires that it exist in shalom. The intention of creation was that all should experience shalom, to know the goodness of creation. In the Old Testament, "fullness of life" means having enough, sufficient, to experience the goodness of creation. By contrast, our age has come to define "fullness of life" as more than enough. The desire of many for excess begins to deny enough for others, and shalom is broken. That all should participate in creation's goodness is a fundamental of stewardship.

Another theme of shalom is that in creation we are all related. Humans are not self-sufficient. We need God, others, nature. The story of the garden (Genesis 2) attempts to picture the complete and harmonious interrelatedness of all creation. There is shalom only when we recognize that interrelatedness and care for the whole. When we violate the rules of the garden, we are dismissed. In ecological terms, when we violate the principles of ecology, we suffer environmental damage.

As the story of the garden shows, God's intention of shalom was not carried out. Sin intervened, and the shalom was broken. But God offered a way to restore shalom-redemption. And as God's stewards we have a role in that redemption. Stewardship, then, is to become involved wherever wholeness is lacking and to work in harmony with God's saving activity to reconcile, to reunite, to heal, to make whole.

Stewardship has to do with how we bring all of the resources at our disposal into efficient use in our participation in the saving activity of God. Environmental stewardship is one part of our work as God's stewards. As stewards of the natural environment we are called to preserve and restore the air, water, and land on which life depends. Moreover, we are called to see that all life has a sufficient share of the resources of nature. With new hope rooted in Christ and with more obedient living as stewards of the earth, we can participate in God's healing of creation.

II. United Methodist Historical Concerns

Since the beginnings of the Methodist movement, there has been a concern with what we today call "environmental concerns." Wesley's emphasis on "cleanliness" came as he observed a land of open sewers, impure water, unplanned cities, and smoke-filled air. In the mines and mills, squalor and filth were everywhere, as was disease. The
substantial decline in the death rate in England from 1700 to 1801 can be traced to improvements in environment, sanitation, and a wider knowledge of concepts of basic health such as those advocated by Wesley.

III. Principles for Christian Stewardship of the Environment

A. Responsible and Equitable Use of Natural Resources.

We support measures which will lead to a more careful and efficient use of the resources of the natural world. We urge United Methodists to analyze their consumption patterns and to seek to live a simple and less resource-dependent life.

We encourage programs which will recycle solid materials of all sorts-paper, glass, wood, building materials, metals, plastics, etc.

We urge United Methodists to participate actively in community recycling programs and urge the establishment of such programs in communities without these programs.

We believe that natural resources, outside the control of different nations, from the genes that form life to the air and outer space, are the common heritage of all humanity, and therefore must be developed and preserved for the benefit of all, not just for the few, both today and for generations to come.

We support the concept of common heritage where people have the right to enough of the resources of the universe to provide for their health and well-being; and we believe that God's creation is intended to be used for the good of all as a precious gift, not for warfare or economic oppression of others.

B. Right to Live in a Community Free of Toxic and Hazardous Substances.

We advocate that governments:

1. aggressively assess the extent of possible toxic and hazardous waste disposal problems within their jurisdictions;

2. require that the entity or entities responsible for the problem pay for hazardous waste cleanup and for any health damages caused by the improper or inadequate disposal of such substances; and

3. severely penalize those convicted of illegal disposal of hazardous and toxic materials.

We encourage measures to minimize the use of toxic and hazardous substances.

We oppose the practice of exporting materials banned in one nation for use in another nation.

We advocate that all parties with information on the health effects of a potentially toxic or hazardous substance make these data available to users of the substance.

We support measures to strengthen the public's right-to-know about chemical substances in their communities. Communities have a right to know whether their water, air, soil, or food is clean and free of toxic pollution.

We support applying the "Precautionary Principle," shifting the burden of proof to polluters to show that their air and water emissions are safe, rather than making citizens prove that emissions pose a health threat.

We support the right of those groups that would be affected by a nuclear, toxic, or hazardous material waste repository or incinerator to be involved actively in all decisions to locate such repositories or incinerators in their neighborhoods or jurisdictions.

We urge a halt to nuclear and toxic waste disposal at sea and stringent controls on toxic waste disposal in the soil.

C. Right to Clean Air.

We believe clean air is a basic right and necessity for all life. We must clean up and prevent air pollution, which threatens the health of our families and the survival of all life on the planet.

To ensure that we protect future generations and our natural environment from the harmful effects of air pollution and leave a legacy of clean air:

We advocate the adoption and strict enforcement of adequate standards (health-based air quality standards to protect vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and people with asthma) to control outdoor air pollutants such as vehicle and industrial smokestack emissions.

We urge all United Methodists to car pool, use mass transit, drive fuel efficient cars, and find other ways of reducing vehicle and industrial emissions.

We must give special attention to the long-term effects of air pollution, such as the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, and acid rain; we support international and bilateral efforts to eliminate the cause of these problems.

We advocate that all large polluters, specifically power plants, refineries and chemical manufacturers, irrespective of age or fuel use, meet standards based on the least polluting process in each industrial sector.

We advocate the adoption and strict enforcement of adequate standards to control indoor air pollutants, such as chemical fumes from gas stoves and furnaces, pesticides, cleaning materials, formaldehyde, candles, paint, photocopy machines, radon and carpets, as well as particulates such as dust, mold, and asbestos fibers.

We advocate prohibiting smoking and providing adequate fresh air ventilation in all indoor facilities.

D. Minimization of Chemical Use.

We recommend the concept of integrated pest management (IPM), natural control systems, and crop rotation.

We urge that greater restrictions be placed on the export of restricted agricultural chemicals and that development and aid agencies encourage the use of agricultural techniques which rely less heavily on agricultural chemical use.

We recommend that industry, consumer groups, and governmental agencies aggressively investigate and study the long-range effects of chemicals used for the processing and preservation of food products, since many of these chemicals are harmful to animals and humans.

E. Responsible Land Use.

We encourage economic and farming practices which conserve and promote the improvement of topsoil.

We urge that governments provide farmers with incentives for more careful management of this precious resource.

We urge that the careful maintenance of the productivity of farm land be the central goal of all management of agricultural lands.

We urge governments to preserve the most productive soils for agricultural purposes.

We advocate for the preservation of forests (including reforestation), wetlands and wild areas for ecological balance, wildlife production, water quality, air quality, and the human spirit.

F. Preservation of the Diversity of Life.

We believe that the wondrous diversity of nature is a key part of God's plan for creation. Therefore, we oppose measures which would eliminate diversity in plant and animal varieties, eliminate species, or destroy habitats critical to the survival of endangered species or varieties.

We support national and international efforts to protect endangered species and imperiled habitats.

G. Right to Abundant and Clean Water.

The water on this planet is a sacred gift from God. To ensure that water remains pure and available to all.

We urge that steps be taken by all people to ensure more careful management and preservation of ground water sources.

We support the right of native peoples to the first use of waters on their lands.

We urge that industrial, municipal, agricultural and individual consumers of water develop and use water-conserving technology and practices.

We believe that water is a gift from God that needs to be kept clean. We advocate measures that will address polluted runoff that is threatening to public health; protection of waters for future generations; wetlands preservation to clean water and sustain wildlife; the public's right to know that their water is safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing; and effective enforcement against illegal pollution.

H. Responsible and Ethical Use of Technology.

We urge that the ethical and environmental effects of new technologies be fully examined before these technologies are used on a widespread basis. We acknowledge the constantly imperfect state of our knowledge of the effects of new technology and urge the development of those technologies most in accord with God's plan of wholeness for all creation.

I. Minimization of the Military's Impact on the Environment.

We oppose the production and testing of weapons designed to destroy or harm God's creation, such as all chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
We urge the abolishment of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and urge the cleanup of sites contaminated by chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons waste.

IV. Involvement

We urge all United Methodists, their local churches, boards and agencies to examine their roles as stewards of God's earth and to study, discuss, and work to implement this resolution.
All general agencies shall develop appropriate resources to implement this resolution.

Resolution # 1026, 2008 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #10, 2004 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #10, 2000 Book of Resolutions

See Social Principles, ¶ 160A.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2012. Copyright © 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission