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Our Living World, Part 4: Land

A field in rural Putnam County, Ohio, under cultivation. "You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth," Psalm 65:9. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.
A field in rural Putnam County, Ohio, under cultivation. "You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth," Psalm 65:9. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

Read the entire "Our Living World" series here.

The Biblical Story

Genesis 1:9-11, 24 and 2:7 speak of land and its role from the beginning of creation:

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth...  11Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.”
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.”
2:7 Then the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.
1:28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (NRSVUE, alt.)

From the first stories of the first book of the Bible, land and the “dust” upon it provides the literal ground for life of many species, including human beings. Land is our shared home with all other land-dwelling species of life. And it was their home before it also became ours as human beings.

As home for all of us, our first duty toward the land is not to control it, but to simply to inhabit it with all other living creatures of all kinds. Only later is our second duty named: subduing the land and having dominion over all animals.

In ordering these duties in this way, we see our duty to subdue the land first depends on and is in service to our duty to co-inhabit it with the other species. And our dominion over the animals, whether on land or in the waters, is in service not simply to our own interests, but to all life in our living world.

Biblical priorities for church

In Resolution 1033, “Caring for Creation: A Call to Stewardship and Justice,” United Methodists make our clearest affirmation of these biblical priorities for our relationship with land as human beings. 

“We are to tend God’s land and care for all creation’s creatures as faithful trustees with a commitment to preserve its goodness and diversity for future generations.

“We encourage economic and agricultural practices that conserve and promote the improvement of land resources, production of healthful foods, and preservation of a clean environment.

“We call on governments to support careful management of agricultural lands, protection of forests, and preservation of biodiversity among both plants and animals. We support national and international efforts to protect endangered species and imperiled habitats.

“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 the few, both today and for generations to come. We believe God’s whole earth has inherent value and our use of these precious gifts, including energy resources, must balance the needs of human development with the needs of non-human creation and future generations.”

United Methodists here affirm our human responsibility to all other lifeforms and to the land itself. We are called both to care for the land and to improve what the land can offer us all in our living world.

Addressing reversed priorities

At the same time, United Methodists name, repent and call for repentance and change situations where we ourselves and other humans have placed the call to subdue the land over the first biblical call to co-inhabit it with all other life-forms.

Energy production over the past several centuries has caused extreme harm to the land, other peoples (especially Indigenous people and minority populations) and other life-forms. United Methodists call out strip mining, mountaintop removal, fracking, deep sea extraction and the milling of uranium, especially where these harm the lands of Indigenous peoples (Resolution 1001: Energy Policy Statement).

United Methodists, through ongoing acts of repentance, continue to acknowledge our own complicity in dishonoring the spirituality and practice of care for the land by Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples worldwide. We have taken or allowed the taking of land for power plants, mining, garbage and nuclear waste dumps. As part of our repentance, United Methodists pledge to work to reverse the damage done to these lands and these peoples (Resolution 1025: “Environmental Racism in the U.S.”).   

United Methodists have also repudiated and seek to act in repentance for our past support of the “Doctrine of Discovery.” This doctrine asserted the right of (largely) European peoples to settle lands belonging to Indigenous peoples and forcibly to relocate or commit genocide against those peoples. (Resolution 3321: “Native People and The United Methodist Church,” and Resolution 3331: “Doctrine of Discovery”).

In repentance, United Methodists acknowledge the direct complicity of Methodist ancestors in perpetrating the Sand Creek Massacre; support legal efforts to provide the reparations to the Cheyenne and Arapahoe people approved in 1865 in the Treaty of Little Arkansas; formally recognize these tribes and enter into an ongoing healing relationship with them through the Council of Bishops; and have called on the Catholic Church to make formal repeal of its Doctrine of Discovery (Resolution 3324: “Trail of Repentance and Healing”). The Vatican made a statement to distance itself from that doctrine on March 30,2023, but it has not formally repealed the papal statements establishing it.

United Methodists have also addressed the significant challenge of large agribusiness. Advances in agriculture, implemented largely through agribusiness worldwide, have increased the worldwide supply and distribution of food. They have also dramatically altered both the land itself and the lives of rural people, often for the worse. Seed patents, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers can have lasting negative effects on farmers, the land and workers alike. United Methodists are called to partner with farmers and rural-based organizations to address and remedy critical issues affecting farmers, farmland and the people who work it for the benefit of farmers, workers and rural communities and the sustainability of the land itself. (Resolution 3391: “Call to the Churches for the Renewal of Rural Ministries” and Resolution 4051: “The United Methodist Church, Food, Justice, and World Hunger”).

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Commitment to being good stewards

Everything around us is made from the natural resources of the land - the houses we live in, the food we eat, the components of the technology we use. The choices we make in the use of land for producing food, building communities, businesses and industries, extracting resources and managing waste impact the ability of future generations to survive and thrive.

The Creator calls human beings to care for the land for its own sake and for the sake of all life-forms in our living world. United Methodists echo the call. We affirm our first duty is to live with and care for all other creatures in our living world. We resist powers and actions that subjugate the land for our short term benefit to the detriment of a greater long-term good for ourselves and the co-inhabitants of our living world.

How might you and your congregation answer this call, or answer it better than you currently do?

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