Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment

Edited by Michael B. Barkey

Foreword

The biblical starting point for any discussion of the nature of religious environmental stewardship must begin with the witness of the Book of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And 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’” (Gen. 1:27—28). In our modern times, however, this biblical vision of the relationship between God, man, and nature is muddled by two false views. The one sees the natural world as the source of all value, man as an intruder, and God, if he exists at all, as so immanent in the natural order that he ceases to be distinguishable from it. The other places man as the source of all values, the natural order as merely instrumental to his aims, and God as often irrelevant.

Genesis presents a radically different picture of how the world is put together. In this account, God is the source of all values–in truth, he is the source of everything, calling it into being out of nothing by his powerful word. Man is part of this order essentially and, what is more, by the virtue of his created nature is placed at the head of creation as its steward. Yet this stewardship can never be arbitrary or anthropocentric, as the old canard goes, for this notion implies that man rules creation in God’s stead and must do so according to his divine will.

In light of these contemporary confusions about the true nature of stewardship, and because this concept is so central to the concerns of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition and of the free society, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty has committed herself to articulating a vision of environmental stewardship informed by sound theological reflection, honest scientific inquiry, and rigorous economic thinking. To this end, the Institute brought together twenty-five clergy, theologians, economists, environmental scientists, and policy experts in West Cornwall, Connecticut, last October, to discuss the aspects of this problem and to lay the intellectual groundwork for further inquiry.

Out of this important meeting was born the idea of composing an interfaith statement that would express common concerns, beliefs, and aspirations about environmental stewardship. Over the course of months, an early draft was vetted by many of the nation’s leading Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant minds, and a final version of the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, which was agreed upon on February 1, 2000.

Since then, the Acton Institute, along with the newly formed Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship (a broad-based coalition of individuals and organizations committed to the principles espoused in the Cornwall Declaration), began distributing the declaration and promoting its principles within the religious community. In addition, the Acton Institute, in conjunction with the Interfaith Council, developed a series of accompanying essays contained in this volume. Each essay contains the wisdom of its own tradition, and was created with the help of editorial boards comprised of respected Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant thinkers committed to truth and understanding. These three documents each help flesh out the theoretical content of environmental stewardship and its practical application as outlined in the Cornwall Declaration.

I am proud to present the Cornwall Declaration and these documents in the hope that they will contribute significantly to clarifying and advancing the important contemporary conversation about environmental stewardship, helping us all see our moral and religious responsibilities in keeping and tilling the garden that is our world.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico
President
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 17, 2000