There was an addition to the program at this year’s World Conservation Congress that may have surprised some secular environmentalists: a Spiritual Journey.
Every four years, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources holds its 10-day congress to promote environmental conservation initiatives. Until recently, the conservation movement itself has largely been a nonreligious one. Some are of the mind that environmental science and the Christian faith cannot coexist. But there’s an increasing sense that the issues plaguing our planet are based more in the moral realm — such as greed, selfishness, and indifference — than purely scientific ones.
The programming at this year’s Honolulu-based conference reflected this shift. For the first time, a “Spiritual Journey” was included as part of the offerings. The fact that the conference was held in Hawaii, where spiritual and public life tend to meet more than in European nations, may also play a part. This change was noticeable even during the opening ceremony, where thanks were expressed to “Our heavenly Father” for his “creation.”
Although it’s been said that environmentalism is “an ethic in search of a religion,” many conservation experts and scientists still face challenges when trying to integrate their Christian faith into their professional lives. But should the two be so separated?
The two leading proposals on why nature matters are that humans need it to survive as a species, and that nature has intrinsic value. These ideas are echoed in the Christian Gospel, but many non-religious conservationists hear messages of indifference from some prominent Christian leaders in the media.
By and large, stories of environmental, faith-based heroism are not highlighted for the public to see and hear. The Christian media often loses out in making the connection between environmental issues and the gospel, and the secular media is often confused by the more expansive agenda of Christian groups that are concerned about many issues, including conservation.
There’s a notable need for Christian organizations to give where it’s most needed: namely, to help protect our Earth. Conservation efforts may be on the rise, but the visibility of the Christian groups making such efforts needs much more work.
Overall, this is a cause that needs immediate attention. A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund stated that in a span of only 40 years, over half the world’s wildlife has been lost. 2011’s Bonn Agreement sounds impressive, as it aims to restore 1.5 million hectares of forest. However, compared to the 2014 estimate from the Global Environment Facility, in which it was assessed that 2 billion hectares have been degraded worldwide, this effort comes up pitifully short. In our own country, two-thirds of our drinking water comes from forests, which proves that both the secular and Christian communities need to not only start caring about our resources, but put conservation plans into action.
Ultimately, even if there continues to be a divide between Christian and secular conservationists, they can agree on one thing: our planet is precious, and we need to take more drastic measures in order to protect it