Why Lutherans Care for Creation: A Profile

Why Lutherans Care for Creation

Foundations for an Eco-Justice in the Ongoing Reformation of the Church

For the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (2017)

1. Theology: Rooted in the Scriptures as received by theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran confessional tradition, we affirm God as creator of all, with an incarnation theology that cherishes the continuing presence of God in, with, and under the whole creation. We see redemption through Christ as a “new creation.” We experience the Holy Spirit as sustainer of all, straining toward the fulfillment of creation.

2. Cross and Resurrection: The gospel of the cross leads us to see God in solidarity with the human situation and all creation in its pain and agony, especially the most vulnerable humans and other forms of life. A theology of the cross gives us communion with “creation groaning in travail” and stresses that God redeems all creation. Justified by grace alone, we are freed to acknowledge our complicity in personal and systemic sin against creation, to repent, and to empty ourselves in service to Earth community. Our affirmation of resurrection offers hope not only for the world to come but here and now in this world.

3. Worship and Sacraments: We affirm that the material world is good and capable of bearing the divine and that Christ is present in such ordinary elements such as grapes, grain, and water—the basis for our delight in and reverence for all creation. Our worship invites us into transforming encounters with God in the flesh and in the whole natural world. We are called to worship God with creation, joining in the song of the whole creation.

4. Vocation: Our biblical vocation is “to serve and to preserve” Earth. Because the church exists for the sake of the world, we are called to “ongoing reformation” from generation to generation in response to new needs and current crises of this life. Our vocation to economic/ ecological justice is an expression of “the care and redemption of all that God has made.”

5. Ethics: We have an ethic of faith-active-in-love for vulnerable neighbors including the vulnerable throughout the whole Earth community. Liberated from a legalism that limits and enslaves, we live in the freedom to address new situations, such as the ecological state of the world. We do so not to dominate but as servants to the Earth community. We do so not out of fear or guilt or arrogance but joyfully out of gratitude, grace, and love. 

6. Social Ministry: With a heritage rooted in the Reformation, Lutherans have a history of social service to the poor, the elderly, the sick, the oppressed, the marginalized—through hospitals, homes for the elderly, social ministry agencies, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Disaster Relief, the Malaria Campaign, and Lutheran World Relief. ELCA’s commitment to racial justice and economic justice recognizes that ecological degradation disproportionally devastates communities of color and the poor, both in the US and globally. We frame all these commitments as the healing and restoring of Earth community (www.elca.org/careforcreation).

7. Public Witness and Advocacy: The ELCA has official social statements “Caring for Creation” and “Sustainable Livelihood for All,” a fulltime Director of Environmental Education and Advocacy in Washington DC., and Lutheran Public Policy offices (www.elca.org/advocacy). ELCA calls its people “to speak on behalf of this earth, its environment and natural resources and its inhabitants.” The ELCA expects its ordained ministers to “be exemplary stewards of the Earth’s resources” and to “lead this church in the stewardship of God’s creation” (from “Vision and Expectations”).

8. Scholarship and Education: Lutheran scholars have taken the lead in promoting ecological theology, ethics, Bible study, and social commentary. ELCA colleges and seminaries have ecological justice programs and Earth-friendly campus lifestyles that prepare Lutherans for leadership in the church and in the world. Continuing education events for clergy and laity highlight creation-care.

9. Caring for Creation across the church: Some synods identify themselves as creation-care synods. Synodical and church-wide resolutions call us to address environmental issues. Many Lutheran congregations incorporate Earth-care commitments into their worship, education, property, discipleship at home and work, and public witness. Lutheran outdoor ministries have brought environmental concerns and positive experiences with nature to many youth. The ELCA churchwide center models environmental concerns. The ELCA offers grants for environmental projects. Lutheran theologians have been leaders for over half a century in proposing a “theology for Earth.”

10. Organizations for Earthkeeping: Lutherans have led in the Green Congregation Program, made available care for creation worship (www.letallcreationpraise.org), and provided resources and programs through Lutherans Restoring Creation (www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org).

11. Collaboration. Lutherans continually learn from and applaud the ecological commitments of  other religious and ethnic traditions. We are eager to collaborate with other denominations, religions, and secular organizations in addressing the environmental issues of our time, along with the related issues of race, gender inequality, exploitation of the poor, and inequality of wealth.

Conclusion. Lutherans are called to listen to the cry of the Earth along with the cry of the poor and to take leadership in these critical issues. Ecological justice is not an add-on. It is foundational for our faith. This is how we seek to love God in, with, and under all creation: as neighbors of all living things on Earth and as pilgrims with all things in the cosmos. We call upon all persons of good will to be participants, with us, in this, the great work of our time.