William Greenway Reflects on Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice

The following post is appearing as part of the series “Reflecting on Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice.”  In 1990 the 202nd General Assembly approved Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice, which affirms that God calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to care for the earth and work for justice for all of creation, human and non-human.  On the 20th anniversary of the policy several people active in eco-justice ministries are sharing their reflections on the policy.

By William Greenway

It was January, 1999, and I was innocently enjoying some coffee during a break at an alumni event at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where I had recently begun teaching, when Bill Knox, a charter member of the then Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, now Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC), corralled me.

Let me pause to explain that PEC was formed in order to translate the concerns of the Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justicereport, approved by the 202nd General Assembly of the PC(USA) into the active life, witness and ministry of the church.  On this its 20th anniversary, it is obvious that the Restoring Creation report was stunningly prescient.  The PC(USA) should take due pride in the fact that already in 1990 it was publically engaging vital environmental concerns.

At any rate, I remember no formalities.  “What are you all here at the Seminary doing about environmental issues?” Bill quizzed me in no uncertain manner.  Fortunately for me, I had just established two new courses.  First, Nature, Theology, and Ethics, the first course at Austin Seminary focused specifically upon creation care and love of all creatures.  Second, An Adventure in Wilderness and Spirituality, an explicitly spiritual, Outward Bound-style, experiential course that tries to connect students to creation through extended sojourn and reflection in the wilderness (a pretty standard biblical idea).

Bill seemed impressed, but he was not thrown in the least.  “Well then,” he said, “why don’t you come and be our preacher at the conference.”  The next month I was a conference preacher at PEC’s second biennial conference, “Living Waters:  Streams of Faith,” at St. Simon’s Island.  By the end of the conference, I was signed up to be a Regional Representative.  A few years after that I served a term as Vice-Moderator, helped to plan and served as a plenary speaker at PEC’s tenth anniversary conference, “Sharing the Waters of Life” at Lake George, and later led a workshop at the 2007, “Earth Sabbath, Earth Justice” conference at Mo-Ranch.

Life intruded, and I had to step back from my leadership role with PEC, but for those years, thanks to the persistence of Bill Knox and others who used the Restoring Creationreport as a springboard for founding PEC, I was instructed and empowered by a group of wonderful leaders and activists.  In short, it was through PEC that the Restoring Creation report became for me a tangible and inspiring reality.

Like many, no doubt, and most especially in those early years, when one could still be laughed at for being concerned about issues like global climate change, I felt like a too-small and isolated voice.  But through PEC, I realized that there were a lot of us small and isolated voices out there, and that put together we could begin to make a real and significant difference in what was happening to our earth and to our bodies (at some point, perhaps fast approaching, those voices will reach critical mass, effecting a fundamental political shift in public perception and policy).  It was also through PEC that I became aware of the significant work of Bill Somplatsky-Jarman at the Mission Responsibility Through Investment and the Environmental Justice desks of the PC(USA).

I continue trying faithfully to do my small part – teaching, writing, consulting – for creation and creature care.  The challenge can feel overwhelming, but we are called to the struggle.  And amidst that struggle the hope and comfort that comes from knowing that one is part of a larger committed community of action and hope is inestimable.  I am proud to be a part of a church that, seeing the future all too clearly, affirmed the Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justicereport way back in 1990.  And I have benefited immensely from the many wonderful people of PEC, people who became for me the living and loving voice and hands of that Restoring Creation report.

Today, with an environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf, reason for concern over corporate responsibility and ecological justice has never been more obvious.  As those versed in the issues are well aware, a host of environmental challenges, some truly frightening, are upon us.  The most important days for following through on the Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice report lie in front of us.  Thanks in large part to the Restoring Creationreport, we have experienced leaders like Bill Somplatsky-Jarman and mature organizations like Presbyterians for Earth Care to work with and for us as we struggle to turn God’s passion for the flourishing of all creatures and all creation into an earthly reality.

William Greenway serves as Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  He is an elder at University Presbyterian Church in Austin.

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