The Environment and the Sabbath

There’s an old Adventist joke, which goes something like this:

Two Adventists meet each other on a path after potluck. One has binoculars and a bird book, the other is wearing a swimsuit and carrying a towel. The Adventist with binoculars sniffs at the Adventist in a swimsuit and asks, “So, what are you planning on doing today?”

“Oh, I’m going fish watching. What about you?”

I’ve been thinking about this joke a lot lately, though it’s so dated not every reader will catch the punchline. For context: when I was a kid, pious Adventists didn’t swim on the Sabbath because (and I’m just guessing here) swimming was too much fun. We could, however, take nature walks and we could certainly bird watch because Sabbath was a time to honor God and His creation.

The older I get, the more I enjoy nature walks (i.e., hiking), and the more I think about how relevant that old joke is. While the rules around Sabbath observation have shifted with time, Adventists are still a Sabbath people, and we are still capable of missing the point. We take one day a week in part to honor God’s creative spirit, but we are largely indifferent to the plight of God’s creation. In many Adventist circles, environmentalism is viewed with more skepticism than the companies that profit from destroying God’s handiwork.

How bad are things for God’s creation?

As I write this, a million species of plants and animals are in danger of extinction according to a UN report on biodiversity. They’re threatened by a changing climate, by poisons in the soil and water, by plastic pollution, and most of all by ever-diminishing habitats. In Brazil, over 4,000 square miles of rainforest disappeared in a single year. In Uganda, the forests have shrunk by over 60 percent in the last 25 years, and the government recently sold part of the Bugoma forest, a crucial chimpanzee habitat, to a sugarcane company. Ugandan activists have taken to Twitter to #savebugomaforest. In the United States and Canada, the wild bird population has shrunk 30 percent in 50 years largely because natural habitats are disappearing.  

I’m particularly dismayed at how casually companies destroy whole ecosystems. Procter & Gamble is cutting down the boreal forest in Canada in order to make Charmin toilet paper. Hundred-year-old trees are literally being flushed after a single use. Once we know better, we can buy better. Sustainable toilet paper, made from recycled paper or renewable bamboo, is widely available and equally affordable. Charmin toilet paper is just one example of how environmentally wasteful modern life can be. Bottled water is another. Fast fashion is another. Air travel is yet another.

To highlight how unsustainable our current consumption trajectory is, the Global Footprint Network created the Earth Overshoot Day. It’s the day in the year where humans have used all the resources that nature can replace. In 2020, that day was August 22. Every day after, we exceeded the balance God built into the natural world. Just imagine how ecologically expensive the glut of Christmas gifts was on our overstrained planet. One might quibble with the data and how it was reached, but I challenge anyone to dispute the reality of overconsumption. The average person today buys 60 percent more clothing than the average person did just ten years ago. Do we need all these clothes? Can the Earth sustain so much consumption? The answer to both questions is no.

We can buy less, waste less, and be more intentional about sustainability.  

So, what does all this have to do with Adventism?

The Adventist church has an opportunity to be an energetic advocate for God’s creation. Our unique culture already lines up with environmentalism, a word I hesitate to use because some Adventists connect environmentalism with politics. Conservation, however, should be non-partisan, and in the United States, young Republicans are increasingly eco-conscious.

As a church, we believe in being good stewards of our time, our money, and our health. Expanding stewardship to include God’s creation is an extension of our values and rooted in the Bible. Our history of caring for our own bodies, because they are temples of God, should be readily extended to caring for the Earth because it was created by God and because how we treat the planet directly impacts the health of humanity. Finally, many Adventists are vegetarians or vegans. Being a vegetarian is great for the planet and being a vegan is even better.

Our church’s values line up with a concern for nature, and in fact, our denomination has made four official pro-environment statements, starting in 1992. These statements advocate sustainable stewardship and identify that the Earth is in an ecological crisis. Although I am both an Adventist and an environmentalist, I didn’t know these statements existed until recently. We have named the problem but we haven’t done much more.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is widely recognized for our focus on health and we are held up as models for longevity. We could also be known as good stewards of the environment, who not only say the right things, but who do the right things. Our church grounds can be miniature habitats. We can replace lawns with native species, helping birds and pollinators thrive and serving as a witness to our neighborhoods. We can contact our representatives and encourage them to support legislation that protects wild spaces. We can tell them that our faith encourages us to be good stewards of the environment. We can buy less. We can buy thoughtfully. We can stop using disposable plates and plasticware at potlucks. We can be a people who worship on the Sabbath and who are known for caring for God’s creation in practical, effective ways.

When I was a kid, a walk in the woods was seen as more Sabbath appropriate than a swim in a lake. Both, of course, can bring a person closer to God. Now that I’m an adult, the Adventist health message is seen as a more appropriate use of church energy than caring for creation. Both, of course, can make us more relevant to our communities and bring us closer to God.

My prayer for 2021 is that the Adventist Church will become an advocate for nature, showing through our environmental stewardship how much we honor God’s creative spirit.   

 

Sari Fordham grew up in Uganda, in a house surrounded by jungle. She traces her passion for the environment from that early connection with nature and from her family’s Sabbath walks. She has become increasingly committed to sustainability and to the importance of saving wild spaces, and has started a free environmental newsletter called “Cool It.” (You can sign up here.) She teaches creative writing at La Sierra University and lives in Riverside, CA with her husband and daughter.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10995
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The Seventh Day Adventist church and all legal churches will support and venerate Luadato Si and keep the laws of Sunday above the Sabbath of creation. All legal churches must pledge together and be one.

Thank you for this excellent article. We do about 50 Sabbath afternoon walks a year in our church with great blessings.

personally, i think global warming, habitat destruction and species extinction are a hopeless problem…it’s inevitable…

nevertheless, i can still do my part, as best i can…the point isn’t so much to change what’s happening as to do the right thing…

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While I disagree with the point that it has to be inevitable, I do think that what is imperative and what is realistically achievable are two different things. Regardless, individually we have a responsibility. The Sabbath was supposed to be a memorial of creation. Adventists should be the most concerned environmentalists on the planet. Keeping that memorial day should encompass protecting that creation as well as worshiping its creator.

Rev 11:18 concludes a tumultuous chapter ending by God “destroying those who destroy the earth”. With our accumulation of things and our enhanced knowledge, we have ravaged and destroyed this very creation. The vehicles that give us great mobility, the factories that produce our gadgets, the computers that give us access to such things which we are communicating on right now, are also the seeds of that destruction. Each has ravaged the earth in pursuit of materials in order to meet our demands of faster, bigger, higher capacity devices, which were touted as saving our precious time, but have, instead demanded more of our attention while pillaging our planet and leaving in its wake depleted forests, polluted oceans and rivers, unbreathable air and an excess of carbon in our atmosphere that is outside of our reach. We are now reaping the whirlwind. That wide screen, that BMW, that flight to Paris, that I-phone 12 and virtually everything we own or wish for, comes with a price extracted from the very wellbeing of our planet. We are the creators of our “last day events”.
Could it be that one of the meanings of “come out of her my people” was simply not becoming a part of this destruction?

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The problem as I see it is the misinformation about the climate debate. There is the statement on the Club of Rome you-tube site that states “in order to gain the attention of all humanity we must “create a crisis’ that will engage all counties in a common cause and” climate change” fits that criteria It doesn’t matter if there isn’t any evidence to support the thesis that human activity is the cause of "climate change. Truth is being sacrificed for the purpose of controlling the planet. This appears like a satanic ploy to gain control by deceit and instilling fear. Fear is a powerful tactic to control human behavior. Look what’s happening to the world now with fear being the trigger to get the world into lock down mode The antidote to fear is truth Satan hates the truth because it exposes his lies and thus his control over humanity It is his modus operandi The truth will set you free and eliminate fear
The other difficulty I see is that ‘creation’ has for some become the object of worship rather than the Creator I think that is called pantheism I’m all for reducing willful pollution but that is not “climate change”
Dave

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I, along with 98 percent of scientists, totally disagree with you. The Koch brothers spent millions of dollars with a public relations firm to try and figure out how to fight the growing concern about climate change. The PR firm they hired, came back and said you don’t have to prove climate change isn’t real, all you have to do is get a few scientists to come out and say that “they don’t know”, that there is “doubt”. That is what they did. And, of course, they have succeeded in their efforts by simply buying off a few scientists that would say that there is doubt. The Koch brothers saved their mega billion dollar oil corporation, and the world got people like you in exchange, who have gulped down the Kool-Aid.

No one had to instill fear, it came naturally when we have had more than 10, hundred year climactic events in the past five years. Also, fear comes from the understanding that there are people who are willing to write off the fact that we have destroyed the planet. But just as Rev. 11:18 said, “God is going to destroy those who destroy the earth”. That, I imagine, would include those who burry their head in the sand and allow the planet to be destroyed. This text is in a chapter talking about the end of time. It must have been prophetic since John would have had no idea how anyone could destroy the earth 2000 years ago. It would have seemed impossible to him. Enjoy the Kool-Aid.

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Even if 100%cof scientists disagree with me that doesn’t change the facts. I think there would be agreement that opinions don’t constitute facts. Facts are subject to vigorous testing . The climate models proposed are mere conjecture None of the models factor in the largest influence on climate namely the sun. There is no way to predict solar flares or increasing luminosity Just these two parameters alone seem to be ignored by “scientists” It would seem that any model not including all factors is seriously flawed and is self -invalidated. Please note, climate is not a short term observation It is data recorded over millennia and is not to be confused with weather which is a daily phenomena. Projections of future climate conditions are useless because one big solar flare changes everything. And to add to the list of important omissions is the role of water vapor density. and its effect on weather It plays a dominant role well ahead of CO 2. You can experience this effect when heavy cloud cover blocks out the sun and it cools the air.
Scientists can be bought and data fudged to make their findings to suit the funding organization. That why I referred to the “Club of Rome” who state that "climate change " is a CREATED CRISIS. It is a tool to gain global attention and ultimately global governance and instill fear - a satanic ploy If you read some of the comments recorded by those in the “club” you realize they themselves know it’s not true. Just do a search on “Club of Rome” and then tell me if I’m out to lunch. If I can make you fearful I can make you do and say anything because you become self conscious If I can get you to believe a lie it will break the circle of love and trust That’s why “bearing false witness” is so destructive in relationships. That’s why the admonition “test all things, .hold on to what is true” is so important Unfortunately we tend to form opinions on incomplete information and biases. -not a good way to “test all things” It makes it difficult to have a robust conversation when someone is unwilling to become humble to the point that they acknowledge their opinion is based on incomplete facts. “We see through a glass darkly” It wasn’t that long go that the “sun revolved around the earth”. In recent times it is difficult to find anyone who still believes in a geocentric solar system What happened ?

Dave

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