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Global Anglican Congress on the Stewardship of Creation

Posted on: September 3, 2002 2:28 PM
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Declaration to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development

The Good Shepherd Retreat Centre, South Africa

18-23 August 2002

We desperately need a change of spirit. The environmental debate is as much about religion and morality as it is about science. Sustainable development is one of the most urgent moral issues of our time. It begins in sustainable values that recognize the interrelatedness of all life. Sustainable development cannot be defined in economic terms alone, but must begin in a commitment to care for the poor, the marginalized, and the voiceless.

Therefore it is sustainable community that we seek. The ecological systems that support life, the qualities that sustain local communities, and the voices of women, indigenous peoples and all who are marginalized and disempowered must be approached from this perspective.

As we move into the third millennium, it becomes increasingly obvious that human beings are set on a path of unprecedented environmental destruction and unsustainable development. A profound moral and spiritual change is needed. Human exploitation of the environment has yielded not only benefit, but also appalling poverty, pollution, land degradation, habitat loss, and species extinction. Despite political and scientific debates in some quarters, it is clear that human behaviour has overwhelmingly contributed to ozone depletion and global warming. We desperately need to change.

We write as representatives of the Anglican Communion. Our 70 million members are present in 165 countries across the globe. They speak from their experience of the problems of development in both urban and rural communities. At all levels of the life of the communion the environment has repeatedly been identified as one of the key moral and religious challenges before us.

Religious faith properly understood can and should be a major force for change towards sustainable development, sustainable communities, and a healthy environment. Anglicans accept the need to oppose all forms of exploitation. Specifically, we believe that a better, more holistic, and religiously informed understanding of Creation, which recognizes that human beings are part of the created order not separate from it, will make a major contribution to the transforming change of spirit that is essential in the third millennium. We are committed to putting our faith into action.

Many different religious traditions start from the belief that the world primarily belongs to God and not to human beings. Land, sea and air belong first and foremost to God. At most they are entrusted to human beings who are expected, in turn, to respond with gratitude and to hand them on faithfully and intact to generations to come. As stewards of the environment human beings are required by God to act faithfully and responsibly. Other theological perspectives within the Christian faith also support a renewed ethics of caring for the whole creation.

All religious traditions call their believers to disciplines of life that show respect for the environment that we inhabit. We value life more than possessions. We value people more than profits. Based on this shared commitment this Anglican Congress calls on people of all faiths to act together by

  • seeing creation as good, beautiful and sacred;
  • understanding that humanity is a part of the created order, not separate from it;
  • evolving a new relationship with the created order founded on stewardship and service, with production and consumption restrained by genuine need and not simply governed by desire;
  • locating our unity in the Spirit that breathes life into all things;
  • celebrating the glorious God-given diversity that is everywhere.

We therefore call upon Governments of all nations to support sustainable communities, by

  • working together for peace, justice and economic prosperity within a context of ecological stability;
  • refusing to subordinate the good of all for the good of some;
  • recognizing the intrinsic worth of non-human forms of life, and committing ourselves to strengthen and enforce the protection of endangered species;
  • recognizing the intrinsic worth of the diversity of life, as well as the inextricable link between biodiversity and cultural diversity on which the survival of indigenous peoples, indeed all humankind, depends;
  • rejecting the destructiveness of the culture of militarism, that spends disproportionate amounts of money on armaments when so many people in the world are still hungry, and stockpiles nuclear weapons and materials at great cost to the environment and to human well being;
  • recognizing that environmental degradation constitutes a violation of the universal declaration of human rights. Poverty and environmental degradation are interwoven and it is the poor, and the exploited, often on the basis of race and gender, who suffer most from this degradation;
  • recognizing that development is not sustainable if it steals from present and future generations. The security of future generations can only be attained by addressing the urgent questions posed by the intolerable burden of unpayable debt, the challenges of unsustainable agricultural practices, and by the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to ecologically stable levels. To this end we recommend serious consideration of the principle of contraction and convergence;
  • affirming that the rivers and the land, the sea and the air are a global commons, entrusted to human beings to be handed on faithfully and intact to generations to come.
  • Defining the rules of international trade in ways that demand greater corporate responsibility in promoting greater inclusion of the marginalized and more sustainable environmental practices.
  • Recognizing that current rates of HIV/AIDS present a profound challenge to sustainable community, which must be met by adequate and equitable access to education and treatment.

Declaration to the Anglican Communion

The Good Shepherd Retreat Centre, South Africa

18-23 August 2002

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we greet you and speak to you in the name of our Trinitarian God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Creator, Redeemer, and Life Giver.

We write as representatives of the provinces of the Anglican Communion gathered in response to the planetary crisis and immediately prior to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. With the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the Anglican Consultative Council, and the chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, our purpose is to consider the Communion's responsibilities to God and God's creation at this critical time. At the last Lambeth Conference in 1998 our Bishops again identified the environment as one of the key moral and religious issues of our time and their principles have been part of our reflection.

We have come together as a community of faith. Creation calls us, our vocation as God's redeemed drives us, the Spirit in our midst enlivens us, scripture compels us.

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Job 38:4

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. John 1:3

We know the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now. Romans 8:22

Our planetary crisis is environmental, but it is more than that. It is a crisis of the Spirit and the Body, which runs to the core of all that we hold sacred. It is characterized by deep poverty: impoverished people, an impoverished Earth. As people of faith, Christ draws us together to share responsibility for this crisis with all humanity.

In the twentieth century, the human impact on the earth increased enormously. In the last thirty years alone, human activity has destroyed many of the planet's natural resources. Climate change, flooding, habitat destruction, desertification, pollution, urban expansion, and famine have all played their part. A third of all fish species and a quarter of all mammal species are in danger of extinction. One billion people now suffer from a shortage of fresh water. Scientists have said the web of life is unravelling.

People must be willing to face change and participate actively in the decisions before us all. Unjust economic structures have taken from people and the land without giving in return, putting at risk all life that is sustained by the planet. Greed and over-consumption, which have dictated so much of economic development in the past, must be transformed into generosity and compassion. Transformation is, at its heart, a spiritual matter; it includes every aspect of our lives. As members of the Anglican Communion, at all levels of its life, we must play our part in bringing about this transformation toward a just, sustainable future. Now is the time for prayerful action based on the foundation of our faith.

In 1998, the Bishops of the Anglican Communion resolved to face these challenges and provided the scriptural and theological justification for the involvement of the Church in caring for creation. We recognize this and other ongoing work of people in the communion. Such work needs our support. However, it is not enough.

We urge you to acknowledge the gravity of our call to prayer and action. Both individuals and decision-making bodies of the Church at all levels need to be actively involved in addressing these problems. As brothers and sisters in Christ's Body and as fellow Anglicans seeking to fulfill our baptismal covenant and witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ, we ask you, in your parishes, dioceses, or provinces, acting at the most appropriate level, and in cooperation with ecumenical and interfaith partners wherever possible to undertake the following:

  • To acknowledge that the Church's mission must now take place in the context of a life and death planetary crisis whose impact affects all aspects of the Church's life and mission.
    To bring prayers and actions concerning ecology, environmental justice, human rights, and sustainable development to the forefront of public worship as well as private and corporate reflections on the Holy Scriptures.
  • To support the struggle of indigenous peoples to maintain their cultural heritage, natural heritage, and human rights.
  • To encourage all members of our congregations to understand that God calls us to care for the creation by making our communities and environments better places for the next generation than they were in our lifetime.
  • To actively support initiatives in all Churches and communities that are concerned with the planetary crisis./p>
  • To help publicize and network information, developments, events, publications and all sources of knowledge among our friends, neighbours, congregation members, Church leaders, and government officials.
  • To encourage links among our provinces, dioceses, and parishes worldwide to increase understanding of the many issues involved and how they are interrelated.
  • To support opportunities for younger people to experience first-hand how people in their own and other congregations and communities are affected by the planetary crisis and how they can work to change the world in which they live.
  • To promote training and educational programs in all aspects of the planetary crisis even as they relate to our worship and community life.
  • To encourage diligently our secular and Church leaders, lay and ordained, in all parts of the Anglican Communion to place the planetary crisis at the highest level of their concerns.
  • To encourage and support public policies that reflect the principles of sustainable community.
  • To request all bodies within the communion to undertake an environmental audit and take appropriate action on the basis of the results. To commit ourselves both to energy conservation and the use of sustainable energy sources.
  • To demonstrate simplicity of lifestyle in our patterns of consumption to counteract greed and over-consumption. Such greed dictates so much of our economic past that it must be transformed into generosity and compassion.

Christ has no hands but ours, and he calls us to offer ourselves to share in his work of healing and reconciliation so that all creation may know that, "The truth shall set you free."