|A Green and Glossy Gospel|
HKBTS Path to Environmental Protection
During the course of exploring and practicing environmental protection, Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary (HKBTS) has experienced the wonderful guidance and shepherding of God.
In as early as 2009, when I was inaugurated as the president of HKBTS, I mentioned environmental protection as one of the issues I was concerned with. Again, in the article entitled "The Synergy of Our Faculty Team" published in the February issue of our Newsletter in 2010, I mentioned the issue as one of the areas of interest in my research. Sadly, I did not have a chance to conduct an in-depth study on environmental conservation and to put it into practice at the beginning of my tenure due to the many things that were waiting to be done then. The issue, however, remains on my mind all the time. In early 2016, when the Board of Directors finalized its decision on the Extension Project of the Sai O Campus (Phase 3), and plans on the allocation of space for each floor in the new academic building were being drafted, there were voices proposing the installation of green facilities on the rooftop of the new building to promote green education in the seminary. As a result, the Campus Environmental Consultation and Development Committee was set up in June, 2018 to study and promote matters concerning energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, as well as the building of a green campus.
At the inception of the Committee, a member proposed that solar energy power generation facilities be installed on the rooftop of each building on the Sai O Campus. Not only would this initiative fully utilize the rooftop space and produce renewable energy by making use of natural resources, but also it would promote environmental protection education among our students, churches and community. That was why the proposal was promptly and unanimously adopted by other committee members and our directors. After rigorous screening, the seminary decided to work with New Energy Financing and Consulting Limited. The installation work commenced in the second half of 2019. By January, 2020, the solar energy power generation facilities on the Administration and Education Block, Student Activity Block and Single Student Quarters had been put into operation. The remaining facilities installed on the rooftop of the Married Student Quarters and the Faculty and Staff Quarters became operative in mid-February.
Meanwhile, seeing that a considerable amount of food waste was produced daily at the seminary canteen and the quarters, the Campus Environmental Consultation and Development Committee started to look into the possibility of producing organic compost with the food waste in the seminary. Afterward, the canteen contractor liaised with a food waste recycling company and it was agreed that the company would be paid to recycle the food waste generated at the canteen and the quarters. Unfortunately, the canteen contractor was notified by the recycling company in February that it decided to stop recycling our food waste as the business became unprofitable when much less food waste was generated in the seminary and eateries in the vicinity under the impact of the epidemic in Hong Kong. This unexpected change has, in turn, brought about an opportunity for the seminary to purchase its own food waste composting machine. Our idea is this: when we repurpose kitchen waste, which is supposed to be useless, into compost, we can enhance soil quality, reduce waste, alleviate pressure on local landfills and produce environmentally-friendly fertilizers to further prevent pollution.
Exploring Ecological Theology
Amidst this background of green advocacy on campus, during the 2017-18 opening convocation ceremony, I pointed out that the seminary would introduce a new educational theme in the new academic year, namely ecological theology. The speech, entitled "On Ecological Peace," was published in the column "President's Word" in our Newsletter (November issue, 2017). I pointed out that the discussion of "ecological peace" was the continuation of my line of thought when I talked about "God-centred education" in the opening convocation ceremony in the previous year (academic year 2016-17).
The objective of theological education is not only to nurture students toward maturity but also to guide them to "remember, be aware and look forward," which means, to believe in God and have faith in this God of the past, the present and the future. While God's actions are for the past and the future, they are also for the present. Therefore, we have to "remember" God's creation and redemption (the matching between "creation arc" and "salvation arc"), be "aware" of God's commandments, and "look forward" to the land that God will give us to inhabit. The content of God's redemption, commandments and His promised land is all about "shalom."
"Shalom" (peace) correlates to the relationships between humans and God, humans and each other, as well as humans and the whole of creation. Peace in the first two relationships can be seen in the description in Ephesians 2:13-18, the main idea of which being: Jesus came to the world to destroy the walls that separate humans and God, and humans and each other, thus bringing a genuine peaceful relationship to all. Besides, Isaiah 11:6-8 describes the peace between humans and the whole of creation. The text projects an image filled with peace: the harmonious co-existence of various animals and the harmonious relationship between humans and animals when they get along with one another. Of course, it is an eschatological condition, yet this condition also has implications for the present.
Continuing my exploration of ecological theology, I delivered a speech, entitled "We Love Nature," at the graduation ceremony on November 19, 2017, in which I encouraged the graduates to help the brothers and sisters in their churches to "remember" God's creation and redemption, be "aware" of God's commandments and "look forward" to the land that God will give us to inhabit. The speech was published in the column "President's Word" in our Newsletter (February issue, 2018). On the one hand, I cited Romans 8:18-22 to point out that the fate of nature is not mere destruction, but transformation. On the other hand, I cited Colossians 1:19-20 pointing out that the whole created world has been reconciled with God in Christ. Therefore, the natural world is also under the sovereignty of Christ's reconciling rule. It can hence be seen that the reconciliation in Christ not only includes the reconciliation of relationship between humans and God, and humans and each other, but also includes the reconciliation of relationship between humans and nature. For this reason, under the umbrella of God's "reconciling gospel," we, as Christ's disciples, have to protect nature and love it.
The Green Church
Then, let us first reflect upon an important question: have we, as Christ's disciples, protected nature and loved it? An indisputable fact is that the Christian church as a whole is still indifferent to issues concerning environmental protection (such as global warming, air pollution and disappearance of species). To the majority of churches, these environmental protection issues are but a trivial item in our stewardship. For the "avant-gardes," they may schedule one day annually for the "Green Sunday." There are also churches which regard environmental protection as part of the managerial maintenance of the buildings and effective recycling of energy use. However, such limited "green practices" have revealed that these churches have mistaken property management or material management for environmental protection. They fail to place green issues in a central position in church life, like those of worshipping, preaching, teaching, praying, fellowship, caring and missions.
Then, how should the church face the global ecological crisis? From a theological perspective, the human destruction of nature reflects not only the extremely poor performance of our stewardship, but also our primitive economic calculations. Worse still, such destruction is to disregard God's will in creation and redemption. God's will in creation and redemption is that the entire created universe should reconcile with Him in Christ. Therefore, the church has to repent and devote itself wholeheartedly to God's work of reconciliation (Rom 8:19-23). To join this reconciliation ministry, the church must also be concerned about the protection of the environment. In other words, the church has to put on a green outfit. Green is also one of the colors in our Gospel Story. Specifically, we have to build up a genuine link between the environment today and church life. The link can be constructed in the worshipping, teaching and living of the church.
(1) To the majority of churches, worship is the holiest occasion. During the worship, we talk about the gospel story of salvation and proclaim God's acts in the world. However, we must stop that kind of anthropocentric preaching which is only human-centred. Do not think that God is only concerned about humans. We must realize that during worship, we together with non-human creations (such as birds and plants) are celebrating God's work and praising Him. The theme of all creation worshipping God (be they animals or non-animals) can be widely found in the Book of Psalms (65:12-13; 69:34; 89:12; 96:11-12; 97:7-8; 103:22; 145:10; 150:6). It can also be seen in other parts of the Bible (1 Kgs 16:31-33; Is 35:1-2; 43:20; 55:12; Phil 2:10; Rv 5:13).
(2) Our teaching also concerns the story of salvation. Apart from the preaching during services, the church also tells the story of salvation through the teaching in Sunday School services and the sharing in fellowships. Moreover, the church proclaims and testifies to the story of God's redemption in society. In her daily order, the church repeatedly displays and celebrates the priorities and values revealed by the story of salvation, as demonstrated in her struggles with political and social controversies (such as wars, plagues, slavery, voting rights and civic rights).Hence, the church has to redefine the role and purpose of natural ecology in God's creation. The church must also clarify the relationship between humans and the environment. In other words, the church must condemn both the powers and influences that devastate lives and the natural environment and also regard the "salvation arc" and "creation arc" as overlapping. The church is forging an "ecology of grace," recognizing the value of all creation, and drawing all creation into a suffering community worshipping God and looking forward to the salvation of God together.
Isaiah 35:1-2 read, "The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God" (see also Is 32:15-20; 51:3; Am 9:13-14; Jl 3:18). Romans 8:20-21 also read, "For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay …." In all these texts, we can see that when God's people are redeemed, nature gets reborn and renewed at the same time. As it is humans who bring about the destruction of other creations, they should also bring hope to them. The hope and fate of humans and other creations are closely related and mutually dependent. As a matter of fact, God's people are judged because of the devastation they have done to nature. Therefore, if humans have hope, non-human creations should also have hope. The prophets were looking forward to God's renewal of non-human creations in the future as well. This is also what Romans 8:19-21 is about.
(3) Such an ecology of grace is calling us to respond with a correct way of living. It prompts the church to implement the Biblical values of simplicity and contentedness. Simplicity and contentedness are the right attributes for Christians. As such, the church must also challenge the abuse of technological power and rampant consumerism in society, remind people not to wear themselves down in the rat race competing for money and power, and point toward a mode of life that goes deeper and gives greater peace. Such a mode of life is based on our firm commitment to God, which can be manifested in our love toward and concern for others and the environment.
Therefore, one of the important things that the church can remind people of is that we are all living in the holy temple and garden of God, in which everything is holy and bestowed by God. God can also choose to reveal Himself through the material things in the world. So, we should show our respect for nature. In fact, when we see the beauty of our surroundings, we simply cannot help worshipping the Lord and thank our God of creation for the grace He grants us, just in the way the poet praised God in Psalm 65: "You care for the land and water it… .You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. …they shout for joy and sing." (vv. 9-13)
Green and Glossy Faith
These are some major theological teachings for the church in the area of environmental protection. The church must open humans' eyes and let them see our proper relationship to nature. Not only should the church awaken people to the realities of global warming and the extinction of non-human species, but also call upon us to respect and treasure nature. The church's vocation is to live out the will of our God the Creator, namely to celebrate God's reconciling gospel with all His creations. God's creative love is extended to all His creations; God's saving love calls upon the church to partake in His redemptive love. This is a kind of faith that carries depth and is rooted in God's love of and care for the entirety of creation. Such true faith can strengthen us so that we may shoulder the responsibility for nature and testify to the reconciliation and peace of the universe. This green and glossy color is a perfect symbol of this kind of faith.
Ultimately, we are not only showing respect for nature, but also showing concern for our own survival. Not only the earth, but also, we ourselves need salvation. Not only nature, of which we are part, but also, we ourselves need redemption. The devastation of nature is a song of lamentation. While nature can reflect the glory of God, it can also reflect that humans have fallen short of His glory. If humans ruin nature, they fall short of the glory of God at the same time. The ecological crisis of nature is in fact a mirror reflecting our spiritual crisis.