I admit it: I used to be a stewardship junkie. Soon after I learned that Christianity had something to say about the degradation of creation I was hooked on the notion. H. Scott Althouse, of Pennsylvania's Eastern College, summed up my mantra: "Environmental stewardship is an overarching, contextual call for all Christians."1 Amen, I would say, employing the phrase so often that one of my students suggested I write it across my forehead before class in order to save time and energy. In my gospel of creation-care, stewardship thus stood as the ultimate Christian response to the environmental crisis confronting our world.
When I became a Krista Colleague I was working for Target Earth, an evangelical environmental group in Belize. My job was to lead groups of North Americans in environmental and social-service projects while helping to familiarize them with the concept of stewardship as a Christian imperative. I wanted them to return to the United States with a passion for environmental issues and a profound sense of personal responsibility. Our readings and discussions in Belize were peppered with heavy doses of this stewardship language and then laced with additional spoonfuls of guilt and obligation. Therefore, I should not have been surprised when these groups responded by humoring me with their agreement while resisting any real commitment to personal change. I realized then that my failure to provoke these groups was due to my singularly emphatic way of speaking to the human creation relationship. Yet even as I realized this, I developed a sense that these failures were a result of something much deeper.
Don't get me wrong. I still believe that creation stewardship has a valuable place in our churches, political decisions and economic practices. It would be an act of sabotage to suggest that it no longer contributes to raising creation-consciousness and a sense of responsibility among Americans. I applaud the tremendous amount of work that has been put into developing and spreading a theology of stewardship, and I hope that it continues to challenge those who do not see creation-care as a Christian imperative. However, in being slowly weaned from my stewardship addiction, I have been exposed to other ways of relating to creation, ways that invoke a deeper response to the problems that face both human and non-human creation. Perhaps we who take stewardship for granted as a Christian norm should consider whether stewardship is the best way of relating to both creation and Creator. With this in mind I propose that we move beyond the position of stewardship toward an increasingly humble, contemplative, and cooperative relationship with God's creation.
Karin Holsinger, Krista Colleague Class of 2000, served with Target Earth International in 2000-2001, helping North American service groups and interns conduct environmental and social projects in Belize. She just recently completed her Master's Thesis on Christian spirituality and nonviolence at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.