Christian Environmental Stewardship Promotes Life on the Farm

When farmers respect plant and animal life, they honor the theology of Christian Stewardship.

| August/September 2016

Environmental Stewardship

Even the haphazard recognition of sentient life inspires expansive, awesome questions. Share your seat with silence, and dwell in your new insight.

Photo by Kayla Stallbaumer

Is life fundamentally biological or mechanical? How you answer that question determines how you view life and, in turn, sets boundaries on innovation regarding your care for other beings. I see this as foundational to distinguishing between industrial and ecological farms and food systems. I’ve also found that in discussions with industrial food system defenders, this question forces more head-scratching than any other. In my new book, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for all God’s Creation, I encourage environmentally minded Christians to embrace an environmental ethic of Christian Stewardship. I argue that if all life were simply mechanical, then it would be inert like plastic or clay. By extension, if life were no more than simple matter, it could be manipulated to the full extent of our imaginations.

Those of you who know me know that I have intentionally chosen the moniker “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer” to humorously dispel the stereotypes that inevitably follow my ecological farming persona. To my Christian friends, I spend a lot of time apologizing for the stances of some of my environmentalist friends. And I spend just as much time apologizing to my environmentalist friends for the stances of some of my Christian friends.

With my feet firmly planted in both of those worlds — growing up in a conservative Christian home with Monsanto-friendly church friends and hippie-dippy, compost-building farming friends — I decided to reach out and wrestle with this taboo paradox. At least, it’s taboo in most churches.

May I offer a bridge? As a Christian, I practice creation stewardship as an expression of creator worship. I believe that God wants humans to take care of His stuff. And I believe that it is His stuff. Per this line of thought, God cares whether we honor the “pigness of pigs” because pigs are more than mechanical expressions of particulate matter upon which humans may innovate and manipulate. Sure enough, mechanical things do occur in life, but I would argue that life — that biology — is far more than simple mechanics.

Life Feels, Forgives, and Heals

Perhaps one of the single largest distinguishing factors between biological and mechanical matter is that living things can heal. If a wheel bearing thumps, you can apologize to it, rest it, and lubricate it, but it will continue to thump. But living things that thump can form new skin or new bark and respond to compost or bone broth. Living things can heal.

My dad used to admonish us: “Remember, machines don’t forgive.” What he meant was that if I mishandle a chainsaw and it cuts off my leg, the chainsaw feels no remorse. It’s just an inert chainsaw and couldn’t care less that it just amputated my leg. Living things, and people, of course, can forgive. A mistreated plant can be nursed back to health with apologetic care. A wounded emotion can be made right with proper apologies and attention.

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