“There is a pretty significant return on investment,” he says. But it’s not just about financial return. It also has to do with how he defines stewardship, the responsibility for the Earth that Christians believe was given by God in several key verses of Genesis, especially 1:28.
“We are to be in dominion over everything that He created,” Zovath says. “Not to waste it, not try to destroy it.”
Over the years, and millennia, the meaning of those two words — stewardship and dominion — has changed how Christians relate to the natural world. Fundamental differences in the creation story, and the personalities of the different authors of Genesis, have created a tension between dominion understood as a hierarchical, possessive, even violent mastery of the world, and stewardship as a form of service, to God and the Earth, in God’s name. Perhaps only in the past half-century has the more caring, nurturing notion of stewardship taken hold, as man’s power over nature has shifted from minimal (in the days of agrarian and herding societies) to near-absolute (atom bombs, deep-water off-shore drilling, plastic grocery bags). Nature today is threatened, not threatening. And younger evangelicals are also shifting away from older patriarchal ideas.
“The Book of Common Prayer in the 1950s spoke of ‘this fragile Earth, our island home,’ but nobody really knew what that meant,” says Sally Bingham, founder and director of Interfaith Power and Light, a group that works to make connections between ecology and faith. Now the fragility of the Earth is taken seriously not just by relatively left-leaning denominations, such as the Episcopalians (Bingham is also canon for the environment of the Episcopal Diocese of California) but by more traditional Christian groups. Today, one has to look hard, to the practitioners of inflammatory rhetoric, to find echoes of the old “dominion” thinking, such as this nugget from conservative commentator Ann Coulter in 2001: “We have dominion over the plants, the animals. . . . God said: ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours!’ ”
But there is still substantial discomfort among conservative Christians with the rhetoric of environmentalism.
“They don’t want to use the word ‘environment,’ ” Bingham says. “But they, too, have creation care.”