Christianity has not had such a long history of involvement with environmental issues, but because of the belief in a creator God (Genesis 1) who has a relationship through his creation with humans, Christians have become more aware of environmental issues in the past two or three decades. Although Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is often considered the precursor to environmental Christianity, it has only been in recent years that Christians have taken seriously the concept that humans are stewards of God’s creation, not masters of it. Most Christian leaders and organisations have responded to the need to include environmental issues in their debates – and churches with solar panels are not uncommon.
James Lovelock’s Gaia ethic explains that the human species is dependent on planet earth and left unchecked, humanity will bring about events which will lead to the diminishment or destruction of human civilization, if not the species itself. Although not a religious theorist, Lovelock has enabled the debate about these issues to come to a wider audience and his views are considered relevant by many Christians.
Roman Catholics have recently agreed with the idea of the value of creation in its own right (because of its sacred status as made by God), rather than the more traditional notion of humanity having dominion over all. The World Council of Churches is developing a new theology of nature in line with 21st century Christian views on the environment.
Historically, Christians have tended to use the Creation Stories in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as the justification for many attitudes to the world, to the environment and to the animal kingdom. This is based upon the premise that God created all things, but that humans have dominion over the resources of the natural world, including animals. In modern times, these attitudes have been questioned and the concept of stewardship has replaced that of ownership. Because Jesus was concerned for the poor and outcast of society, healed the sick, and made certain statements in both his life and teaching about various ethical situations, Christians have guidance on many moral matters.
However, as there are many Christian denominations holding views on the nature of Jesus, on the Bible, and how the Church should interpret this, there are many Christian answers to ethical and moral questions. Aid programmes to developing nations and responses to the plight of those living is less economically developed countries are often led by Christian groups. The proper use of wealth and philanthropy has been pioneered by Christians, for example, the Cadbury and Sainsbury families. Attitudes to animal rights and the environment feature large in the thoughts and actions of church leaders today.