Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.
In my wrap-up of big news trends in 2015 and projection of news trends in 2016, I had indicated that the environment has been and will continue to be a major story within missiology. Now the United Methodist Women (UMW) is helping carry out that prediction for 2016, as indicated by their 2016 mission study materials. The UMW has identified climate justice as their social issue for study in both 2016 and 2017. Climate justice is also the focus of their children and youth studies for 2016.
Beyond the mere choice to focus on an environmentally-linked topic, the UMW's approach to environmental issues in their mission study indicates something about the variety of ways in which the environment can intersect with missiology. It is possible, for instance, to ground a missiological concern for the environment in a strong theology of God's role as Creator and humans' responsibility to steward God's creation. Yet this is not the only theological approach one can take to environmental issues, and it is not the one that the UMW takes.
Instead, the UMW links question about climate change and the environment to questions about justice and treatment of the poor. In this framing, the environment matters not necessarily for its own sake but for the sake of the humans affected by their environment. In this framing, the missiological challenge of climate change is its impact on the least of these and Jesus' command to care for them.
Of course, it is also possible to take both approaches and affirm that the environment matters both for its own sake and for the sake of the humans who live in it. The essential point is that there are multiple theological justifications for a concern for the intersection of mission and the environment.