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Spring 2020 · Vol. 49 No. 1 · pp. 52–62 

Starting and Sustaining Creation Care Conversations

Katie Isaac

I grew up in south-central Kansas where I ran around with neighborhood kids, rollerbladed down driveways, and captured pill bugs. I loved hiking and camping, and my family played a foundational role in my appreciation and respect for the natural world. They also played a central role in my faith journey. We attended a Mennonite Brethren church together, and I remember feeling like our church was an extension of our family. But my love for nature and love for God never crossed paths. Each passion had its own box, and those boxes never intersected.

Working through personal emotions around environmental degradation with others is important for healing and a step toward creation care action.

As I matured, I remember feeling the need to choose between these two passions. It was not until I attended Fresno Pacific University and began studying environmental science that I recognized my love for nature as a gift from God. I realized that my Christian stewardship responsibilities extended beyond people to all of creation, and that honoring God’s stewardship commandment can be a testimony of Christian faith and values. At Fresno Pacific, they called this “creation care.” I began to see creation care as part of God’s redemptive work and vision of shalom. {53}

It was because of this conviction that I conducted my undergraduate research on the communication of passionate Christian environmentalists with other Christians. I am continuing this work with the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions. 1 I have found that creation care conversations are politically and ideologically polarizing, especially in evangelical and Anabaptist circles. This is why many of us avoid discussing them with family and friends: the conversations engage personal, political, and theological convictions that cannot be easily reconciled. Even more serious, they can cause frustration and animosity as participants accuse each other of stubbornness and an unwillingness to consider a different point of view. Getting Christians to talk about the subject can be a challenge.

Environmental issues are complex and controversial. I will suggest, however, that conversations about those issues can be productive if we allow authenticity and respect to guide us. A safe and genuine approach to environmental communication requires an openness to the perspectives and life experiences of others, a commitment to listening, and a willingness to wrestle with the challenges that surface in the conversation. At the end of a conversation guided by these principles, we might not always agree, but better mutual understanding can be just as desirable an outcome as agreement.

The same complexity of environmental issues, not to mention their immense scale, can be a serious challenge for those of us committed to working to address them. How does a person who longs to see God’s good creation properly cared for keep from feeling so overwhelmed that she surrenders to despair and gives up? Later in this article I will speak to this challenge. But first, let us explore some effective ways to engage normally reluctant participants in positive conversations about creation care and the environment.


Ben Parr, in his well-received book Captivology, defines reframing as adapting to or changing a person’s view of a subject so they see it differently and pay attention to what you have to say. 2 In practice, this means bringing a compelling new perspective to a familiar story, idea, or concept. Reframing is especially necessary when an audience has strong beliefs about a topic, such as climate change or environmentalism, and resists alternative points of view.

Many Christians have skewed but firmly embedded conceptions of what environmentalism is. They associate it with fanatical, tree-hugging activists or New Age nature-worshippers, and their hackles are raised as soon as anyone suggests that some environmentalists’ opinions might have {54} merit. So, reframing environmental concern by changing the language used to talk about it will often be necessary. Naming it “creation care” can make environmentalism more palatable for Christians because the biblical associations of “creation” immediately bring God into the picture. And once that happens, talk of a biblical mandate to steward God’s good earth can proceed with less suspicion. A much easier exchange of opinions and ideas can then be had.

Other terms sometimes used in connection with environmentalism may also prove useful because of their positive connotations for certain groups of Christians. “Ecojustice,” for example, might resonate with young Christian adults keen on progressive social causes because it suggests ending the unfair distribution of resources and protecting undervalued communities from that injustice. Older Christians, however, could be put off by the political overtones of “ecojustice,” even if they care about social justice issues. So, conversing with them about creation care may go better if the term is avoided. It might be more productive to speak of how “love your neighbor” can mean finding solutions for those who suffer from drinking polluted water or from farming on nutrient-depleted land. Different audiences respond well to different kinds of language, so it is vital to determine very early which language is most appropriate for your audience.

People’s preferred language generally reflects their perceptions of environmentalism. You may discover what those perceptions are by asking them directly, but the types of questions they pose or the skepticism they vocalize will soon indicate where they stand. So, listening carefully is important. That information will help you choose your words well and steer the conversation toward a productive end.

From interviews I’ve conducted, I learned that there are four dimensions of environmental concern that most need reframing if a positive conversation is to happen: the theological, the ecological, the relational, and the political. 3

Theological Reframing

The moral responsibilities we feel (or don’t) towards our planet can be closely connected with how attuned our theology of creation is to what the Bible says. Making new connections with familiar biblical passages can help connect dots that are already integral to a person’s theological convictions. On the topic of our responsibility toward the created order, many evangelicals and Anabaptists appear not to have read the Bible further than Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the {55} earth.” Christians of all stripes seem to think this verse is the principal, if not the only, mandate to humanity in regard to the natural world, so exploring it through new lenses can encourage a fresh understanding of our God-given responsibilities.

Historically, the words “subdue” and “dominion” have supported utilitarian interpretations of what it means to be rulers of God’s creation. And this has led to a sometimes-reckless disregard for nonhuman life, not to mention the earth itself. But elsewhere in the Bible God’s relationship to creation is depicted otherwise. John 3:16 speaks of God so loving the world (Gk. kosmos) that he sent his only son to redeem it and reconcile it to himself. In Jesus Christ, God became like a servant to restore shalom (peace) between God, humanity, and all of creation. Reframing God’s regard for the created order with John 3:16 means God’s love for the entire cosmos is the beginning and the end of our theology of creation; Genesis 1:28 must be read in the light of that love.

There are many other passages about creation that can aid our exploration of the broken relationship we have with the earth and what following Christ looks like in a time of environmental destruction. Some of these are 1 Chronicles 16:23–36, Job 12, John 1:1–18, Ephesians 2:1–10, and Colossians 1:15–20. Many psalms explore the beauty of creation and can make us appreciate the shalom that God desires for the entire creation. Psalms 8, 24, 33, 74, and 104 are biblical passages that shift our focus away from anthropogenic readings of Scripture to those that celebrate the value of creation in the eyes of God. Pausing to acknowledge God’s love of the created world is fertile ground for theological reframing, especially for those of us in evangelical traditions where human beings are practically the only object of God’s love. Reading and reflecting on Scripture through a creation-care lens will lead us to see that a close relationship with God means we also have a duty to care for (if not also to love) what God has created (Rom 8:18–23).

Theological reframing may also involve asking new questions about familiar truths. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is a well-known Bible verse. But what does loving our neighbors look like in a world of climate change? Do our neighbors include those on the other side of the world (and even those not so far away) who see extreme weather conditions that batter their communities? And do our “neighbors” include animals and other nonhuman life forms in the places we live? Most Christians know that when God created the universe, God “saw that it was good.” Does our treatment of the flora, fauna, and ecological systems in this little corner of the universe properly reflect the goodness that God sees in creation? How should our behavior change if we want the world to be a place where all of God’s good creatures are able to thrive? {56}

Asking what it means to be a Christian in our own local communities is common in most churches these days, but it rarely occurs to them to ask what it means to be a Christian in relation to local ecological communities, which brings us to the topic of ecological reframing.

Ecological Reframing

Getting past roadblocks to authentic environmental conversations will necessitate ecological reframing, that is, changing the way we look at the delicate ecological systems in which we live. Mennonites have a history of connecting with the land through farming, but most Mennonites in North America transitioned to urban living long ago. Those still engaged in agriculture may also chafe under increasingly restrictive regulations. Consequently, the tradition of land stewardship, while still remembered and shared as stories between generations, struggles to find a place in our lives.

What has more recently brought faith and environmental concerns together for some Mennonites is learning something new about their ecological home. One pastor had his views of ecology reframed when he learned that the river his church uses for baptisms contained unsafe levels of E. coli. A few members of the congregation joined teams to conduct water quality tests, and they have continued their participation for fifteen years. Today, the pastor views this commitment to their river as faith in action and finds himself paying closer attention to biblical references to rivers and their relevance for his community. 4 Learning more about issues in their community helped the congregation connect their faith to new stewardship practices.

Sometimes learning something new about our ecological settings means learning about the indigenous people groups, as well as the histories and social realities, situated in those settings. 5 It means rediscovering and learning from native peoples forced from their land, people whose traditions and practices benefited the land for thousands of years. Other social realities impact local communities as well. The peace and calm I experience in nature are not readily available to many people on a lower socioeconomic level. When a person’s immediate environment is an acrid alleyway, their experience of nature will be impoverished. Understanding and contributing to safer, more natural environments is a means of revaluing, investing in, and serving the local community and its land.

One practical way to engage in ecological reframing comes from the Christian ecological movement, Watershed Discipleship. Learning about our local bioregions (watersheds) enables us to better follow Christ where we physically live. 6 We cannot care for the world around us if we do not know it well. Our responsibilities as caretakers require us to familiarize {57} ourselves with local issues and needs. 7 The Watershed Discipleship movement has language that helps Christians better understand our ecological responsibilities as disciples of Christ.

Relational Reframing

A third kind of reframing concerns internal and interpersonal relationships as they relate to our natural environment. An effective way to lead others into a deeper understanding of the relevance of creation care in their own lives is exploring your own journey to creation discovery. Sharing how your experiences have shaped your attitudes toward creation will help others understand why you care about it and perhaps lead them to consider their own experiences. Some people are led to a greater knowledge of the environment through career changes or health concerns. For others it happens through childhood memories, visionary mentors, and travels, or by exploring their roots. Taking time to reflect on how the natural world has affected your life can lead you to better understand your beliefs and attitudes about creation care and help you empathize with others who share their experiences with you.

The Mennonites I interviewed for my senior research paper agreed that the most important aspects of communicating with others were expressing personal passion, empowering people to act, and articulating nuanced messages. 8 Choose an aspect of creation care that has impacted your life and connect it to what interests your audience. Enthusiasm is contagious, so topics that interest you could inspire someone else to begin their own creation-care journey. At the end of a conversation, inviting your partner to act opens the door to their involvement in actual creation care. Suggesting an idea, group, or follow-up event, or offering a challenge, can help move them past the anxieties they might feel regarding next steps.

Lastly, nuanced messages in which you humbly share what you believe, with sensitivity to other people’s strong feelings and trigger points, will play an important role in building credibility with as-yet reluctant creation caretakers. We must keep in mind that we do not have all the answers. Being ready to listen attentively and consider solutions you hadn’t thought of before shows respect for your conversation partners, which is an essential part of building bridges and keeping them interested in further conversations.

Political Reframing

Perhaps the most polarizing aspect of creation care conversations is their political implications. This is where I’ve experienced the most hesitation. Environmental protection regulation arouses passionate support from many policymakers and virulent criticism from many others. {58} Typically, supporters and opponents fall into the liberal/Democrat and conservative/Republican categories. The church has done its best to remain nonpartisan and to dissociate itself from those fierce debates. Unfortunately, this distancing has kept many Christians from even considering that a commitment to God might entail environmental stewardship responsibility. Inviting a person to consider care for God’s creation as an act of shalom—of love towards people and the planet, not of political affiliation—is one way to bring the issue back into the church without the political wrangling. 9

Reframing the political aspect of creation care may involve drawing attention to the social and economic implications of inaction. Most Mennonites would agree that Christian faith requires that we care for the poor and oppressed. Connecting the work done by trusted organizations like Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, and Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) for people struggling with the consequences of environmental degradation and climate change can be a good place to start. These organizations are seeing firsthand the damaging effects climate change has on at-risk populations. Working for environmental protection and urging governments to support the remediation of environmental damage can be seen as an extension of disaster relief and economic development work, but also as an extension of creation care.

Stories are often an effective way to enlarge a person’s perspective. Whether the story is from one’s own personal experience, a neighbor’s, or from the experience of someone on a different continent, personal stories humanize tragedies caused by mistreatment of the natural world. Two organizations that have implemented creation-care storytelling are the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (the Mennonite collaborative organization I work for) and Mennonite Central Committee. In 2018, these two partnered to organize the “Global South Voices” tour with Mennonite leaders from Zimbabwe, El Salvador, and Nepal. The organizations recognized the importance of storytelling and invited the three leaders to speak to congregations in the United States about the struggles of their countries with the harmful effects of climate change. 10 Political reframing includes broadening a person’s understanding of Christian responsibility and the importance of working towards shalom in all areas of life. Removing ideology from the conversation around creation care is a challenge, but one we must take up. As long as Christians see creation care as little more than left-wing environmentalism dressed in Christian garb, they will resist the idea that environmental degradation is a sin that impacts people and the creation that God loves and longs to reconcile. And everything that depends on the environment will suffer for it. {59}


To this point I have discussed how best to begin a creation care conversation with those as yet unconvinced that protection and care of the environment has any substantial biblical basis. But a significant challenge sometimes arises for those committed to these conversations. They will, from time to time, find themselves overwhelmed by the magnitude of the environmental challenge, by despair that tangible progress toward an environmentally sustainable future may never happen, and even guilt that they have done too little, too late, to make a real difference. The danger of creation-care burnout is all too real.

In what follows, I will suggest ways in which the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of individuals already invested in creation care can be met. The approaches I will outline can be summed up in the word acknowledgment. The key to caring for creation caregivers is the acknowledgment that comes from supportive communities that encourage sharing, thinking, and lament with like-minded Christians. 11 And to overcome the sense of futility and loneliness that can come with despair, it is also important to develop plans for empowering community action. 12

Community Support

A congregation can be a great source of support, especially where worship allows for group reflection through prayer, song, readings, and pastoral messages. I know of one such network of congregations, which chooses to hold services outdoors. The Wild Church Network is a growing community of pastors and spiritual leaders who “launch new expressions of church outside to re-acquaint, re-cover, and re-member congregations as loving participants of a larger community.” 13 Their decision to hold outdoor services is designed to invite people back into relationship with the ecological victims of our lifestyles—“our land, our waters [and] the creatures with whom we share our homes.” 14

Support can take the form of small groups, where more intimate bonds of trust can be formed. Having an intimate community to share personal stories can help people process emotions and begin to express their fears of the disasters that environmental crises may bring. Allowing for grief, sharing, and expression of emotions is also constructive in intergenerational and intercultural contexts. Wisdom shared between generations and cultures can broaden Christians’ understandings of their participation in the destructive practices of our culture and help them find hope in Christ’s promises of restoration and reconciliation with all of creation. Joanna Macy’s framework, “The Work That Reconnects,” was recommended by my interviewees as a guide to these kinds of conversation. 15

Support also takes the form of mentorships with trusted, experienced individuals. In my own life, adults working through grief triggered by {60} the irreversible damage of climate change have been an important part of working through my own feelings. While my mentors resist offering quick solutions or easy answers, they do have life experience and offer advice that I respect and value during this time of personal distress.

Working through personal emotions around environmental degradation with others in some way is important for healing and a step toward creation care action.

Community Action

Acknowledgment can also take the form of participating in work that reconnects us to global, national, and local communities. One common starting point is learning more about the environmental issues faced by the broader community. Visiting and volunteering with community nonprofits, inviting church and community members to talk about the needs they see in the community, and designing a Sunday school class focused on creation care are some of the ways one might do this. Some churches have partnered with local nonprofits to address their community struggles as a result of what they have learned. Calvary Fellowship AME 16 of Brooklyn, New York, decided to partner with Radical Living, a local asset-based community organization, to support its youth program and urban farm. The church recognized that their community “is disproportionately impacted by economic, health and environmental disparities” and decided that partnering with Radical Living was an opportunity to work towards peace, social justice, and faith formation in their community. 17 Volunteering or partnering with a local organization, intercultural program, or school is good stewardship of resources and serves to complement the values and visions of each partner.

Another church action involves intentionally linking their pastor or church leadership to an environmental professional from within the congregation. The voices at a church’s leadership table reflect its values and commitments, so including creation care as a faith value may help the leadership to think more broadly about how to pursue its commitments. Whether or not a church intentionally seeks out creation care through dedicated projects, they may find that other ministries and commitments benefit from including environmental stewardship values into decision-making processes.

Some churches incorporate creation care language into their vision, values, or congregational statements. This was the case at Benton Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana (the church whose local river had dangerous levels of E. coli). They decided that their vision statement should reflect their commitment to people and their place: “We will love as Jesus loves, pursuing God’s peace at the river and at the table.” 18 Small language shifts {61} can serve as reminders that the life of the church is connected to what happens in both their social and natural communities.

Church communities have also invested in activities like conducting energy audits of their facilities, exploring the meanings of Sabbath and Jubilee, and participating in nonviolent protests and stand-ins for social justice causes. Each investment expresses a church’s values and beliefs concerning what it means to pursue shalom in a time of environmental crisis. Many stories and related resources can be found at the Mennonite Creation Care Network, the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, and MCC’s Washington Memo. 19


Raising the topic of creation care with resistant fellow believers can be daunting but rewarding, even if it leads only to greater respect in our conversation partners for the environmental cause. But each person who comes to see that caring for the environment means participating in the realization of God’s shalom is another reason to believe that God is still at work, which is another reason to hope for a better future. Christian creation care is rooted neither in humanistic self-interest nor in New Age religion but in the biblical truth that the redemptive work of God that began in the Word continues through the Spirit that ministers to us today. 20 Cultivating right relationships in all areas of life is at the center of Christian creation care communication and action. As stewards of creation, we are charged with continuing creation care conversations and pursuing this kind of relational reconciliation.

It’s work we can’t sustain on our own. So, we have also looked at examples of faith communities that support stressed-out creation caretakers by working towards God’s shalom as a community and imagining together what it means to care for the earth as followers of Christ. How might we seek right relationships in the human and nonhuman communities we impact every day? We can begin by engaging others in conversations that focus on the shalom God desires. In those conversations and then—with support from other followers of Jesus—working to protect and nurture the creation we are part of, we can join in God’s redemptive work and vision for a reconciled cosmos.


  1. Emily Griffioen, “New Climate Futures Fellow to Create Strategic Plan,” Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (website), accessed November 21, 2019, {62}
  2. Ben Parr, Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 8.
  3. Katie Isaac, “Modeling Social Change: Mennonites and Environmentalism,” senior research paper, Fresno Pacific University, May 2018.
  4. Douglas Kaufman (pastor; Director of Pastoral Ecology at the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions), interview by Katie Isaac, November 30, 2018.
  5. Katerina Friesen (Program Manager at Insight Garden Program; adjunct instructor, Fresno Pacific University), interview by Katie Isaac, December 6, 2018.
  6. “What is Watershed Discipleship?”, Watershed Discipleship (website), accessed November 18, 2019,
  7. “What is Watershed Discipleship?”
  8. Isaac, “Modeling Social Change.”
  9. Phillip Yoder (pastor), interview by Katie Isaac, October 6, 2019.
  10. “Global South Voices,” Washington Memo: A Blog of Mennonite Central Committee U.S., accessed November 18, 2018,; Jennifer Schrock, “Speakers Explain Impact of Climate Change on Their Home Countries,” MCC U.S., September 28, 2018,
  11. Katerina Friesen, interview.
  12. Parr, Captivology, 8.
  13. Wild Church Network, accessed November 19, 2019,
  14. Wild Church Network.
  15. “The Work That Reconnects,” Joanna Macy and Her Work (website), accessed November 19, 2019,
  16. African American Episcopal Church (website),
  17. “Youth Program,” Radical Living (website), accessed November 19, 2019,
  18. “About Us,” Benton Mennonite Church (website), accessed November 19, 2019,
  19. Mennonite Creation Care Network, accessed November 19, 2019,; Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, accessed November 19, 2019,; Washington Memo, accessed November 19, 2019,
  20. See Heb 9:15 and Rom 8:26–27.
Katie Isaac is a graduate of Fresno Pacific University, where she earned her BSc in Environmental Science. She has been researching Christian climate communication for the past two years and is currently the Climate Futures Fellow at the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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