This fall, Baylor University, a private Christian university in Waco, Texas, held its annual symposium on faith and culture. This year’s theme “Stewardship of Creation” examined the intersection of core Christian and environmentalism values. During the three-day event, more than 350 Christian leaders, officials from Waco City Council, and nonprofit leaders led sessions on agricultural practices, fauna for food, reflections on hunting and stewardship, and debated how people should respond to climate refugees.
Scattered in the mix of published theologians, professors, and nonprofit leaders were graduate and undergraduate students enthusiastic for the opportunity to reflect upon and discuss their identities as Christians and stewards of the Earth. Collectively, the participants discussed how to reimagine our relationship to Earth, and how to be a faithful steward of creation.
Audubon also attended the event and presented a panel discussion titled “Look at the Birds in the Air.” It started with a basic question: What do people see when they look at birds? According to panelist David Ringer, Audubon’s chief network officer, birds and their universal appeal provide a bridge between viewpoints and help people move past ideological barriers. And because birds can quite literally tell us what’s going on with the environment, they can serve as teachers and messengers; people then have the choice to respond in kind and become responsible caretakers of the environment.
“Birds have a powerful way of connecting what we do in our daily lives to the broader lessons we should be paying attention to,” Ringer says. “Throughout the event we saw students that were eager for conversations, making it clear that they felt environmental responsibility, addressing climate change, living out faith, and succeeding in business are all interwoven.”
Helming the panel alongside Ringer were Frank Ruiz, Audubon’s Salton Sea program director, Brooke Bateman, director of Climate Watch, Suzanne Langley, executive director for Audubon Texas, and Christina Harvey, chapter leader for Wake Audubon Society in North Carolina. Each Audubon panelist brought a different perspective on his or her own personal faith.
Harvey, a lifelong birder who has participated in Audubon’s Climate Watch program since its inception, discussed her past volunteer work, particularly some bird-friendly gardening projects with churches in North Carolina. From her own experience at her parish, Harvey is firm believer that the next generations of Christian leaders—in partnership with more-established church leaders—can successfully tend, protect, and care for the planet.
“When I got back home from the conference, I met with my pastor and told her how pleased I was with the enthusiasm from young people and the overall attendance,” Harvey says. “Within congregations, it’s important for people to talk to their pastors and voice issues they care about so that they will have a valuable religious experience.”
Reflecting on the event, Ringer says that Baylor’s symposium on faith and culture showed that to be successful stewards of the planet, it’s necessary to let a plurality of voices and perspectives on stewardship shine. Young people, like the impassioned ones at the conference, have made it clear that they believe caring for the environment is an inherent duty for all, no matter one’s religious denomination, age demographic, or cultural background. To help those within their faith-based circles be more receptive toward accepting current ecological realities, like the need to tackle climate change, Ringer says that it is important that these young Christian leaders be empowered to challenge the status quo.
“It is the job of young people to bring ideas forward that previous generations found contradictory,” he says. “I was really impressed by a panel led by Pepperdine students because they accepted the science behind climate change and argued from their Christian perspective to assist and make a difference. That vision and passion that young people have is the hope for the future and they will create the change that we need to protect the planet.”