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Bishops updating ‘In Defense of Creation’ document

The Rev. J. Phillip Wogaman addresses the United Methodist Council of Bishops during its spring meeting. Wogaman is slated to write the church's updated "In Defense of Creation" letter. UMNS photos by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
May 15, 2007 | SPRINGMAID BEACH, S.C. (UMNS)


"This danger is very real, but there is also reason for hope," says David Cortright of nuclear terrorism.

United Methodists are invited to assist the church’s bishops in drafting a statement exploring the problems of and solutions to nuclear weapons, environmental degradation, global warming, endemic poverty and disease.

More than 20 years ago, the United Methodist Council of Bishops introduced a pastoral letter called "In Defense of Creation." The 1986 letter responded to the possibility of nuclear war and the potential for extinction of life.

"The pastoral letter ... came as an urgent reminder that this world is God’s creation, a sacred gift to be received and nurtured with respect," according to an episcopal invitation to the church for conversation on a new creation document.

On May 3, the Council of Bishops heard a presentation from a task force seeking to update the 1986 statement with input from The United Methodist Church and "other persons of goodwill" as authorized by the 2004 General Conference.

When the first statement was drafted, the world faced the threat of nuclear disaster in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The original document called for the elimination of nuclear weapons and "was one of the most serious engagements by our church with public policy," said Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker, chairman of the task force.

"By taking up the task of renewing In Defense of Creation for our time ... we are building a tradition of our church being seriously engaged with public policy concerning the issues that most affect the human race," he said.

Exploring new challenges

The bishops are being assisted with their research on these complex issues by the Church’s Center for Theology and Public Policy at Wesley Seminary in Washington. The center was founded 30 years ago by Bishop James Mathews and assisted in drafting the 1986 document.

"The problems facing the world have changed dramatically in the 20 years since the previous pastoral letter. It is the responsibility of the church to provide leadership and discernment to meet those challenges," said the Rev. Barbara Green, a Presbyterian clergywoman and the center's executive director.

"Defending creation is important because it is God’s comprehensive gift which is the basis of all life."
–The Rev. Barbara Green

Those challenges, she said, include global warming, endemic poverty and disease "and a world awash in weapons."

"Defending creation is important because it is God’s comprehensive gift which is the basis of all life."

While the Cold War is over and the Soviet Union no longer exists, an increasing number of countries possess nuclear weapons and others aspire to become nuclear powers, the invitation notes. Acts of terrorism are part of the world's new political landscape.

The world faces a very different situation that is "more complicated by the interconnections" between the ongoing nuclear danger and realities of violence, the environment, global warming and the continuing struggles by hundreds of millions of the world’s people for basic economic subsistence," the invitation says.

Two decades ago, the world was a dangerous place and a "great wave of social moral concern arose." Countries demanded an end to the nuclear arms race and In Defense of Creation "was a central part of that great awakening and moral voice," said David Cortright, president of the Fourth Freedom Forum, a Goshen, Ind.-based organization that tracks and addresses global nuclear nonproliferation and security issues.


"People who live in serious poverty never are able to come close to the potential that God has built into them," the Rev. David Beckmann says.

"The danger of nuclear war has not gone away. In many respects, it is more alarming today than it was then," he said, adding that the U.S. policy of unilateral militarism drives nations to seek weapons. "While the U.S. encourages others to give up bombs, we are in the process of developing nuclear weapons" that may be acquired by terrorists.

"This danger is very real," Cortright said, "but there is also reason for hope."

Inclusion of world hunger

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an advocacy group seeking to eradicate world hunger, told the council that The United Methodist Church "always gets the connection between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and social transformation."

The Lutheran pastor and economist thanked the council for including poverty in its new creation document since roughly a billion people live in "subhuman conditions" and "people who live in serious poverty never are able to come close to the potential that God has built into them."

Poverty, he said, breeds violence, cynicism, disorder and environmental degradation. "It is a threat to creation and it is really right that it be lifted up in your proposed pastoral letter," he said.

Beckmann spoke about the hope to eradicate hunger, disease and poverty "in our time." Within the last 30 years, the proportion of undernourished people has decreased and, despite population growth, "there are fewer hungry people in the world today than there were in the world 30 years ago." However, while developing countries are addressing poverty, the United States has not made significant progress on the issue since the mid-1970s, he said.


Bishop Mary Ann Swenson updates colleagues on her Los Angeles area conference's involvement in Hurricane Katrina relief work.

The task force will host a two-day hearing in October in Washington to explore the interconnection between debt and nuclear weapons, poverty and economics and the environment.

The task force encourages annual conferences, seminaries and other constitutenties to conduct hearings, conversation and study on nuclear proliferation, the environment and poverty in 2007 and 2008. The results should be sent to the Rev. Barbara Green, executive director of the Church's Center for Theology and Public Policy or by mail to 4500 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016. For more information, contact Green at (202) 885-8648.

The findings will be turned into a pastoral letter and foundation document, as was done for the 1986 statement. The bishops anticipate approving a new document, written by the Rev. J. Phillip Wogaman, in May 2009 and releasing it to the church for study and action.

In a related matter, the bishops were updated about the Katrina Recovery efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi. An appeal through the United Methodist Committee on Relief has collected more than $60 million. Hurricane Katrina roared across the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

Proclaiming that leadership requires action and investment, the bishops collected $1,865 for the fund in response to an appeal from Bishop William Morris.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Council of Bishops

In Defense of Creation

2008 General Conference

Church’s Center for Theology and Public policy

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

Fourth Freedom Forum

Bread for the World

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