Editors Note: Thanks to Joseph Rossell with the Institute for Religion and Democracy who wrote this piece interviewing Cornwall’s new Research Associate for Developing Countries, Vijay Jayaraj. The original article was published on IRD’s Juicy Ecumenism Blog.
From the very beginning of the Bible, God makes environmental stewardship a priority for His people. By extension, Christians should also care about economic development, since how humans use and allocate the resources in God’s creation is a profoundly moral subject as well. Both of these issues – the environment and economic development – are specialties for Vijay Jayaraj.
Vijay recently joined the Cornwall Alliance as Research Associate for Developing Countries. He received his Bachelor of Engineering University from Anna University in Tamil Nadu, India, in 2008 and his Masters of Science in Environmental Science from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, in 2011. He had held various research-related jobs and internships in the fields of climate change, energy, and development.
As a Christian Millennial raised (and currently living) in India, Vijay brings a unique perspective to his writing. The issues he writes about are personal. He’s keenly aware of the impact of environmental and economic policies, particularly in the developing world. He also understands why it’s so important that the Church gets it right on these topics.
I recently got to interview Vijay. He shared his thoughts about why Christians need to be informed when it comes to environmental and economic policy, and how the Church can make an impact around the world by taking a prayerful, strategic stand.
Here are my questions and Vijay’s responses:
Me: How do Christian principles inform your views on the environment and economic development?
Vijay: Christian principles determine the purpose of my life. They give me the foundation for the metaphysical origins of the universe and the meaning within. It sets the moral standards regarding every aspect of my life. So, I would like my views on the environment, and human development, to be well informed by science and deeply rooted in Christian principles. God’s mandate regarding the environment is well defined. It demands a moral responsibility towards biblical stewardship of creation, in a way that promotes human life without the abuse of the environment we live in. Man is the leader of the earth and his ingenuity in utilizing the environment for the good of mankind, and the creatures within, is well established throughout history. Economic development is key to human well-being. Without that development it will be impossible to reduce global poverty levels and ensure a livelihood for everyone.
My viewpoint is sustained on the above presuppositions and beliefs. But what about the damage to the environment that has been happening? Does the pursuit of economic development (involving the utilization of resources) give us the freedom to destroy/abuse the environment?
Absolutely not. The critical factor therefore, is the dynamics of the relationship between economic development and the environment. It calls for a robust scientific inquiry and understanding about the changes in the environment caused by human development. This scientific knowledge, coupled with the ethical viewpoints from the Bible, will aid in informed decision making about the way we utilize the environment for human economic development. I believe the Christian worldview (with well-informed scientific knowledge) provides the most reasonable and best ethical basis for the stewardship of the environment. It gives inherent worth to human life, establishes the innate ability of humanity to steward the earth in the most intelligible way, addresses the need to alleviate poverty (which is rampant in a country like India), and promotes human development without the abuse of the environment and the creatures therein.
Me: What is most important for the Church to understand about these issues?
Vijay: The Church (the collective body of global Christians) has to wake up to the impact of environmental issues on the everyday lives of people, in both the developed and developing countries. The Church also has to understand the biblical mandate to steward creation, as it is one of the key functional elements of managing the earth. The Church—apart from its primary function in acting as the body of Christ (structured entity for worship and proclaiming the gospel to the world), has also been called to serve the people of the world as the representatives of Christ. Throughout history we have seen the role of the Church in addressing the needs of society through engagement and contribution in the fields of education, science, healthcare, social development, and the justice system.
Although there is a general calling towards these aspects of society, the most prominent call is to meet the needs of the poor and the afflicted. And that’s precisely why the Church needs to pay attention to the impact of global developmental policies on the livelihood of marginalized people locally and globally. Environmental policies, especially global warming/climate change policies, drastically alter the developmental goals of Third World developing countries. Not only do these countries depend on monetary help, they are also forced to abandon environmentally friendly conventional energy sources that have been integral to the alleviation of poverty in the past two centuries. This happens when there is an additional cost in implementing environment-centric developmental policies, as opposed to people-centric development policies. So the Church needs to advocate on behalf of those who are marginalized and poor.
Me: How can the Church best advocate for the poorest of the poor around the world?
Vijay: I would like the Church to be involved more in environmental issues that are posing a threat to the poor in the developing countries. There are multiple ways in which this can be done.
- Advocacy for the poor starts in the heart of a believer. The foremost thing to do is to help the congregation quench their own spiritual poverty. They should be made to discover their individual gifts, passions and calling in life. This helps them understand their role as followers of Christ in serving the poor of the world.
- Begin at the Church. The Church today should aim to emulate the early Church, wherein the church functions as one body – taking care of the needy within its own body.
- Educate the church regarding global poverty. Make them aware of the problems faced by the poor of the world, the solutions to those problems and the role of Christians in the fight against global poverty. (Especially on how the Church can re-work its strategy in light of the global economy, development policies, and how the livelihood of the poor is related to those factors). The Church should also advocate and lobby for the well-being of the poor, through their respective political and legal systems. Two particularly good resources churches can use to teach their members about this are Brian Fikkert and Stephen Corbett’s book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself and the Acton Institute’s video documentary Poverty, Inc.: Fighting Poverty Is Big Business, But Who Profits the Most?
- Partnership with those who are already helping the poor. The Church needs to be strategically partnered with organizations who are addressing poverty both locally and across the globe. Such alliances will help channel resources, utilize manpower, and accelerate the efforts of churches in their mission to serve the needy in the most fruitful and God-honoring way.
- Prayer. The Lord is the provider. The church needs to pray for the afflicted, poor, marginalized, and for those who are involved in the fight against poverty at various levels and means.
Me: What are some common misconceptions that you encounter among Christians about environmental stewardship and poverty?
Vijay: The magnitude and severity of poverty is often misunderstood by the Church. The most prominent reasons being the geographical disconnection, the lack of strong theological teaching on the call to serve the poor, and the lack of engagement by the Church. This situation worsens when one includes the dimension of environmental stewardship. The majority of the churches that I have visited seldom address the issue of environmental stewardship, which is sad, but it is just as sad that those that do address it do so in a way that ignores the harmful effect of many environmental policies on the poor. Both of these are glaring mistakes in the current age, when the economic and developmental policies are shaped by the global warming agenda. Ignorance on these matters naturally leads to misconceptions about the way resources are to be utilized (either overuse or extreme conservation), the moral responsibility of Christians towards the environment (lack of concern for environment, pollution, etc.), and distinctions regarding the ethical basis for human development (human value in relation to the other life forms, the importance of economic development to human well-being).