The second post in a series of sermons submitted by Rev Dr Scott Couper on Mission and the Environment
“’Increase and Multiply’: To What End?”
*Hebrew Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31
Psalm: Psalm 8:3-9
*Christian Scripture: I Corinthians 7:1-9
Friends, this morning we continue with part II of our new sermon series entitled “Sunday Times”. The series will serve to enable us to revitalise our congregation and discern the future of our church. Our series is about the ‘signs of our times’. In this series, we are, in a sense, reading the newspaper to learn about the state of our world. What is happening in the world that ought to affect our Christian faith and our local church in Sydenham?
As I stated last week, I believe the greatest challenge faced by the world, the Christian church and thus the Bethel Congregational Church is the environmental crisis. I believe the deterioration of God’s Creation is the preeminent issue of our time and it will continue to be for generations to come. Recall last week I proposed that “Cosmocentric is the new Anthropocentric.” We realised that a theological focus on the exclusive salvation of human beings has perhaps led us to neglect the salvation of Creation. We concluded that the destruction of God’s Creation will likely lead to our own suffering and destruction, especially for the poor (for whom Jesus has a ‘preferential option’). To save God’s Creation from destruction is to in part save humans from destruction. Therefore, human’s salvation is in part dependant on Creation’s salvation. The video clip we watched last week asked: “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?”
I believe the two greatest threats to God’s Creation and thus to ourselves is human overpopulation and the pollution of the Earth. (We will discuss pollution and overconsumption next week.) Let us see if we can grasp the enormity of the following statistics our deacons’ learned while educating themselves in a book entitled The Church and Mission.
From when human beings, Homo sapiens, first walked the Earth (200,000 – 100,000 years ago), it took until about 1830 to reach a human population of one billion. The second billion took about one hundred years to reach (1930). The third billion took thirty years (1960). The fourth billion took about fifteen years (1975). The fifth billion took twelve years (1987). The sixth billion took nine years (1996). Currently, the world population stands at 7.27 billion people and we just keep continuing to add (Global Population Clock).
Humans are reproducing so fast that we are killing other forms of life, species, throughout the Earth. Our population is taking-up all the space, all the food, all the air, all the soil. Our population renders extinct, for example, here in South Africa, the rhinoceros, that are slaughtered by the hundreds because humans think they with rhino horns they can have better sex.
What I am about to say is very controversial. But I must say it. Human beings, to the Earth, have become like a virus or a cancer. We multiply, take over and kill other life. That is what we do. Now, that is a very anti-human statement (anti-anthropocentric). But, is it? Scientists, pathologists and epidemiologists specifically, say that pathogen that are too deadly (thus killing their hosts and thus themselves before they can spread to other hosts) die out quickly. The best thing a pathogen can do is sometimes not be so destructive and thus continue to reside in its host. So, a plague that does not kill its hosts too quickly can thus preserve itself. In that way, my seeming anti-human statement is very pro-human. By not killing God’s Creation, we preserve our host – the Earth – and thus ourselves.
What is Christianity and what is the church saying about God’s Creation and our overpopulation of it? Very little if anything. This is likely the first sermon you have heard preached on overpopulation. Our theology is not equipped to handle the issue because our Christian faith is too anthropocentric. Our theology is too much only about God’s relationship with humans and not enough about God’s relationship with Creation – of which we are a part. I believe that Bethel Congregational Church can teach other people of faith, be they Christian, Muslim or Hindu, that God’s Creation must be preserved if we are to preserve ourselves and do God’s will. I believe we can tell the gospel (the ‘good news’) that God empowers us to care for God’s Creation and thus live life and live it abundantly (John 10:10).
In our scripture, God created the Earth and all living things therein, and they were “very good.” As part of that Creation, God created humans. In verse 29, our reading says that God commanded the humans: “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the Earth and subdue it.” Now, and this is the fundamental point of my message this morning: the directive to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ means one thing when there are two people and it means another thing when there are 7.27 billion people. For 7.27 billion to increase and multiply, fill the Earth and subdue is a directive to destroy the Earth and thus engender human suffering on a catastrophic level. I am not saying the Bible is ‘wrong’ in Genesis. The Bible was ‘right’, but when there were only two people! When there is 7.27 billion people, surely, we cannot follow the same directive given to two people! Many people of faith have understood this biblical directive to procreate as a mandate to reproduce at will and without concern of the consequences. (Also, historically, people have had many children because the infant mortality rate and the mortality rate in general was very high. Today, with modern science and technology, fewer people are dying young and are living longer.) When we as people interpret God’s will, context is crucial. In 2015, the context has changed – so must our interpretation of the scriptures change.
As a person of faith, I believe the less children we have the better – so that the children we do have grow to their fullest God-given potential. Every additional child we create, we have to divide the Earth’s resources so to invest in that child and each additional child diminishes the potential of the one before.
Our Christian scripture reading from I Corinthians provides some counter to the Christian interpretation that God wishes us to reproduce as much as possible. Here in I Corinthians, Paul advocates a single, and thus sexually abstinent lifestyle. And a marriage-less and sexually abstinent lifestyle is by consequence one which does not procreate. For those who cannot control themselves, Paul advises them to be married.
Many may understandably think that my focus in this series on the environment renders me ‘obsessed’ about one subject. But, I will argue that there are many issues related to Christian morality and behaviour that relate to the environment and hence human population. For example, contraception. I believe the use of contraception, for those who are and are not married, is a Christian imperative. I believe Christians should be advocating the use of abstinence, male and female condoms, vasectomies, injections and birth control pills to avoid an unplanned pregnancies.
Recently, particularly in South Africa, the issue of voluntary euthanasia, a person’s right to die if they are suffering terribly with no possibility of recovery, became an issue in the highest courts. Euthanasia, as a last resort in dire circumstances, an issue about which our churches should be speaking.
Abortion is another topic of Christian morality related to the environment and population. I do not support abortion in and of itself. But, I do support a woman’s right to choose. That being said, abortions should be avoided at all costs through sexual abstinence and contraception. I do not believe both abortion and use of contraception should be opposed. Such a position is too anthropocentric and places God’s Creation and thus human beings, particularly the poor, at great risk.
Adoption is another issue related to the environment and population. I believe that it is a Christian imperative to encourage adoption. In South Africa, there are according to UNICEF 3.7 to 4 million orphans. Perhaps one of the greatest things we can do as Christians is adopt those who have no family, raise them, invest in them so that they are able to reach their God-given potential. If we do not, they will most likely grow-up vulnerable and not plan their families – and the cycle will continue.
Family planning is crucial. As people of faith, we should encourage people to plan their families and that usually means intentionally having children later in life when they and their finances are more mature and they can better afford the food, clothes, education and medical care of the child or children they do plan to have.
Many today may misinterpret me and suggest that I am anti-human, or anti-birth or anti-children. You know me well enough to know that that is not the case. One of the clarion calls of my faith is from Jesus who said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Friends, we cannot live our God-given lives to the fullest if we give birth to more humans than the Earth can reasonably support. Everyone knows, the more something is manufactured, the less it is valued. The greater the supply, the less the demand. As a person of faith, I believe that every human being is of infinite value and should be invested-in so to reach his or her greatest God-given potential.
And the people of God responded: “Amen.”