Christian Placemaking: Bridging the Culture and Creation Divide?

At the upcoming LWCCN webinar on July 9th entitled Placemaking and Creation Care: A Christian Perspective, several important questions, at least from my perspective, will be put on the table for consideration by the creation care community. If we align and agree on their significance, how we respond to these questions may reshape the framing, narrative, partnerships, and practical agenda of the creation care movement going forward.

The central observation prompting my question is this: “creation” as currently framed by the creation care movement is primarily focused theologically and practically on apprehending, protecting, and restoring the ecological integrity of God’s creation. That is a vital and essential capacity the movement must possess. But, it is not sufficient. There is more of creation, or put differently, more to creation that I believe we need to intentionally connect to, incorporate, and robustly build into its theology, public narrative, capacities, and practical agenda if our movement is to be more effective and holistic.

The image I have of the creation care movement at present is like that of a bodybuilder. This bodybuilder has worked hard on the leg and arm muscles on only one side of their body—its “ecological limbs,” so to speak. Yet, little attention has been given to their other arm and leg. From one side profile, the bodybuilder looks strong and fit, but the truth is otherwise. The other side of their body, the one with muscles than can explain, advocate for, and contribute to building places commensurate with God’s shalom where human and non-human communities can thrive is weak and urgently needs extra workouts to catch up. When that’s been accomplished, however, watch out!

The bodybuilder analogy also works in another important way. My observation is that the bodybuilder, akin to the creation care movement, has a complete body. The issue, however, is that the only muscles receiving rigorous workouts are its “ecological muscles.” The wizened side of its body consists of its “built environment muscles” which encompass the theology, science, art, and other practical capacities pertaining to human culture that build the cities, towns, and villages where human communities live, produce, consume, and play.

What I am not saying, therefore, is that I am bringing something totally absent within the creation care movement as is. There is not a missing awareness per se that the built environment is integral to creation care. For example, in Renew Our World’s new publication ‘Making a World of Difference,’ Dave Bookless makes this point when he writes towards the end of the book that Jeremiah 29: 4–7 gives the ‘…fullest description of shalom/the kingdom of God to be found in scripture, and which sum up a Christian vision for a just and sustainable world.’ Bookless goes on to say ‘Here is a Christian vision for the 21st Century. It is urban, yet deeply connected to the soil and local food systems…’. No, the bodybuilder in my analogy has a complete body with those muscles.

The observation I offer, however, is that—to our detriment—we have not adequately exercised, strengthened, trained, and integrated the “placemaking muscle group” within our creation care movement. Moreover, given the confluence of multiple urban crises—affordable housing, heat waves, flooding, water shortages, traffic congestion, gross economic inequality, swelling urban migration—global leadership forums in 2024 such as Lausanne 4, the upcoming 12th World Urban Forum, COP29, CBD COP16, are crucial. These events can focus attention, discussion, ideas, and catalyze action. Now is the time for the creation care movement to give serious, substantial, and sustained attention to the built environment and concepts like placemaking, urban shalom, sustainable urbanism, etc. Doing so will strengthen and equip the creation care movement to meet the full range of 21st century challenges. 

Hopefully these musings that I offer have piqued your interest in our upcoming webinar. I hope to see you on the 9th of July (13.00 UTC). Do register at this link https://shorturl.at/HrFTb.

Chris Elisara

Co-Director, World Evangelical Alliance Sustainability Center

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