Asian Christian leaders have challenged a distorted interpretation of the Bible's Genesis story about God telling Adam and Eve to "subdue" the earth and to "have dominion" over other living species and non-living resources on the planet - writes Maurice Melanes.
"The misinterpretation, which has been blamed on Christians, has helped legitimise the wanton profit-oriented exploitation of the planet and its resources," said Hrangthan Chhungi of the Presbyterian Church of India.
She said that the more appropriate translation from Hebrew, the language in which Genesis is written, is "to over-see and take care, rather than to subdue and have dominion".
Chhungi, who is also the executive secretary of the Commission on Tribals and Adivasi, a programme of the National Council of Churches in India, is a theologian who was presenting a biblical and theological perspective at a 28 November to 3 December 2010 consultation on "communities rights to water and sanitation in Asia" held in Manila.
"We are, therefore, overseers and caretakers of God's creation," said Chhungi. "As such, we don't have the licence or, the freedom to abuse our planet and its vital resources. God gave us freedom to use the earth’s resources but this comes with great responsibility."
More than 40 delegates from Christian groups and church-based organisations from 12 countries in Asia participated in the consultation organised by the World Council of Churches-backed Ecumenical Water Network, a faith-based water rights advocacy group. It was hosted by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
Sister Elsa Compuesto, a Filipino Catholic nun, also stressed the need to rethink the "kingdom of God, which also connotes dominion as we often associate it with something hierarchical".
She added, "God's kingdom, as Jesus showed us, is about companionship through which he made the blind see, the lame walk, and the sick healed." Compuesto said, "The same thing is true with creation, through which God is revealed to us."
Both Chhungi's and Compuesto's reflections, reinforced by other participants, were aimed at helping build a "theological framework" on taking care of and responsibly managing the earth's resources, such as water.
"Water, like land, is meant to be shared. But corporate greed is making this resource less and less accessible to people," National Council of Churches in the Philippines General Secretary, the Rev Rex Reyes told participants in a closing message.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]