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New 'Catechism of Creation' published by Committee on Science, Technology and Faith
Document prepared for study in congregations

By Phina Borgeson
3/28/2005
[Episcopal News Service]  The Committee on Science, Technology and Faith has announced its publication on-line of "A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding." Prepared for study in congregations, the document is organized in question-and-answer format and posted on-line at www.episcopalchurch.org/science.

The document's three main sections suggest use in a range of situations, and have drawn praise from scientists and theologians, clergy and laity.

"The goal of the Catechism is to remind people of the importance of the glory of creation and the ways in which it touches people's faith every day," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina and editor of the Anglican Digest. "The doctrine of our creation is a vital part of our faith that's been too neglected in recent Christian tradition."

Nevada's Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is also a scientist specializing in oceanography, said the Catechism promises to be "useful in a variety of venues: youth groups, diocesan environmental commissions, and garden-variety adult education in the parish, as well as an educational tool when a particular issue presents itself in the local community."

Part I, "A Theology of Creation," provides basic biblical and historical theological understandings of creation, with a strong emphasis on a trinitarian view of God's ongoing creative activity. Preachers, catechists, and other teachers will find in this section useful background material for their ministries.

Part I is organized on a creedal pattern and offers abundance scripture references, notes principal author and Committee Co-chair Robert J. Schneider, a retired professor from Berea College, Kentucky.

Part II, "Creation and Science," explores the interaction of religious and scientific ways of knowing, and offers models for moving beyond a conflicted understanding of the two domains. Part II also highlights the traditional Anglican view on the compatibility of evolutionary and theological understandings of creation, and addresses specific points, including the
"Intelligent Design Movement."

Committee member Sandra Michael, professor in the Department of Biological Studies at New York's Binghamton University, finds having such an Episcopal publication "especially important for our youth. Many want to go into a science-related field, but often feel they can't talk about their faith in scientific circles. The Catechism of Creation should help them." 

The Rev. Barbara Smith-Moran, Committee co-chair and interim assistant at Christ Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts says she sees "scientists I work around light up when they realize that not all Christians are pushing a literalist or fundamentalist belief agenda, especially about creation."

Schneider, the document's principal author, adds that using the Catechism of Creation in parish adult forums could provide a service to local communities "when informed parishioners speak up at local school board meetings. A Christian witness from Episcopalians that affirms creation and supports good science education just might make a difference."

Nevada's Bishop Jefferts Schori agrees: "We have seen a resurgence in attempts to dictate curriculum to school districts, for example, and (the Catechism) would be a helpful teaching tool for both parishioners and for members of the community."

Part III, "Caring for Creation," offers a rationale for human stewardship of and partnership with the rest of creation, a discipline grounded in biblical and traditional theology.

Committee member Jim Jordan sees grassroots uses for these principles in his community of Gualala, California (Diocese of Northern California), where environmentalists are plentiful. "Many of them have negative opinions about churches because they think of Christians as being aligned with people who want to exploit the earth's natural resources selfishly," Jordan said. "The Creation Catechism plainly shows that is not true, and instead offers theological and ethical underpinnings for responsible environmentalists. It's an ideal tool for evangelism to those concerned for the environment."

Development of "A Catechism of Creation" began when South Carolina's Harmon spearheaded the idea at a meeting of the Committee in April 2003. The work of drafting and editing was then taken up by Schneider, retired professor of classics and general studies from Berea College, where he pioneered a course on "Science and Faith."

"I always get satisfaction out of meeting the challenge to state things succinctly and simply without losing the nuances," Schneider mused. Numerous drafts and copious input from members of the Committee and its Sub-committee on Creation made this a challenging task, he said.

These achievements were noted by Jefferts Schori: "I am impressed with the thought and care that has gone into the document," she said. "As a scientist, I recognize the difficulty of translating technical material into accessible language; it is not solely a challenge to theologians. Kudos to the Committee on Science, Technology, and Faith. We are most grateful for your labors."

Other early responses to the Catechism of Creation underscore its significance. Jim Miller, senior program associate of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said he considers the Catechism of Creation a gift to the mainline Protestant Christian community. "It provides a clear affirmation of creation theology that is fully cognizant of and consistent with the best contemporary scientific understanding of nature," he said.

Like other members of the Ecumenical Round Table on Science, Technology and the Church, Miller has been concerned with bringing the science and theology dialogue, strong in the academic world, into local worshiping communities. "This is a good example of the science and theology dialogue in action. It should be useful at many age levels," he added.

Committee Co-chair Smith-Moran said, "Episcopalians have led the way here, producing a 'first edition,' so to speak. Committees in other denominations are already studying and reacting to the Catechism. Soon these committees will consult some of their own scientists and then put out their own 'new improved editions.' Won't that be great?"

Summing up the potential impact of the Episcopal document, Bishop Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan said, "Those who espouse 'Creationism' have seemed to lay claim (at least in public vernacular) to the word 'Creation.' It's as if there's been an abdication by more mainline traditions of the language, so that it's assumed by many that people of faith reject evolution and other scientific learnings and theories, and that people who focus on scientific thought reject outright any truths and insights garnered from faith. It's a false dichotomy."

Kelsey said the Catechism materials "offer a way of weaving together the threads so that faith and scientific knowledge can be a tapestry, helping us see the mystery at the heart of God's creation without blinding us to the [scientific] disciplines which have become so integrated into our culture."

-- The Rev. Josephine Borgeson of the Diocese of Northern California is an educator, writer and consultant specializing in intersections of faith, science and the environment. Ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1974, she has also served in diocesan staff positions in Nevada and Los Angeles.