Towards Constructive Ecotheology: The Mau Forest Complex Degradation and the Response of the Church
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This study explores how the Anglican Church in Kenya, St. Matthew’s Eldoret and African Inland Church in Kenya, Fellowship Eldoret teachings influence their member’s relationship, behaviour, and perception of ecology. The church is paramount in this study due to the powerful role it plays within all the spheres of individual and community life in the context of the study. This study focuses on the Mau forest complex due to the severity of the overt degradation which the forest has been subjected to. To study the role of these congregations, an empirical qualitative research study, through interviews, focus groups, discussions and observation, was conducted. The Santmire theoretical framework, which presents the ambiguity of Christian theology in addressing ecological issues, explores how Christianity influences the attitudes and behaviours of their members towards ecology. To study how socioeconomic, cultural, and political issues affect the members of the studied congegrations Ivakhiv’s theoretical framework of human vs. nonhuman is used. Because all these theoretical perspectives were formulated in the West, Santmire focuses on Western Christianity and Ivakhiv Western culture. The study deemed them necessary since contemporary Christianity within the African context has a Western historical base, and is profoundly influenced by Western culture. Also, much of the contemporary African socioeconomic and political dimensions have been significantly influenced by Western values, and became ingrained with Western economic principles as early as the colonial period to the present globalised context. Through qualitative methods, clergies and lay members of the two congregations were interviewed, and participated in the focus group discussions. Data gathered through interviews and focus group discussions, as well as non-verbal information through personal observations during the interviews, which stayed within the context of the two congregations were recorded. Later, they were analysed thematically based on Santmire and Ivakhiv’s theoretical frameworks. The findings in partial support of Santmire’s theoretical view, found that the ‘ambiguity’ embedded in Christian theology internalised, implemented and influenced the members of the congregations in relation to ecology. The ecotheological perspectives which emerged from the informant members of these congregations regarding ecology are theocentric, anthropocentric, ecocentric and secularist. Regarding degradation, the informants stated that Christianity within the context has fostered teachings which devalued and marginalised nature. Such teachings are related to viewing human beings as the center of creation within the understanding of imago dei. The injunction of the human being according to Genesis 1:28 is to have dominion, and to subdue the earth and other created beings. Nature loses its sacred intrinsic value and is viewed in terms of its material value. Dualism, where God is separated from the world, a notion of ‘this worldly’ defined as dispensable beings and mortals and ‘heavenly’ as indispensable and immortal beings. Lastly, a Calvanistic influenced, and contextual understanding of grace (Mapenzi ya Mungu), which holds that all which is happening in the world has been predetermined by the grace, limiting any human efforts. With respect to some informants, however, the key factors underlying the ecological degradation within the context are held within human institutions and human socioeconomic conditions. Human activities are the leading cause of ecological degradation, shaped by anthropocentricism in accordance with Ivakhiv. Regarding this, ecological degradation is inextricably connected to socioeconomic, political and cultural factors. Issues such as political patronage, corruption, greed, overt materialism, ethnic conflicts, displacement of persons, poverty, gender inequality, and erosion of indigenous cultural markers has led to the loss of the intrinsic value of nature and its invasion. These factors emerge within the anthropocentric perspectives, and permeate the contextual religious discourses where wealth, finances and materials are regarded as ‘portions and possessions’. I conclude with implications of the findings with respect to the theory and the research, in reform policies within the context and beyond. I also present the way forward as re-thinking theological worldviews and ethics, expanding inter-church dialogue, empowering women, teaching responsibility, addressing socioeconomic and political issues, and finally raising awareness.