The essential role of honey bees. An intelligently designed smile. The world’s smallest motor. Ecological restoration projects. The theology of recycling.
All those topics and scores of others were displayed in dozens of colorful interactive booths and exhibits during the Seventh-day Adventist-sponsored Earth Day Summit in Toronto, Canada, on April 21, 2019.
The event, which took place on the eve of the worldwide Earth Day, drew church members and a mostly secular community while infusing it with a scientifically sound but unapologetic biblical spin.
Why an Adventist Earth Day
The timing of the Earth Day Summit, titled “His Creation, Ours to Care For,” couldn’t be better, organizers said. In the day’s introductory remarks, event hosts noted that since 1970, when the first Earth Day was celebrated, ice melt is accelerating, seas keep rising, animal populations have shrunk, and more than 170 animal species became extinct.
“Earth Day has helped to raise people’s awareness about environmental concerns,” organizers said.
But why should Christians care about the environment?
First, because Christians follow Jesus, who spent a lot of time away from crowds, in nature, enjoying creation, said Geoscience Research Institute senior scientist Timothy Standish in his introductory remarks. “Also, we believe that God cares about every little thing and that He placed us as stewards to care for His fantastic creation,” he said.
Specifically, Seventh-day Adventists, it was noted, should infuse with new meaning this often secular celebration.
“It’s all about being relevant in our society, considering the input of biblically sound stewardship strategies to climate change,” said Ontario Conference president Mansfield Edwards, who first pitched the initiative idea to his constituency in 2016. “I am convinced Seventh-day Adventists should be among the leading promoters of Earth Day as stewards of God’s creation.”
Strengthening Our Faith
As part of the event organization, Edwards brought together some of the brightest scientific minds within the Adventist Church in North America and elsewhere.
“It was an audacious idea,” said Halsey Peat, assistant to the Ontario Conference president, noting the two years of preparation time that the event was in the making. More than 1,000 people came to Toronto’s International Centre on the day of the Summit. “I am not sure we understood at the time how bold it was.”
The event’s goal was, first of all, Edwards said, “to address questions raised by evolution and show how belief in God as Creator can solidly rest on scientific evidence.”
By extension, Edwards emphasized, an important goal was to provide resources for Adventist young people studying at public schools, where, according to him, “they are bombarded with evolution by atheist teachers and professors.”
As church members and leaders, we are partly to blame, Edwards acknowledged. “In the absence of opportunities of hearing or seeing contrary scientific evidence that speaks of a Creator God, the influence of those professors can often be profound,” he said. “One of the objectives of this summit was to give our young people in high school and universities an opportunity to hear from Adventist scientists.”
As planned, the event provided ample opportunity for attendees to hear from experts in a variety of areas of scientific pursuit, including physics, archaeology, marine biology, forestry, immunology, toxicology, ornithology, and epidemiology, among many others. The exhibit hall included booths by the Adventist Church’s Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda University, Andrews University, Northern Caribbean University, Burman University, and other sponsoring organizations.
In a time when research shows that many Adventist young people consider their church to be anti-science, Edwards said opening channels for candid discussion is of paramount importance.
“We must help our youth and every church member with a clearer understanding of faith and science so they can reconcile the two worldviews,” he said. “We must help others learn to see science in the light of Scripture.”
An Outreach Tool
An Adventist Earth Day Summit is not just an inward-looking exercise, Edwards said. It can also be a powerful outreach tool.
“We strongly believe [the event] can be evangelistic,” he said. “Many have simply bought into the theory of evolution in the absence of a credible alternative. So we are using this event to reach out to the general public with the creationist message.”
The organizers’ efforts paid off, as people from the community strolled through the booths, getting scientifically credible but biblically sound information about topics as varied as air and soil pollution, plant-based eating, green cars, and the complexity of the human brain.
As part of reaching out to the greater Toronto community — an area with a population of 6.5 million — organizers gave awards to four local companies or organizations that have excelled in green practices. These included the nearby city of Markham, dubbed “the Greenest City in Canada” for its recycling and solar power projects, and the area’s York Regional Police, which has been working with the community to improve living standards that take into account conservation and sustainability.
“We are honored to be surrounded and supported by such a network of friends,” Edwards said.
Leaving a Mark
Church members, leaders, and community visitors alike said they were positively touched by the one-day event, which, besides the interactive booths included an exhibition of Adventist school students’ posters on earth stewardship and conservation. It also included a “Commitment Wall,” where people could stop to jot down a specific change they plan to introduce into their lives to be better stewards of the earth and its natural resources.
“This event is a clear example of being an example,” said Adventist Review Ministries (ARMies) associate editor Lael Caesar as he congratulated organizers. ARMies was one of the co-sponsors of the Earth Day Summit through the publication and distribution of a special issue on Adventists and the environment.
Daniel Sanchez, an Adventist pastor in the Toronto area, agreed. “Today I can say that I feel really proud of my church,” he said. “It makes me proud to see the impressive event organizers have put together.”
“It is a great initiative,” said church member Quame Scott, who drove five hours to attend the event. “All around us I find young people who are asking, why is the church so silent and does not address all the misinformation from the media [about origins]?” he said. “This event signals a trend in the opposite direction.”
Lay church member and scientist Jack Polihronov found yet another reason to commend the event. “I’ve been a scientist all my life, but so far I had never found a venue like this to share what I have researched with other church and community members,” he said. “I have never seen anything like this.”
In the end, however, it’s not so much about enriching other people but about our own relationship with the Creator through His creation, organizers said. In his opening prayer, the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada, Mark Johnson, thanked God that in nature we can anticipate the promise of a new creation.
“Thank you for [nature’s] majesty and fragility,” he said, “an emblem of what you [God] want to do.”