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Chapter 2: Words Matter, But Audience Matters More By Kathi Groenendyk

An illustrated companion to Chapter 2 of Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care. To view main webpage, click here:

"The cedars today are experiencing a threat greater than the greed of ancient kings: climate change. As temperatures rise, the cedars are declining and are expected to survive only in the northernmost part of the country..."
"The Cedars of God, Lebanon 2002" by DIMSFIKAS at Greek Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Cedars_of_God,_Lebanon_2002.jpeg

To learn more, click the following link to a New York Times article:

"Given today’s political climate, few rural church members would want to hear about climate change. So how best to raise a sensitive topic in a sermon? ...Much of the sermon’s language focused on caring for the land... Choosing to talk about stewardship with this particular group led to more engagement with the idea of creation care."
"The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication researched Americans’ beliefs regarding the politically contentious subject of climate change. Researchers identified six distinct American audiences. ... Each group has different motivations, different amounts of knowledge and commitment, and different political awareness regarding environmental action. ... Clearly, such large disparities mean that messaging about climate change and other environmental issues needs to be tailored appropriately for each audience."

To read the complete report, click the following link:

"As head of the EPA, Pruitt sought to roll back environmental legislation so that industries would have more freedom in their operations. ...Pruitt took full advantage of the ambiguities in the word stewardship as he moved the EPA in a different direction."
Scott Pruitt's tweet uses the word stewardship in a distinctly unhelpful way. (Image courtesy of Kathi Groenendyk)
"We need to understand our audience and choose language that reflects a shared environmental perspective."
Many farmers identify as stewards of the land, so the term stewardship can be a good starting point for discussion.
How might you change your language when discussing environmental protection strategies with a grassroots environmentalist? What are terms that both communities (farmers and environmentalists) share?
How would you approach a discussion with a college student...
...versus an average American consumer? How might you adjust your language if the person (student or adult) had never seriously discussed environmental sustainability?
How have you heard the term stewardship used in churches? Do you think stewardship would be a useful word for discussing environmental concerns with church members, or might you talk about "creation care" or use other language?
"Adapting a message to identify with and ultimately persuade an audience does not distort one’s principles: we can stay true to our environmental convictions while we work to understand and relate to others who may not share them. We need to shift our lens beyond stewardship, but first we must understand urgent environmental issues from others’ perspectives, find common ground with them, and move forward in talking and working together. Words are important, but knowing our audience is paramount."

To return to the Beyond Stewardship homepage, click here:

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