The Ecological Disciple is a work of Circlewood, an organization committed to "accelerating the greening of faith." Occasionally, we interview a member of the Circlewood Stand, our supporter community. Today, we'd like to introduce you to Dr. Joe Shelon, who has a rich and interesting history in the work of Creation care. Enjoy!

What draws you to Creation care?

I grew up in the church and some of my earliest memories were of my mother and father as Sunday school teachers in the Congregational Church in St. Helens OR. Dad and Mom lived a simple life and loved the natural world around them. Through their example, I gradually saw and fell in love with what I now refer to as Creation. Words make a difference. The words “nature” and “environment” are good descriptors for a non-Christian, but neither recognize that God (Father, Son, and Spirit) was/is Creator of all! A creature is the result of the work of the Creator. What is a critter? Again, words make a difference. I grew up hunting, fishing, backpacking, and was drawn more and more to the absolute beauty of the world around me.

Joe Sheldon teaching atop Washington Pass, North Cascades

After finishing my undergraduate work at the College of Idaho and my doctorate at the University of Illinois in Entomology (insect ecology and behavior), I took my first full time position at Eastern Baptist College (now Eastern University) in St. David's Pennsylvania, where I was expected to integrate my faith with my teaching. When one has their full senses open to the beauty of around them, understands from their academic training Creation’s structure and function, and is fully drawn to the love of the Creator – then it comes naturally to care for Creation in all its wonder and beauty as both an expression of love for the Creator and as an act of worship.

Indeed, is it not a blasphemous act for a follower of Jesus to fail to care for His very good creation and to contribute to its damage/destruction?
Joe teaching in New Zealand, CCSP program

How have you been involved in Creation care?

A glimpse into my personal involvement in Creation care – I have been blessed with many wonderful opportunities. Blessed to be a blessing. To God be the glory! I was a founding board member for the Evangelical Environmental Network. EEN continues to be an important voice for Creation care today. I was a founding member of the five-person Academic Committee of the Creation Care Study Program with semester programs in both Belize and New Zealand. I have taught the Tropical Ecology course in Belize as well as the Ecosystems of New Zealand course. I was on the summer teaching faculty for AuSable Institute for Environmental Studies from 1987 – 2009. Au Sable is the environmental science field station for more than 50 Christian colleges and universities across North America. I was founding board vice chair of Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship. While at Eastern (now University) and then Messiah (now University) I was asked to take the lead in developing their environmental Science majors.

I have also been privileged to communicate through my research and writing. In addition to more than 20 scientific papers published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, I have also published numerous articles as well as two books aimed at the Christian Community to inform and encourage their stewardly action in Creation care. My first book, Rediscovery of Creation: A Bibliographic Response to the Environmental Crisis, reviewed the literature written from a Christian perspective that addressed the primary environmental issues prior to its 1992 publication date. It was published by the American Theological Library Association as #29 in their bibliography series. My second book, co-authored with three others, is titled Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship. It was published by InterVarsity Press, is in its 13th printing, and has been translated into Portuguese and Korean.

Red-capped Manakin, Belize, 1999

We are all familiar with the policy of separation of church and state. It thus came as a surprise in 2004 when I was contacted by a senior staffer of the House Committee on Resources (in Congressman Tom Udall office) requesting that I come to Washington to give testimony to the Committee regarding a bill (HR 2933 – Critical Habitat Reform Act of 2003) that would significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act by reducing habitat protection. I was asked specifically to address why Christians support the Endangered Species Act! I was in the unique position to be able to respond both from a Christian perspective with a Biblical analysis, but also as a conservation biologist trained in the science behind the ESA. I was and continue to be very pleased to have represented both Creation as well as people of faith in this effort. The bill was eventually defeated. Yet similar efforts to weaken the ESA continue today in Congress.

Joe with Tom and Christine Sine, 1994

How did you first hear about Circlewood?

I first learned of Circlewood through my connection with Tom and Christine Sine. I have known Tom and Christine for nearly 30 years. In 1994, I along with the Sines served as conference leaders at the Christian Environmental Association’s Young Leaders Conference near Lake Tahoe. When AuSable Institute launched the Pacific Rim campus on Whidbey Island in 1997 (I taught the course Field Biology of the Pacific Northwest) I became aware of Tom and Christine's efforts to create a Celtic retreat center on Camano Island. Upon my retirement in 2007 from my teaching/research position at Messiah College (now university), my wife Donna and I moved permanently to Whidbey Island and became neighbors to Tom and Christine's work on the adjacent Camano Island. During the following years, I was able to visit their site on Camano Island and help Tom with a vegetation study. It was through Tom and Christine that I became aware of the birth of Circlewood as it emerged as an important new voice in the Christian Creation care community.

Joe leading Circlewood birding outing in Skagit Valley, Washington, 2022

Why do you support Circlewood?

I support Circlewood because I fully believe in its mission and vision. It will be exciting to see the work of Circlewood when it hits the ground, so to speak, as the COVID pandemic wanes and our life returns to a new normal. Circlewood’s vision to be a change agent/voice of healing in a bent, bruised and sometimes broken Creation is a voice and place badly needed in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. I am impressed by the leadership of Circlewood at all levels. May their voice in word and deed resound!


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