The Common Good

The Hope of Glory Amidst 'Bondage and Decay' of Environmental Injustice

Last week during my Sunday school class, one of my second graders asked, “How can we go to heaven, if we continue to sin?” 

As usual, I am often stunned and quieted by the striking questions that come from the mouths of young people.

I usually respond to the inquisitive questions from my Sunday School students by reiterating what I have been told by many a Sunday School teacher: “Even though we break our promises, God doesn’t; God promised us if we believe in God and that God’s Son Jesus died for our Sins, we will go to heaven — even when we mess up.” 

While that seems like a really ‘simple’ explanation of one of many biblical truths, it is still striking and amazing that even though we continue to ‘mess up,’ God has not retracted on God’s promise of offering us a beautiful ending to the troubled world we live in today.

As I think about Romans 8:21 and how it speaks to the fact that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God,” I get excited. Not only because we all will see the glory of God one day, but that the bondage and decay we are experiencing in our physical world will end in Glory!

As an environmental justice advocate, when I speak of “bondage and decay,” I am thinking of the environmental injustices that many communities of color and/or low income are facing on a daily basis: the bondage of pollution in our air and water that decays our health; the bondage of regulations and laws that are not being enforced in a way to protect the most vulnerable; and the bondage of an unjust society that does not allow all voices to be heard amidst the noise of groups and organizations with more resources, more connections, and more political capital.

We will only truly be free from this bondage through God’s amazing grace. But that does not mean that as environmental stewards and advocates we cannot put our faith to action.

I have the awesome opportunity and blessing to elevate the issues of environmental justice across the country by sharing stories, concerns, and perspectives of those communities in the “bondage of decay” with members of the federal government, Congress, and other mainstream environmental organizations that do not usually address the perspectives of an often ‘silenced’ community of grassroots environmental justice leaders. Most of these grassroots environmental justice leaders are environmentally and economically burdened but strong in spirit, helping and leading communities to continue to fight the good fight, sacrificing their health, wealth, and sometimes their lives to make a better environment for others to live, work, play and pray in.   

It’s easy to get discouraged when we look at how sin has impacted our environment and public health: the sins of gluttony and greed that misuse God’s creation, the wastefulness of our natural resources, the creation of an imbalance in the atmosphere leading to an abundance of carbon pollution that exacerbates extreme weather — all sins that increase the health disparities seen in our communities of color.

In spite of sin, I am still encouraged because our sins will not keep us in spiritual bondage.

During this Lenten season, I encourage all of you that live in our temporary home called Earth to not only reflect, recognize, and remember the challenges we have faced to bring environmental justice to communities across this nation and our world, but I challenge you to continue to ask those hard questions of our leaders and our decision makers and uplift the moral cause to tackle the results our sins that continue to impact our environment and our people. We must continue to ask why people of color are not at the table when decisions are made. We must continue to demand that smart solutions to mitigate the impacts of carbon pollution are implemented and not quick fixes that may cause more hurt then harm. We must continue to engage a broad group of stakeholders — in and outside the faith community — in this movement to bring our Earth back into balance.

I am encouraged because despite the bondage and decay, glory is coming. In order for us to really receive God’s promises, we need to relieve ourselves of the bondage of sin that is manifested through environmental injustices. 

Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome is the federal policy analyst at WEACT for Environmental Justice. 

Photo: kwest/Shutterstock.com

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