Commentary

D.C. residents live amid beautiful national monuments and springtime cherry blossoms — and the margins of race and environmental injustice. People of faith can never be comfortable embracing one aspect of this reality while completely ignoring the other. The church is called to stand at the intersection of oppression. The power to make a difference is present in every pulpit and pew.

In the past 50 years, the country has made great strides toward equity. But racism is still embedded in every aspect of American culture, from the churches we occupy to the environmental issues shaping our planet. People of faith can tackle these problems by working outside the lines that keep churches racially segregated. One way forward is through collaborating with other church communities on joint environmental projects.

According to a 2015 study released by LifeWay Research, 50 percent of churchgoers feel American churches are too segregated. LifeWay studies also suggest that more than 8-in-10 (86 percent of) Protestant pastors have congregations with a single predominant racial group.

Less than two weeks ago, the nation commemorated the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and it was Dr. King who infamously noted that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours for Christian America.

Just as pastors like Dr. King and the church community nurtured the civil rights movement of the 1960s, contemporary pastors are poised to lead the charge of uniting congregations to meet people in the margins of society, and speak out against injustice of all kinds. It is the fruit of co-laboring that can bring about divine justice and the full glory of God.

A report recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency evidences the fact black Americans are subjected to higher levels of air pollution than white Americans. Statistics from the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program reveal that 71 percent of African Americans live in counties in violation of air pollution standards.

In Southwest D.C., members of the Buzzard Point community are currently facing increasing exposure to hazardous airborne chemicals as development companies break ground on a number of construction projects, including a new soccer stadium for the D.C. United soccer team. In addition to air pollution from the construction, this community is in close proximity to a Pepco waterfront station that presents possible cancer-causing radiation for residents.

I am deeply convicted to remember King’s legacy that advocated for all of creation — the people and the planet. While pastors in black communities have a vested interest in developing proactive strategies to combat environmental and climate issues, every pastor and every congregation is called to protect God’s people and to be responsible stewards of the Earth.

The threat of climate change looms over us all, as we watch the influx of severe weather impacts displace hundreds of thousands of people in our country. At the center of these natural disasters, we consistently find that black and Latino communities are the most vulnerable.

On this Earth Day, it’s time to move beyond community clean-ups or beautification projects, and into action at the intersections of environmental disparities in our communities. Answering the call to work on the layers of injustice across church and race divides is not only productive, but a place to see God in the midst.

Alaura Carter is Climate Justice Coordinator at Sojourners.

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