Four Questions for Rev. Gerald L. Durley

Bio: Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Gerogia
Website: providenceatlanta.org

1. How did you get involved in environmental justice?
About six years ago, Laura Seydel, Ted Turner’s daughter, invited me to see a movie, The Great Warming. At the time, the environment was the last thing on my mind. I was more concerned about HIV, cholesterol, diabetes, unfair jail sentences, disparity in drug sentencing—these kinds of things. But I went to see the film.

The next thing I knew I was talking to African-American pastors about something that was not on our screen: Earth Day. If we understand that God created a perfect earth and that we’re destroying it, then we have an obligation to enlighten our people about this and find out what we can do. And I had to tell the people in the old environmental community that this is not a campaign—it has to be a movement, similar to the civil rights movement. People must be involved, knowledgeable, aware.

2. Why have you used the word “conversion” to talk about your awakening to environmental needs?
I could not make the connections initially between my community and polar bears, so I began to read about it. Once I began to understand, I took it from 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people will humble themselves and seek my face, turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and heal their land.” I saw the land as bigger than just the ground; I saw the land as being all of us, as one. If God can create a climate where animals and plants and human beings work together, we have a responsibility to try to maintain that balance. That’s when the “conversion” really hit me.

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