environmental justice

Flint: A Pastor’s Testimony

Flint river
Flint River. Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

While Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has admitted that mistakes have been made and takes full responsibility, the residents of Flint to this day have not found remedy. His initial action was to have city fire stations serve as bottled water and water filter distribution points. Michigan National Guard personnel provided water to residents there.

And the nation knows the crisis — high lead levels in children’s blood tests and a spike in Legionnaires disease.

The Green Confessions of Nat Turner

Everett Historical / Shutterstock
Everett Historical / Shutterstock

WHEN ONE THINKS of black environmental liberation theology, the name of slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner might not immediately spring to mind. Perhaps it should.

A biopic on the life of Turner, called The Birth of a Nation, is scheduled for release in October. Based on early reviews, I expect the film by director Nate Parker (Red Tails, Arbitrage) to deliver a powerful recounting of Turner’s life.

In 1831, Turner led enslaved and free African Americans in a rebellion against slaveholders in Southampton County, Va. The uprising was swift, violent, and bloody. At least 200 African Americans and more than 50 whites died. After whites quelled the rebellion, Turner hid in the woods for several weeks. He was eventually captured and executed.

Turner’s time alone in the woods offers surprising insights. He is an African-American man familiar with nature. He is a Christian preacher given to visions. From that arises a deep environmental wisdom.

The original report of the slave rebellion is found in The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton VA, as told by Turner to a white lawyer in Richmond, Va. “The blood of Christ [that] had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to heaven for the salvation of sinners,” Turner says in the book, “was now returning to earth again in the form of dew.”

Turner’s visions were based on his understanding of the Bible. He was literate (that in itself was unusual for one enslaved) and worshipped God. Turner was a prophet of God, in the context of nature and revolt.

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The Crucifixion Keeps Happening, Over and Over Again

Image via a katz / Shutterstock.com

The story of Jesus’ passion and death has stirred my imagination since I was a child. In an act of profound mystery, Jesus walks towards the conflict swirling around him. Jesus accepts his arrest and does not raise his voice. His willingness to embrace the consequences of truth-telling leaves him silent in the face of his accusers. His judges repeatedly say they can find no fault in this man, but the people want more. They want someone to blame.

5 Environmental Justice Takeaways From Last Night's Debate in Flint

Flint Water Tower Plant
Flint Water Tower Plant, ehrlif / Shutterstock.com

Last night’s Democratic presidential primary debate in Flint, Mich., ran the gamut on issues, from guns to trade to racism to religion.

But it was also the most environmentally focused debate yet in the 2016 campaign.

Here’s a quick summary of the main environmental issues that came up (and a couple that didn’t).

How the Flint Water Crisis Opened America’s Eyes to Environmental Injustice

Flint, Mich., water tower.
Flint, Mich., water tower. Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

America’s poor always bear the brunt of manmade ecological problems. Urban air pollution, dwelling near industrial facilities and their waste, and exposure to lead paint are a few of the ways that the poor are put at risk; they face more health problems caused by environmental factors than anyone else. Based on this, I ask this question: Should environmental justice be at the forefront of the church’s social justice ministries?

Why Pope Francis' Encyclical Gives Me Hope

Pope Francis, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

By choosing to focus on the plight of the poor and the groaning of the earth itself, Francis is tapping into something much deeper than denominational squabbles and political maneuvering. He is seeking to make an end-run around the tedious shouting matches of privileged contenders in pitched ideological battles. This is a pope, not of the pundits but of the people – and of the planet.

We’re all connected. Just as the body of Christ is one – despite all of our institutional and ideological boundaries – all of humanity, all life is one. We’re rooted together in the soil that feeds us, in the natural ecosystems that sustain our very existence.

Paris and the Challenge of Real Change

 COP21 in Paris is set for December. Suz7 / Shutterstock.com
COP21 in Paris is set for December. Suz7 / Shutterstock.com

Even as the clock ticks down to COP 21 in Paris this coming December, agreement has yet to be reached about exactly what the conference could or should accomplish. There is little consensus concerning outcomes that might actually bring about change. Not unlike other issues where binary thinking has predominated, we are presented with an either/or scenario: economic collapse and damaging human impact, or economic prosperity and destructive impact on climate.

What is different now, however, is that the economic axis has shifted. Crucial to the Paris discussions is the fact that Western-driven economic theory and practice, rooted in the competitive polarities of prosperity versus paucity, now dominate the globe, while Western economies themselves do not. And it is this largely binary economic way of framing the issues of the environment that militates against significant accomplishment in Paris. Not unlike Copenhagen in 2009, or Kyoto in 1997, governments are posturing so as not to give away economic advantage. National prosperity continues to trump the environment.

Environmental Justice, Inclusiveness, and Mother Earth

designer_an / Shutterstock.com
designer_an / Shutterstock.com

The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in a powerful awareness of injustice. That justice is a good thing, a fine goal, even a supreme ideal, is commonly accepted. What is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of injustice. Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression, in their comprehension of social, political, and religious evils. —Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is defined as:

The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

As we consider this definition, and look around our communities, do we find this fair treatment taking place? Are we aware of how economic and environmental decisions are made? Many times it can become so overwhelming that we think it best to leave it to the experts. Unfortunately, this can lead to exploitation, as discrimination typically takes place in poor and underserved communities where people may not understand their rights, or they choose not to fight back out of fear. As we dig deeper and the shackles are removed, we begin to see how economic and environmental justice are connected and how this exploitation is directly related to incentives like government funding, tax breaks, and land grabs that favor corporations over human beings and the environment. Does the end result benefit all God’s creation or just a wealthy few?

Environmental Racism and Health Disparities in the South Bronx

Photo courtesy Leah Kozak

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last year on a crisp afternoon in March, I was one of nine people arrested by the NYPD and taken away to the local precinct for processing. My crime? Attempting to plant detoxifying sunflowers on public brownfield land on the South Bronx waterfront in New York City.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 residents, faith leaders, organizations, friends, and allies came together to protest the proposed relocation of the online grocer FreshDirect to a residential neighborhood in the South Bronx. After a jubilant and joyous interfaith reflection and prayer vigil outside the entrance to the waterfront location, security guards refused to let us cross the gate, so we sat in front of it in protest — a peaceful and non violent act of civil disobedience.

Our coalition, South Bronx Unite, works to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the South Bronx in New York City, located in the poorest congressional district in the country. For three years we have been fighting to stop FreshDirect from receiving more than $100 million in subsidies and incentives to build a diesel trucking distribution center on public land along the Bronx Kill Waterfront.

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