Faith Leaders Gather in Flint, Michigan for Environmental Justice Tour, Plan for Ecumenical Water Justice Action
A press release from the annual Creation Justice Ministries Board Meeting
May 13-14 in Flint, Michigan, dozens of representatives of major religious bodies comprising the board of ecumenical membership organization Creation Justice Ministries gathered to pray, learn, and act for water justice.
Since 2014, Flint, Michigan has not had reliable accessible clean drinking water. Although the local government has closed their water and food distribution centers, lead is still present in the water supply. In 2019, most Flint residents still don't trust safe water will flow from the tap.
Creation Justice Ministries Executive Director Shantha Ready Alonso spoke to why the board gathered in Flint in 2019: “Collectively, religious communities have had a long-standing presence in Flint: before and after the notorious water crisis. Today, the news cameras have gone away, but communities of faith must continue to renew our relationships in Flint. The city has powerful lessons for faith communities as we consider how to grapple with how we relate to God's gift of water, to racial inequities, to crises in our democracy, and to our nation’s just transition away from extractivism.”
Reformed Church in America representative to the Creation Justice Ministries board, Dr. Monica Schaap Pierce said of her experience,"In Flint, signs of hope mingle with evidence of degradation and loss. As I listen to stories of pain and healing, I became very aware of God's redemptive work even in the midst of this crisis."
The meeting began with a pre-screening of “Flint: the Poisoning of an American City,” a documentary by David Barnhart and Scott Lansing of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. This was followed by an environmental justice tour of Flint. The tour guides, Jan Worth-Nelson of East Village Magazine and Pastor Greg Timmons of Calvary and First Trinity United Methodist Church, explained how poverty and race deeply intersect with access to potable water. The board saw how neighborhoods were segregated. In one part of the city, the streets were lined with mansions and in other parts, the homes were deteriorating. Too many members of the undocumented community in Flint stay in falling-apart homes due to fear of detention and deportation. These same families lacked Spanish language materials and government identification that would afford them access to information and services. The group visited a brownfield site where the once booming Chevrolet industry was in its heyday. The expansive factories are now gone, but the far- reaching and seemingly unending concrete remains. There was also a drive-by at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Much of the tour was also about resilience. The group saw the Flint Culture and Arts Center, a community garden started by a United Methodist community, and a Field House rich in history and current sporting activities: all centers of hope and resilience in the city, particularly helping youth. The tour also stopped by the Flint River to learn about revitalization efforts which have given Flint residents and visitors opportunities to enjoy novel outdoor activities such as kayaking.
The board meeting ended the following day with a planning session for Creation Justice Ministries further education, prayer, and justice work on water issues in Flint and beyond.
Delivered by Shantha Ready Alonso at the 2019 American Climate Leadership Summit. The Visualization was inspired by this year's Earth Day Resource theme "Next Generation Rises". Download the resource here.
Let's begin by centering ourselves. If you are comfortable closing your eyes, you can shut them at this time. Or, as an alternative, relax your gaze and let it stay on an inanimate object nearby. We are going to take a few minutes to journey inside the mind.
Each of us came to this gatehering with a long to-do list of chores and work deliverables. I invite you to give yourself the gift of being fully present today. Pack up your concerns from home, from your job, and put them into a box under your chair. Don't worry, they will be there for you to retrieve and attend to once again later today.
I invite you now to join me in an exercise to reflect on some of the important reasons why we are all here. Think of a young person who you deeply care about. It could be a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, godchild, friend, student, mentee, or neighbor. As this person becomes the focus in your mind, remember some details about them. Replay some of the good times you spent with them, which highlight what makes them so special to you.
Maybe you see their smile, or you remember a day you received insight into this young person's way of seeing the world. Maybe you shared a moment of solemnity or deep meaning.
In 30 years, what are your hopes for the life you want your young loved one to lead? Where might they live? What might their home be like? How will they spend their time? What are they passionate about? What do they hold sacred? Who might they count among their loved ones? (A baby born today will be 31 years old in the year 2050.)
Now, picture your loved one in that future setting, 30 years from now. Your loved one is telling a story about you. What is your young loved one saying about your lifework, and the impact you had?
Is there something about the example you are setting today which you hope your loved one will emulate in the years to come?
Travel back to the present with me now, but hold your loved one close to the center of your attention. In climate work, we often say our actions today will have a profound impact on future generations. This work is personal. I invite you to dedicate your activities today to your loved one's future. Remember that box we wrapped up at the beginning of this session? Keep it closed for the conference today, as much as you can. May we be present to one another by bringing our full physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual attention here.
I invite us all to break the silence now by speaking aloud the name of the young person to whom each of us dedicates this day. When I count to three, please speak that person's name aloud. 1...2...3... [NAMES]
Annika Harley, the Creation Justice Fellow gave the Earth Day sermon at Washington City Church of the Brethren on Sunday April 28th. Read the text of her sermon below.
I work at Creation Justice Ministries through Brethren Volunteer Service. Today I want to talk about generational environmental justice. Right now some of the biggest advocates for God’s creation are kids and youth. Across the world, children are demanding courageous climate action by protesting each Friday instead of going to school. Additionally, twenty-one kids are suing the federal government through the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit because the government has failed to take responsible climate action to protect their future. Kids are giving us hope for the future because they can see that the previous generations have failed to act. We adults have been negatively affected by the choices our ancestors have made and we can choose to continue down the path of destruction or to protect and restore God’s beautiful creation as well as care for generations to come.
I started working in the environmental justice field when I was I Junior in college living in Quito, Ecuador. My first job in the field was for Union de Afectados por Texaco/ The Union of People Affected by Texaco. I worked in the advocacy branch of the law firm that was and still is suing Chevron-Texaco for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste water into the Ecuadorian Amazon’s land and water ways. Although this illegal act of intentionally polluting the Earth and the people who inhabited that region happened 40 years ago the pollution has still not been cleaned up. Birth defects, miscarriages, and cancer have skyrocketed in the region ever since the initial dump. This is a deep issue that is paralleled all over the world by industry choosing to poison land and population far away from themselves.
In addition to the severe health impacts felt by the Amazonian Ecuadorians they also suffered culturally. The pollution harmed the land where they traditionally found medicine and food. Instead of being able to search for food the way they had throughout history, they had to go to pharmacies and grocery stores instead of living off the land. They had to start working more and the only business big enough to employ the workers was Chevron Texaco. This is such a harmful cycle. Kids have stopped using their original language and have started to only learn Spanish which creates a disconnect between the older and younger generations. Extraction may look like simply a climate issue from the outside but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Of course the initial extraction is highly dangerous at the time of the project but also for years afterwards. Generations of children and grandchildren have been poisoned from this process. The damage goes further than the individual community. The oil pumped from the ground is transported around the world to fuel cars, businesses, and other pollutants that contaminate the air we breathe from perceived safety of our homes and neighborhoods here in the US. By investing in crude oil we harm the next generation, not protect it.
Similarly in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in danger of extractive practices. It follows that if these projects begin the ground and water will be polluted but so will the culture of the people who live there. The Gwich'in Nation inhabits the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and would be deeply harmed by extraction. The Gwich'in Nation is also known as the Caribou people because their migration patterns match that of the caribou. The proposed drilling is located in the caribou migration corridor, this dig would alter the traditions of the Nation forever. Their breeding ground is considered sacred to the Gwich'in people and disrupting this would not only cause pain and pollution at the time of the extraction, but for the generations to come. In my time with Creation Justice Ministries, we have stood with the Gwich’in to protect their sacred ancestral lands.
Much closer to home, Appalachia is known for its beautiful scenery as well as coal mining in the mountains. Mining is a dangerous job for the individual miners but is also problematic for the physical health of workers and community members in mining towns. Coal ash is dangerous to constantly breathe in - especially for children. At a time like the present alternative green renewable energy is on the rise and readily available. Communities that transition from coal, oil, or gas to wind or solar are setting a standard for their kids, their grandkids and their great grandkids. They are choosing to protect the health of the future and to protect the beautiful Appalachian mountain range for the next generation to enjoy.
Coal extraction is a major contributor to water pollution in West Virginia where much of the economy of the state comes from coal. In 2014 a coal cleaning chemical known as MCHM spilled from Freedom Industries causing nine counties in the Charleston area to no longer have access to clean drinking water. To this day, West Virginians are still working for reparations and accessible clean water. At the moment the state legislature is proposing to roll back water protections to what they were in the 80s, Instead of mandating that industry be more responsible. This is very curious because everyone needs to drink water; no one can survive without clean water. In my work with Creation Justice Ministries, we help faith communities see the ways water connects us all as human beings, and our sacred responsibility to protect it for the community of God’s creation.
At Ecumenical Advocacy Days, an Christian conference we cosponsor that gathers about 1,000 people in DC each year, we host a slate of ecojustice workshops. One of our presenters was a West Virginia water activist and she shared a very encouraging story from her community. She told a story of a small Presbyterian church of about seven older adult members in a small town in West Virginia. The church also rented out space to a preschool. The church chose to make the switch to green renewables in the coal centered environment. They installed solar panels on their roof and now 50% of their energy use is covered by solar power. Even in a state powered by coal this small group of church members got together and made the transition to green renewables. This story is so encouraging to me because it proves that a small group of people can make a big difference, and they are not waiting for their state legislature to mandate green renewables first. They are leading the way by following God’s mandate to be good stewards and care for the Earth and its inhabitants.
Jesus talked about caring for the least among us who have the greatest needs. Kids need to depend on decision makers for protection. Generations to come will be directly affected by our choices. The second half of this teaching is that we may not reap what we have sown and this is very clear when it comes to God’s Earth. Although we may never get to fully reap all of the rich benefits from restoring the climate, the future generations will benefit and they will be grateful. Only a portion of our actions will be visible to us but to the next generation, our positive changes we make will provide an abundance of clean air, water, and land for them to rightfully share.
We should look up to the children leading the way for a better future. The kids who protest every Friday are not clouded with the social expectations and excuses adults are burdened with. They see the path clearly and know what needs to happen in order for their generation to survive.This movement is heavy in Europe but kids from over 100 countries have participated. The 21 children suing the government are setting a precedent for law makers. They are taking responsibility to clean up after their ancestors as well as holding them responsible for their actions. We owe it to them to listen. I’d like to highlight a portion of the scripture read earlier from Joshua 1:6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” God commanded Joshua to fiercely protect the Earth for his children and onward. This is a great verse to remember now as we enter into a time where bold action is necessary.
The 4th National Climate Assessment indicates that we have 11 more years to make major ground breaking changes to the way we as Americans exist or there will be irreversible damage. This is truly a message of hope. Multiple people have said to me that it is too late to do anything about climate change. That is not true. The solutions have been developed and adaptation strategies outlined. We can choose our future and whether or not we decide to protect the next generation and future of God’s Earth. We now have the opportunity to listen to the children who are protesting, missing school, and suing the government and tell them that we have heard them and we want to make changes so they will live full and healthy lives. As read earlier in Genesis 17:7 God created a covenant between the Earth, adults, and their children. Let us uphold that covenant.
If you are interested in writing your own creation justice focused sermon or Sunday school lesson download our Earth Day resource here. The resource can be used anytime of the year.
About this Blog
This blog shares the activities of Creation Justice Ministries. We educate and equip Christians to protect, restore, and rightly share God's creation.