For some, the phrase “creation justice” can at first sound odd and strange, but if one takes a step back to consider the broader context—the larger picture—out of which it emerged, it suddenly becomes a refreshing and compelling concept that is capable of succinctly capturing the power and essence of one of the most significant areas of Christian ministry today.
The echoes of past debates over language continue today among environmentalists. Some assert that there is too much focus on a narrowly conceived natural environment and not enough focus on the social justice impacts of environmental degradation on poor communities and communities of color. At the same time, some feel there is too much focus on humans in general. These two contentions do not need to be held in opposition. Notably, in his encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis excelled in connecting climate change to economic inequality while also criticizing a modern anthropocentrism that views “nature” as an object to be exploited for human ends.
Pope Francis’s views reflect a historic and evolving current among faith traditions. This current regards environmental consciousness and social justice as intimately intertwined. As part of this prophetic current, the language of “creation justice” has emerged. The word “creation” inherently evokes meanings that transcend artificial divides between the “human” and “nature.” “Creation” signals the truth of our interconnected reality. Moreover, it evokes the sacred story of origin that not only speaks to our common connection to each other but to our common connection to God. As Genesis 9:15 reminds us, God’s covenant is not only with humans but with “every living creature.”
Within this covenantal understanding of the web of life, the emphasis on justice arises as a central guiding impulse. If the word “creation” signals the totality of relationships with God, then creation justice signals the movement toward right relationships among all of God's creation. Building on the concept of eco-justice, creation justice entails an integrated, holistic ecology. It entails an understanding of the world which includes the built environment, culture, economic and political activity, and all of humanity as part of God's creation.
Using the term "creation" instead of "eco" or "environment" demonstrates our humble self-awareness that we are part of the created order our Creator constantly is at work with us to redeem and sustain. Using the term "justice" rather than "care" indicates our commitment to not only heal, tend, and restore God's creation, but to ensure the protection of God's planet and God's people from exploitation, as well as provision for the remediation of the damage that has been done. Because of the connotations and meanings of the phrase creation justice, it was adopted in the naming of Creation Justice Ministries. More recently, the United Church of Christ has named their green church recognition program “Creation Justice Churches,” while the American Baptists have developed a “Creation Justice Network.”