Thursday, December 9, 2010

Prophetic Voices for Environmental Justice

Advent 3A

According to yesterday’s Episcopal News Service release  about the Episcopal Climate Justice Gathering in the Dominican Republic this week (see Climate Conferences and the Church), the participants in the gathering came to a consensus that “now is the time for the church to reclaim and fortify its prophetic voice.” 

The voices of the prophets are a constant voice in our lectionary readings during Advent. In this Sunday’s reading (Isaiah 35:1-10), Isaiah connects justice and healing for the people with renewal and healing of the land. While the desert blooms and springs of water appear where there was parched land, the lame “leap like deer” and the “ransomed of the Lord” return to Zion.

Renewal of the land and renewal of the people are linked throughout Isaiah and many of the prophets. Care for the environment is not an isolated concern for the church; it is linked both in our tradition and in very real ways in our world with justice and well-being for people.

The focus of this week’s gathering in the Dominican Republic is climate justice, looking at the intersection between poverty and climate change. This blog and many others have highlighted the ways in which climate change, while eventually having huge effects on everyone on this planet, generally impacts the poorest people in the world first and worst. Rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers that served as water sources, and changes in conditions for agriculture and fishing all affect people who live along the margins both physically and economically in our global economy, people who live in the vulnerable low-lying areas where rich people don’t build their houses, people whose livelihoods depend on subsistence farming or fishing.

Environmental justice is at the heart of creation care; it connects directly to the promises of our baptismal covenant and to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. Humans don’t live in isolation from other living things; wherever humans have caused harm to the rest of creation, the effects of that harm will eventually be experienced by humans. And sometimes issues that seem to be local and separate from justice issues for poor or marginalized people have a fairly direct connection.

In Nebraska, there has been much concern about the long-term effects of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on the fragile Sandhills ecosystem and the Ogallala aquifer. If the pipeline is built and if there is a break in the line, people in Nebraska will be affected, and that is a very important concern. But right now, native peoples in Canada are feeling the effects of the extraction of oil from the land. At a press conference today the results of a new research report documenting the impact of contaminants and reduced water flow on the Athabasca River will be discussed; the changes in the river impact the rights by treaty of native people along the river to hunt, fish, and trap.

In this Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 11:2-11) Jesus asks “What did you come out into the wilderness to look at?..A reed shaken by the wind?...Someone dressed in soft robes?”, then answers that they came to see a prophet “and more than a prophet”. The one coming is more than a prophet, but speaks with a prophet’s voice for all people. Those who choose to follow Jesus choose to stand in the tradition of the prophets. We should expect to hear the church's prophetic voice whenever and wherever there is damage to the earth and harm done to God’s children.

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