Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
Environmental issues become justice issues when people who have contributed little or nothing to environmental degradation end up suffering from its harmful effects. This Sunday’s reading from Amos (Amos 5:18-24 ) uses water images to talk about justice and righteousness. Given that many environmental justice issues have to do with water in some form – water pollution, too little water in droughts caused by climate change, too much water in floods caused by increasingly heavy rain- and snowfalls (also the result of climate change) – Amos’s words seem especially well suited for the 21st century
The words “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” are an especially good fit for an article posted this week by the Anglican Communion News Service about the situation in Tuvalu. (See Loving Our Neighbors in 2011 , Part 2 of 3, from Oct 21.) Tuvalu is experiencing a severe drought, and because sea-level rise is making the water in the island nation’s wells salty, there is a severe water shortage. The people of Tuvalu have contribute little to the accumulation of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and sea level rise, but are suffering terribly from the effects of what those of us in industrialized nations have done and continue to make worse through our failure to address climate change in any significant way.
The Anglican Communion News Service reports on Anglican Archbishop Winston Halapua’s visit to Tuvalu. Archbishop Halapua said, “What I have seen is the reality of the sea rising,” and that this “is the biggest possible issue”. Along with making the well water undrinkable, sea level rise and the resulting increased salinization has poisoned the roots of banana, breadfruit, and coconut trees, dietary staples in Tuvalu and other Pacific island nations.
Archbishop Halapua asks for prayer and action: action in the form of relief aid for the people of Tuvalu and in the form of our becoming more aware of climate change “and its impact on marginalized people”, and prayer because the problems of climate change, sea level rise, and the effects on islands and coastal areas are something bigger than and different from anything we have ever faced before.
The church’s gift of prayer is a greater gift than many non-believers -- and perhaps even many nominal believers -- can guess. As we begin to understand the enormity of what we face this century and beyond, prayer gives us a way to sit with our fear, our awareness of the work to be done, and our grief; to hold these up before God; and to process all of this in a way that allows us to function well and do what we can to alleviate suffering and continue to live meaningful lives with some sort of hope. Prayer is not asking God to magically make a bad situation go away; it is a way to receive what we need to go forward and serve in the name of Christ.
And so along with our aid and our paying attention to climate change, Archbishop Halapua asks for our prayers:
We need to pray. We need to say very, very clearly to the church that we need to pray because this is something way beyond us. We need to pray that we will be empowered to speak clearly to our elected agents in government who make decisions about climate change.
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.