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Needed: Eco-Justice Evangelists

by Rev. Gordon S. Bates

HARTFORD (06/05/2007) -- At the 2005 General Synod in Atlanta, two resolutions were passed relating to environmental concerns. One was entitled “A Call for Environmental Education and Action”; the other, on the topic of energy usage, was “A Resolution on Supporting Congregations and Providing Guidance for Stewardship of God’s Creation during the Coming Period of Declining Fossil Fuels.”

Long titles, pointing to major environmental crises facing the world.

A combined Task Force on Environment and Energy has been meeting to find ways to implement the “Therefore’s” of the two Resolutions. We have discovered the following realities:

Naysayers abound

There are people who simply are not convinced that the environmental crisis is real, or if real, that it is at a critical stage. Some skeptics think nature will resolve its own problems, or that we should trust that God will take care of things, or that science will find a solution.

The Scientific consensus abounds even more

International scientific studies have documented beyond any reasonable doubt that global warming, energy depletion and environmental degradation of the planet is real. The physical world beneath our feet is indisputably changing, as is the thin layer of breathable air. We are approaching significant, irreversible “tipping points.” These realities must be dealt with politically, socially and personally.

As Christians, we must also rethink these problems theologically. If we believe that God is still speaking, then we must seek to understand God through the voice of nature as well as the Bible and the wisdom of the Gospel.

Three scientific facts confront us

  • The amount of fossil fuel available for the world’s increasing demands is finite and decreasing rapidly, and the probabilities of finding abundant new sources of oil and natural gas are negligible. And while energy from alternative sources such as wind, water, bio mass and hydrogen will certainly increase, no new source known to us now can provide the basis for the civilization that oil and natural gas have allowed us to build. Coal, the most extensive fuel source still available in quantity, is also the worst polluter of the atmosphere and the costliest to clean up. We face a future in which profound conservation of energy will be critical, one marked by massive reductions in consumption of goods and services if those who follow us are to have their chance to survive and thrive.
  • The list of serious environmental concerns ranges from unprecedented loss of animal, marine and plant species during the past 50 years to the depletion of critical wetlands. The destruction of tropical forests in just the past 20 years has been on the order of 200 million hectares, equal to the size of Mexico. Add to this the damage being done through the pollution of the oceans and the air and the depletion of fresh water.
  • The UCC has undertaken a special concern, commonly called Ecojustice. It addresses the environmental harm being done to the poor and the minorities in the U.S. and the world. At the General Synod in Hartford, a report on Toxic Waste and Race will be distributed, updating a 1987 report by the same title that first exposed the injustice done to those who lack political clout to defend their neighborhoods from toxic waste dumping. A DVD from Justice and Witness Ministries called “Troubled Waters,” depicting the crisis faced by many around the world for a safe water supply, also will be available.

The Task Force on Environment and Energy will recommend to the General Synod an intentional integration of environmental and energy information throughout the UCC, as well as ways to bring a concern for the natural world into our worship services; guidelines for legislative advocacy; and resources for individuals and congregations.

On the Conference level, we welcome the participation of those interested in these issues and in pursuing these same objectives. If you work in the areas of environment or have information and expertise to share, please join us.

As stewards of the natural blessings of God, I believe we are called to repent of our past exploitation of the earth and of its resources, and to be evangelists for the environment and eco-justice. The UCC has already played a key leadership role in this struggle. In the years to come, even more will be required of us. With God’s guidance we can transform our trust in God’s everlasting love into actions that seek to rectify past and present injustices to the environment, for the benefit of all God’s creation. Let’s do it.

The Rev. Gordon S. Bates is Interim Associate Pastor at First Church of Christ, Congregational in Glastonbury, and a member of the UCC Task Force on Environment and Energy.

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