A Month of Creation Justice

The weather is finally beginning to feel fall-like here in New York, a not-so-subtle reminder of the reality of climate change in our world as we prepare to mark the three-year anniversary of Sandy in just ten days. This has also been a theme over the past month in my work with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

During our Activist Council meeting at Stony Point Center in September, the PPF discerned that the most faithful way for us to respond to the call to creation justice was to divest our own endowment from fossil fuel extractive industries. This decision was not one that we made quickly or lightly, but we believe that if fossil fuels are destroying creation and creating problems for our sisters and brothers around the world then it is immoral for us to profit from the industries that extract those fossil fuels from the earth. Since we know it to be true that the use of fossil fuels is creating climate change then we must divest our money from those extractive industries.

But we cannot stop with divestment. As individuals and as institutions, we must also examine our own lives and the theologies and worldviews that shape our values and ways of being in the world. Earlier in October I attended a conference entitled “Identity, Theology, and Place: Reinhabiting the Mississippi Watershed,” led by the Church of All Nations and the Bartimaeus Institute. During this conference we examined the ways that a settler mentality in our theology and our national myth have resulted in the exploitation of people and land and a sense of “placelessness” among European settlers to the United States. Although some Europeans may have migrated to the Americas to escape poverty and oppression in their own lands, the project of “settling” the Americas was one of colonialism and one that white Americans benefit from to this day.

This settler colonialism depends on a sense of domination of the land and the people who inhabit that land, and this domination has shaped our understanding of and connection to place and people in obvious and subtle ways. One way we see this settler mindset is in our interpretation that the Genesis directive to the human to “till and keep” (2:15) the land necessarily means to cultivate it primarily for our own purposes, even at the cost of the viability and health of the land itself. We see the land as a resource whose health is secondary to our own. White European Americans’ own “pathology of placelessness” also allowed and allows us to displace others, both those who are indigenous to the lands we conquer and those who we remove from their own homelands to work as slave labor so that we might dominate the land we have colonized. This mindset of domination and colonization has led Christians and others to justify slavery, genocide of native peoples, and destruction of creation. This mindset continues to drive us to war over land and resources, even if and when we may have nobler intentions as well.

The sins of domination, pride, and greed have led us to the precarious state of climate change in which we find ourselves today. Ever-stronger storms like Sandy and Katrina will continue, rising waters will continue to displace many, and the scarcity of resources such as water will surely lead to conflict.These are only a few of the effects of climate change on people. And those of us in the global North and West are most responsible for these atrocities with our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. It is our sins that have created the problem of climate change, and it is our responsibility to divest ourselves and our money from fossil fuels in order to encourage alternative forms of energy and ways of living in the world that are more sustainable for all of God’s creation and creatures.

Just this weekend, PPF hosted a small group of Presbyterian seminarians, college students, and other young adults who gathered at Stony Point Center to reflect and learn about how to faithfully respond to the call to creation justice. We believe that divesting from fossil fuels is one important method in a movement for creation justice within the PC(USA). Our individual actions and consumer choices matter, but they are not enough to turn the tide of climate change. We must be part of a movement that demands and celebrates changes in our cultural norms around consumption, relationship to the land, and use of fossil fuels. Divestment is a non-violent response to the violence of domination. Divestment is a “turning around,” a repentance from the sins of consumerism. Divestment from fossil fuels is an investment in the future of God’s creation.

Some of the young adults who participated in A Gathering for Creation Justice, held at Stony Point Center