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From Creation Care to Earth Justice, by Betsy Sowers
by Betsy Sowers
Like our Alliance partners, Old Cambridge Baptist Church is a peace and justice congregation.
We’ve sought to follow Jesus, who transformed individual lives, and challenged the principalities and powers. But for
a long time, creation care seemed different - primarily a matter of personal responsibility. We were a “green” church. We recycled, consumed less, conducted energy audits of our homes and church.
We even installed a catch basin to water our church gardens with recovered rain. Yet, creation care seemed less urgent than real justice concerns, like racism or income inequality. It’s a common misperception among churches.
Theologically, the problem is in our foundational texts. Genesis creation stories have long been misinterpreted, placing humans outside and above nature as God’s surrogates (1:26-31), and men above women (3:16). Nature and women were defined as subordinate at creation, part of a divinely ordained hierarchy of dominance. This pattern became the template for all of the “othering” subsequently masquerading as God’s “plan.” Injustice among humans and exploitation of the earth are rooted in the same misreading, and the deadly consequences are deeply intertwined.1 The poor, people of color, women and children are affected first, and worst by the ravaging of earth.
This insight helped OCBC expand our vision from Creation Care to Earth Justice. We saw why race is the best indicator of the location of toxic waste and industrial pollution, why corporations are allowed to poison for profit. From Katrina to Flint, from Philippine super-typhoons, to mass graves for heat victims in Pakistan; from radioactive waste on tribal reservations to Appalachian mountaintop removal, from climate refugees to the murders of more than 185 environmental activists in the past year; from mass extinctions to food and water crises, earth justice is intimately connected to every other justice concern.
These days, we are still a “green” congregation. But in addition to taking personal responsibility for our carbon footprints, you’ll find our members at our State House, advocating for a clean energy transition that includes access for poor people and communities of color, testifying at hearings against proposed gas pipelines, advocating for fossil fuel divestment, attending joint rallies for climate, racial and economic justice, even risking arrest. Earth justice has helped us see the web of connection among injustices, and has become a key component of our witness for justice.
1 Decades of biblical scholarship have debunked this interpretation. For example, see the classic “A Love Story Gone Awry,” in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Phyllis Trible, Fortress Press, 1978, or Green Paradise Lost, Elizabeth Dodson-Gray, Roundtable Press, 1979. OCBC’s book group recommends Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, Simon and Shuster, 2015.
Betsy J. Sowers, Cambridge, Mass., is the Minister for Earth Justice at congregational partner, Old Cambridge Baptist Church.
Photo: Baptists, representing several congregations, at a rally against a local fracked-gas pipeline.
Photo credit: Cynthia Abatt