Creation justice and God’s all-encompassing love
By Ian Mevorach
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. — Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
The ministry of Creation Justice is rooted in the insight that we are all interconnected, with other people and also with the non-human life around us. When Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he called people of faith and conscience to recognize their natural mutuality as human beings. Because we are tied together in a common destiny, we are called to cross those barriers that have been etched into our minds, as it were traced along the lines of segregation and institutional racism. Hundreds of people, black and white, responded to King’s call and came to Birmingham, witnessing to their interconnection. When we talk about Creation Justice, we are concerned with the hate-walls of racial segregation, and those between male and female, and those between human and non-human life. When I look ahead with faith to the just and sustainable future that awaits us, I see people whose lives honor the truth that God holds all things together in love.
Last year the Lakota and Dakota peoples of the Standing Rock reservation sent a message to the world. After being excluded from sharing their concerns about the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens their drinking water and the Missouri River in general, the people of Standing Rock took action. They camped out, in prayerful and nonviolent resistance, and made daily efforts to block the pipeline construction. They called on people from all over the country and the world to join them. Soon thousands gathered to form the Oceti Sakowin Camp and other smaller camps of Water Protectors.
The camps were places of prayer, sacred ceremony, and dialogue. The Water Protectors upheld the principles of non-violent civil disobedience which were central to the Civil Rights Movement. Over the course of the struggle at Standing Rock hundreds were arrested, many were beaten, strip-searched in degrading ways, attacked by dogs, sprayed with fire hoses in freezing temperatures, tear-gassed, shot by rubber bullets, and even struck with shock grenades. On November 3rd 2016, over 500 clergy and people of faith gathered there to learn, pray, and protect the sacred. American Christian leaders read formal apologies for our churches’ participation in genocide against Native Americans. Standing Rock was a place where people came together and the truth of our interconnection was clear as day.
As the movement in Standing Rock grew I was in Massachusetts taking part in interfaith efforts to halt the construction of a dangerous high pressure natural gas pipeline in West Roxbury, MA. In our marches and civil disobedience actions a Standing Rock principle, Mni Wiconi (Water is Life), was our clarion call. On one afternoon in the fall of 2016 we organized a solidarity action with Standing Rock. We gathered at a church nearby the construction site, gave thanks, and prepared ourselves for action. We then processed to the worksite, where several of us crossed the police line to enter the pipeline trench. With branches and water we had consecrated at the church, we sprinkled and blessed the site, reclaiming the land as sacred and calling for an end to pipeline construction. Standing or lying down in the pipeline and refusing to move, we were carried out in stretchers. There were over a hundred of us who were arrested at different times at the West Roxbury Lateral worksite, many more than once.
Tragically, the Dakota Access Pipeline is now being built beneath the Missouri River; once again, the rights of Native Americans are being trampled on, their wisdom ignored. In Massachusetts, the West Roxbury Lateral that we opposed is now in operation. For now, large fossil fuel companies appear to be winning and getting what they want: more profits, even if it means despoiling our planet and passing on a life of suffering to future generations. This is painful to watch. Our nation is stuck in the same sinful patterns with which we began. Within the conscience of the early American colonist unnatural walls were built up so that slavery of Africans and genocide of Indigenous Peoples could be carried out; walls were built up so that the desecration and exploitation of the land could move forward. These walls are like a stronghold around a false American dream of material prosperity, a dream of a stunted, walled-up heart. But the work of Creation Justice is to live the dream of God whose heart is all-encompassing.
Our socio-ecological crisis is a lack of love. Lacking love and spiritual vision, we see the world that God created out of love as a mere collection of objects to be manipulated or destroyed for our convenience and profit. The oppression of the poor, racism, sexism, war, and violence are all one problem: no love.
As followers of Jesus we are people of passionate love for justice. That is why the American Baptist Church USA has launched a Creation Justice Network that is working for a just and sustainable future for God’s creation. We have formed a steering committee, are networking, planning events, and doing the work of waking up our denomination so we can wake up the world. Most of us are focused on working for justice in our own contexts, yet we know that we are all working together.
Rev. Dr. Ian Mevorach is the co-founder and senior minister of Common Street Spiritual Center in Natick, MA. He represents American Baptist Churches USA on the board of Creation Justice Ministries and is the co-coordinator of the emerging ABC Creation Justice Network. The network has issued two calls to dialogue and action on Standing Rock and Climate Change. To join the network, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The views expressed are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.