Preacher and panelists detail the destructive force of capitalism on Earth, people and the church
by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service
LEXINGTON, Kentucky — On Thursday, Compassion, Peace & Justice Training Days participants heard about the work of people fighting for the survival of marginalized communities in the face of environmental degradation, racism, and rapacious capitalism, which often seemed to be one in the same.
Vivi Moreno told participants about her work with a farm-based mutual-aid program delivering meals to more than 350 families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago. A partner with her organization, Farm, Food, Familias, is Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, one of the recipients of the CPJ Days offering.
The pandemic, Moreno said, has devastated the communities where many could not work from home. “A lot of people were exposed,” Moreno said. “A lot of people passed away.”
Theresa Dardar, a tribal member and resident of the Indigenous American community of Pointe-au-Chien in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, told of the devastating impact oil drilling, hurricanes and climate change have had on her community’s delicate ecosystem. Their combined impacts have devastated fishing — particularly crabs and shrimp — which has been the community’s livelihood.
And in El Salvador, Doris Evangelista of Joining Hands El Salvador talked about her work helping communities identify the roots of their problems and finding solutions. She said it can be “David vs. Goliath” work as they are often facing corporations that devastate farmlands with pesticides and rivers with hydroelectric plants, all at the expense of the people who live there, and who Evangelista serves. [Evangelista spoke in Spanish and was translated for English-speaking viewers and this story by a PC(USA) translator.]
“I’m in deep reflection of how destructive capitalism is,” Moreno said after hearing her fellow panelists’ stories. Responding to a question from moderator Dr. Mark Douglas of Columbia Theological Seminary about the connection between environmental destruction and racism, she said, “it always attacks Indigenous communities first, communities of color first. … I feel like it always affects the people that are the most connected to the land, which also happen to be the people that know how to steward that land the best.”
The panelists reinforced a theological reflection from the Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes and quick history lesson on colonialism and creation from Douglas to start the two-hour virtual gathering that was followed by an hour of small-group gatherings. This is the first year CPJ Day, which is usually held in Washington, D.C., has been presented in a virtual format, and the first time it has been held over multiple days.
“[On Wednesday] we dealt with coloniality and colonialism as where we came from, and today, to understand ourselves, we are going to talk about this vicious mode of how we live and that has trapped us into a way of living that is further destruction that is called capitalism,” Carvalhaes said, opening his reflection.
Capitalism, Carvalhaes said, is fundamental to understanding how people deal with each other and the Earth.
“Capitalism is based on the exploitation of anything,” Carvalhaes said, going through examples such as French nuclear tests in Polynesia — “they don’t care, because they don’t live there,” Carvalhaes said of the French — mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, and forest destruction in Brazil where, he noted, people are killed and jailed for trying to prevent it.
“Capitalism has only one set of lenses, which is money,” said Carvalhaes, Associate Professor of Worship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. “They see money in everything. They see money in people. They see money in animals. They see money in water, they see money in the Earth. All they can see is money.”
Carvalhaes said the drive for financial gain has been destructive to the Earth and to human relationships. The commodification of natural resources and the drive to collect them quickly and inexpensively have had devastating effects on the planet and often Indigenous communities in places corporations exploit, Carvalhaes said in an assertion later backed up in Douglas’ presentation.
“The Earth cannot go along with the way we are exploiting it,” Carvalhaes said. “What takes thousands of years to make can be destroyed in a day.”
Capitalism pits people against each other, he said, as they are forced to compete for jobs, money, and all that financial resources bring. And the church did not get off the hook.
“We are all God’s image, we are all imago dei,” Carvalhaes said. “But if that is true, why do we have so many differences within the structures of our church here? … Why do we have so many ranks and differences of salaries in our churches? Why do we accept it spiritually, but cannot accept it materially as part of our structures?”
He gave the example of one of his former students struggling to decide whether to accept a call that would be 19 hours a week so that the church could avoid paying benefits. That led into a denouncement of a system in which some prominent churches have pastors making salaries well into six figures, with full benefits, while others struggle to survive pastoring rural churches that barely stay open.
“I’m a pastor, right?” he said. “I know what calling means when you’re a pastor. You go to a place where God is calling you to go. But you know what is the structure, what is the framework of our calling today: a salary package.
“It’s easier to hear God’s call, calling you to a place where your salary might be $80,000, $100,000.”
What are ways God is stolen from us by capitalism, Carvalhaes asked, “because you cannot see imago dei in each other and everywhere on Earth.”
Carvalhaes’ discussion of salary was echoed in Evangelista, the Joining Hands El Salvador representative, who recalled a day she was offered two jobs: one a government job with full benefits, and one a job with a missionary that promised none of what she was hoping for in compensation. She took the missionary’s offer on temporary terms and realized “they were starting from zero” when she arrived. She has now been there nine years.
“We’re doing the job that God wants us to do, and doors have been opening like a miracle,” Evangelista said, through the PC(USA) translator. “And now it’s like a national movement like social, competing, pleading for peace, and justice for people that are poor.
“I think we are on the right path in that we have listened to God. Because we do feel that in this job, without his backing, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
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Categories: Environment, Hunger & Poverty, Peace & Justice, Seminaries
Tags: capitalism, Columbia Theological Seminary, compassion peace & Justice days, covid-19, Doris Evangelista, environmental justice, farm food familias, imago dei, joining hands el salvador, pointe-au-chien indian tribe, rev. dr. cláudio carvalhaes, Rev. Dr. Mark Douglas, Theresa Dardar, Vivi Moreno
Ministries: Compassion, Peace and Justice, Environmental Issues, Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Theological Education