Climate justice panel discusses the relevance for all people, especially communities of color
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Our faith tells us we are to be people of justice because we serve a just and righteous God, and it’s up to us to be a voice for the voiceless.
That in a nutshell was the idea behind Union Presbyterian Seminary airing a one-hour webinar last week entitled “From Black to Green: Why Climate Justice Matters to Black Lives.” The seminary’s Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership and its Center for Social Justice & Reconciliation hosted the webinar, available here. The talk was part of the seminary’s Just Talk/Talk Just series.
The four-member panel:
- Veronica Carter, a town council member in Leland, North Carolina; member of the North Carolina Coastal Federation Board of Directors; and part of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary’s Environmental Justice and Equity Board.
- Dr. Faith Harris, Assistant Professor of Theology at Virginia Union University and director of the university’s Edosomwan Center for Faith, Leadership and Public Life
- The Rev. Candace Laughinghouse, a doctoral student at Chicago Theological Seminary
- Host and Moderator Dr. Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., Assistant Professor of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary and director of the seminary’s Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation.
“As a person of faith,” Harris said, “I have a responsibility to ensure that justice is pre-eminent for all people and to help people understand how to better address these serious issues. Faith is the place to start to make sure people can experience a high quality of life.”
“Environmental justice is often viewed as a white issue, but everyone breathes,” said Laughinghouse, the mother of three. The source of the climate degradation that impacts communities of color in particular continues to be Western economic imperialism, Laughinghouse said. “If we can connect these issues to our faiths — and not just our Christian faith — and folks who are agnostic and not believing, this is an opportunity for us to claim our identity.”
“I keep telling my white colleagues on the board that the impact [on climate change] is greater” on communities of color, Carter said. “We have enough trouble paying our bills. We don’t have the luxury to go out and buy water,” let alone water purification systems. “For most of us in southeastern North Carolina, whatever property we are stuck with is a property nobody else wanted. Guess which communities are impacted the worst by hurricanes and floods?”
Harris said a recently completed report for the state of Virginia on the health of capital cities across the country holds some dubious distinctions for Richmond, including its third rank nationally for asthma cases. A main reason for that, Harris said, is that I-95 bisects the city, “right in the heart of the Black community.”
When a health catastrophe like the COVID-19 virus hits, “people already compromised will have worse outcomes for asthma and [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease],” Harris said. “We keep putting [bandages] on the issue rather than getting the cancer removed.”
Longstanding ways of making one’s living can also impede climate justice. Laughinghouse noted that North Carolina is one of the nation’s top producers of poultry and pigs. “People may have the time and knowledge” to work on issues of climate justice,” Laughinghouse said, “but do they have the will?”
“We should care for the Earth as God cares for us,” Laughinghouse said. “It’s part of honoring God when we do that. We have to be interfaith with this because we are all breathing the same toxic air.”
As a child, “I hated the idea of sabbath,” Harris said. “No playing, no watching TV. We couldn’t do anything fun. But as an adult, I have gravitated to the Sabbath,” which she noted that Dr. Walter Brueggemann has called “resistance to the culture of now.”
“To be human is to actually rest and be at peace with the environment around you,” Harris said. “You can take a day without amassing wealth … It was a key to a lock that I didn’t know was even locked. It makes us go back to a place of dependence and interdependence rather than a place of exploitation.”
Harris said that God has never rescinded the command to care for the Garden of Eden. “The first mandate for everybody is to care for the Earth, whoever you are and whatever you do,” Harris said.
“We serve a God of justice, and this is about justice for all,” Carter said. “How do you call yourself a Christian without making sure everyone has climate justice and environmental justice? Just about every religion has a version of the Golden Rule. Even atheists can get on board with that.”
Harris said the fossil fuel industry “keeps building infrastructure when they are aware of the climate crisis and they know there are more equitable and cleaner ways of producing energy.”
“We need to retool our economy to address climate change,” Harris said. “The reason we won’t do that is we won’t be inconvenienced.” Harris recently preached on environmental justice. After the sermon, a man in the congregation thanked her for the sermon but said he had no immediate plans to turn down his thermostat. “That’s the kind of mentality we’re addressing,” Harris said.
“It’s a frightening thing to think that people still feel that way,” Sadler said. “It’s still the American way. We don’t care because we are making money off it.”
Sadler then asked this question: How do we engage the youth to raise awareness about climate justice?
Carter said she’s seen churches provide their youth with saplings to plant. Others hold essay contests on why it’s their responsibility as children of God to care for the Earth. “They can learn about concepts of justice at an early age,” Carter said.
There is pushback, Harris said, “that tries to get us to think of actions as individual actions. We know that we need government supporting industry to do the right thing. We aren’t going to recycle our way out of this problem. We need politicians to write policies and enforce them so that industry will do the right thing. We should start holding people accountable at an early age.”
As the mother of three daughters ages 11, 8 and 5, “I thought I ought to be able to connect this work with my children,” Laughinghouse said. They started two gardens together “to teach our children about growing something for ourselves, our neighbors and for profit.”
It’s time, Sadler noted, quoting Prof. Jason Williams, “to teach people to learn to live with enough.”
The next “Talk Just/Talk Just” webinar will be held at noon Eastern Time on Aug. 10. The topic is “Reimagining Social Change.”
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Categories: Environment, Seminaries
Tags: center for social justice and reconciliation, climate justice, communities of color, dr. faith harris, dr. rodney s. sadler jr., environment, environmental justice, from black to green: why climate justice matters to black lives, katie geneva cannon center for womanist leadership, rev. candace laughinghouse, Union Presbyterian Seminary, veronica carter
Tags: assistant professor, candace laughinghouse, care for the earth, center for social, center for social justice, climate, climate justice, communities of color, environmental justice, faith harris, harris, justice, north carolina, people, presbyterian seminary, rodney s, social justice, union presbyterian, union presbyterian seminary, veronica carter
Ministries: Environmental Issues, Theological Education