See Appendix B for recommended additional resources on this topic.
- UM Social Principles - Creation - Read introduction, A. Environmental Racism, and C. Food Justice, starting at page 105. (Once you open the link, you will see the entire Book of Discipline. Click on the square icon at the bottom, which will then allow you to scroll to the correct page.)
- UM Resolution #1025 on Environmental Racism
- News article: How Maryland’s Preference for Burning Trash Galvanized Environmental Activists in Baltimore
- Scripture and journaling activity: Genesis 9:8-17
Set aside at least 10 minutes to reflect and jot down notes on this Scripture. Read it at least twice, preferably once aloud. The first time you read it, we invite you to read the text to become aware of the story. The second time you read it, read it a little slower. Let God guide you to the words or phrases that God would like to draw your attention to.
Covenants are powerful ways to structure relationships, and covenants are found throughout all of Scripture. They are based on promises and mutuality and include signs and actions that participants take to show they are living according to the covenant. When God covenants with Abraham, Abraham and his descendants began practicing circumcision. When God covenanted with the Hebrew people through the 10 commandments, they are told to practice Sabbath as a sign of their adherence to the covenant. Later, Jesus gave his disciples the gift of Communion as a sign of and call to remember the new covenant that God creates through him.
In this Scripture passage, God creates a covenant with Noah and his family, and with the animals, and with the land, and with all future generations to come. God memorializes this covenant of peace and the promise to never again destroy goodness of creation with a rainbow. The rainbow is a symbol of the promise God made to us, but it should also be a symbol of our parallel responsibilities to each other. Just as we are partners in caring for creation in the creation accounts earlier in Genesis, we are partners in advocating for the spirit of God’s covenant with Noah to “never again destroy the earth.” We dare not undermine the intention of God’s promise to Noah, the earth, and future generations with actions that destroy and exploit that which God created. There are consequences to our actions and to our inactions. This story invites us to consider our interconnectedness across communities and indeed across the world.
Modern economics and technology make the world smaller and smaller, such that seemingly casual consumer choices, in one corner of the world, can have disastrous environmental, economic, and human rights impacts on other corners of the world. As global businesses pursue profits over people, we turn natural resources into commodities to fuel expected lifestyles without considering the long-term consequences of these choices. We participate in the destruction of creation in so many ways, often without knowing it. Economic and political forces extract natural resources from local communities, commercial forces push low-income populations to live in “less desirable” neighborhoods that are subject to pollution or to farmland that are difficult to farm. Often, these impacts are felt first and most significantly by Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, and by communities already living in economic insecurity.
The Bantu affirmation of Ubuntu states, “I am because you are.” How does this concept of shared responsibility for each other and the earth influence how you interpret the story of God’s covenant with Noah? What other symbols might be helpful for you to remind yourself of ways to live into this covenant on a daily basis? Is it a post-it note on your bathroom mirror? A sticker on your debit card? A child’s drawing of a rainbow taped to your front door?
As we reflect this week about how we can live into our responsibilities to each other in the context of caring for creation and environmental racism, consider the legacy of God’s covenant with all of creation, and how you can most faithfully participate in it.
Growing out of your reflections on the covenant that God created with Noah and with all of creation, we focus this week on environmental racism. We will explore some ways that United Methodist communities have organized to strengthen the health of the natural world in their towns and cities, thereby also increasing the health, economic well-being, sustainability, and access to justice in their communities. There are more stories about this work than we can tell in the short time we have on this topic. But we hope you will continue these conversations in your churches, communities, and families, and pledge to take actions -- both large and small -- to reflect the characteristics of the world that better reflect our covenants to care for each other and for creation.
A prayer for our earth from Pope Francis Encyclical
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love, and peace.
Accessed from Interfaith Power and Light.
(Optional activities are provided in the sidebar to enable a customized experience.)
- Consider your community, the communities where you have lived over the course of your life, or places you have visited. What did you notice about where the following infrastructure elements were located:
-Highways and ports
Was there a pattern to what neighborhoods had easiest access to good grocery stores and green spaces? Who lives near landfills and polluting factories? Has anyone ever visited a superfund site? Share briefly about your experiences.
- Share reflections from the four preparation readings, focusing on what the participants learned and took away from the excerpts and exercises.
Watch together: Excerpts from Living Our Principles videos
These two stories, featured in a video on the UM Social Principles, highlight some of the ways United Methodist communities are advocating for and engaging in environmental justice work.
In the first clip, Rev. Kennedy Mwita, a pastor and farmer, talks about the impact of tobacco farming on his community and on efforts to shift to farming chilis to restore the land and improve the quality of life of the farmers (play for 7 min).
In the second clip, we learn about grassroots activists and mining in the Philippines (play for 7 min).
Share reflections from the group in response to the videos.
We know that speaking up can sometimes be dangerous, as is illustrated in the tragic story of Pepe’s death as a result of his organizing for justice against the mining companies and the government in the Philippines. Our own Scriptures are full of stories like this, stories when prophets proclaim a message that challenges those currently in power. The consequences can be dire.
- Mark 1:9-15 was one of the lectionary readings for this week. As is typical for Mark, he covers a lot of ground quickly. In the span of six verses, we see Mark’s take on John baptizing Jesus, the temptation of Jesus, John’s arrest, and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John’s prophetic ministry ultimately cost him his life. And the reality is that all prophetic ministry puts us at risk for consequences. The journey of Lent calls us into these calculations. What consequences are we prepared to accept for the Gospel that draws us into this work of proclamation alongside John?
- Are we willing to accept changes in our lifestyles and to shop differently? Are we willing to invest our time and attention differently? Are we willing to build relationships outside of our neighborhoods and our comfort zones? Are we willing to stand alongside those leading these efforts and risk backlash from friends, family, or corporations?
- How can the church support these efforts? Together, brainstorm questions or concerns you have about environmental racism in your community. Consider all forms of environmental racism you’ve learned in this session, and others you are familiar with from other areas of your life, work, and experience. Be sure to reflect on how food justice, pollution, energy production, and removal and treatment are handled locally. What programs are already in place in your community addressing these issues? Do these programs employ a racially aware approach? What about ministries in your church? Does your church support any initiatives advocating for policy change on issues such as these? Do you have a creation care team? Have you considered applying for grants to create gleaning gardens? How could you support the good work already happening in your community? What are other churches around you up to?
- Each group member may choose one of the questions or topics your discussion generated to investigate further in the coming week so that you can report back briefly next week or via e-mail to other group members.
- Write a letter to your local representative expressing your concern about, or support for, one policy or program you have learned about this week.
- Have at least one conversation, in-person or through social media, about environmental racism this week.
(“New Zealand Prayer” from “A New Zealand Book of Prayer”)
Eternal Spirit, Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name shall echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed
by the peoples of the earth!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever.