Witness to Environmental Injustice

Witness to Environmental Injustice

 This is an invitation to bear witness – that is, to turn your attention, to see for yourself – the environmental injustice taking place in Jackson, Mississippi. Turn your attention to the crisis of an abrupt end to safe drinking water for 160,000 residents of the city, along with hospitals, fire stations, and schools. See for yourself the way this apparent crisis in a city that is 80 percent Black and 25 percent poor, is in fact the result of decades of racist housing policy, white flight, and lack of investment in infrastructure.  

What do we mean when we say witness? Witness is one of the key verbs of Christian faith. The reminder not to bear false witness makes the Top Ten, teaching us not to claim something happened when we did not see it. Preachers may exclaim “can I get a witness!” to make sure people are keeping up with their message, that they are experiencing what the preacher has experienced. Bearing witness is one of the primary responsibilities of chaplains and spiritual care providers – unable to change a person’s circumstances, we can attest to its reality. It is what we do when we practice the ministry of presence, standing alongside people who don’t expect us to “do” anything but are blessed that we are there with them. 
Two meanings of the verb witness are central to our faith: 
  1. To take note of, to see for oneself 
  2. To testify to 
When it comes to environmental and climate injustices, our faith calls us to bear witness in both senses of the verb.  
  1. We must take note of the injustices going on. We must see it for ourselves – even through photos, video, and news reports. It is easy to turn our attention away from painful situations, but our faith calls us to bear witness to others’ suffering. It is easy to have our attention scattered in a thousand directions, but our faith calls us to continue to bear with others, even after the news cycle has moved on. 
It is, then, our responsibility to witness what is happening in Jackson. Take this as an invitation to also bear witness – to turn your attention, to see for yourself – the climate injustices taking place in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Florida because of Hurricanes Fiona and in-progress Ian, and in Pakistan because of the worst-ever flooding there, submerging a third of the country. Turn your attention to the crisis of continued disrepair of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure after previous hurricanes – the result of disinvestment in this U.S. territory, neither a state nor independent nation. See for yourself the way these apparent weather events are in fact the result of decades of burning fossil fuels and treating some communities as expendable, such that climate change now makes hurricanes like these stronger and faster. 
  1. Our faith also calls us to the second meaning of witness – to testify to. We must speak up, share the story with others, and show through our actions that we are attending to these injustices. Here are three ways we can testify to these environmental and climate injustices: 
  • Give money through the UCC Disaster Ministries, designated for Emergency USA Fund. UCC Disaster Ministries seeks to serve the most vulnerable populations, focusing on disaster preparedness, identifying and meeting unmet needs, and spiritual and emotional support. 
  • Learn more about the history and present of environmental injustice – and then share this with your community! Join the webinar Environmental Justice Is Racial Justice: Faith Communities Respond on Thursday, October 20, 1:30-3 pm. Panelists include Dr. Robert Bullard, "The Father of Environmental Justice,” Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy, Texas Southern University, author of 18 books, and co-founder of the HBCU Climate Change Consortium;. Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Founding Pastor of New Roots AME church in Boston, and a nationally-recognized environmental justice advocate;. Rev. Dr. Deborah Conrad, who was Pastor of People's Church in Flint, MI (ABC/Alliance), during the lead poisoning crisis and is currently Pastor to Parkview Church, United Church of Christ in Aurora, Colorado. 
  • Engage as a church community with matters of environmental injustice, so that you feel equipped to testify to circumstances of environmental injustice locally and globally. This 8-session Bible study is specifically designed for congregations to engage with environmental injustice as a matter of faith. 


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Noah Brewer-Wallin

Noah serves as the Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Southern New England Conference. Noah supports congregations in making God’s love real through engagement in environmental and economic justice. Contact them for: ...

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