Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me. ~ Matthew 25:45Across our American institutions, people – especially white people – are waking up to deep-seated inequities caused by centuries of racism and white supremacy. We are confessing that racism is still present throughout our lives and livelihoods, we are educating ourselves about it, and we are taking action to change unjust systems in solidarity with people of color.
Although environmental justice movements led by people of color have existed for decades, mainstream environmental movements have for too long focused on the leadership and needs of white people, to the exclusion of people of color. A byproduct of this reality has been the association of environmentalism with “saving the polar bears” and “tree hugging.”
Although a connection will all of God’s Creation is an important element of spirituality, these associations can sometimes obscure the very real, often life-threatening, effects that climate change and environmental degradation have on people. Those people are often least able to respond to these dangers because of systems of poverty and racism that impact virtually every area of their lives. Environmental Justice focuses on those who bear an undue burden of environmental harm, demanding that they not only have clean air and water, but also that they are a central part of decision-making when it comes to their communities.
The United Church of Christ is a historic leader in Environmental Justice, beginning with a 1987 report, “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” The UCC’s work in the 1980s originated in its Commission for Racial Justice, making clear from the start that environmental justice IS racial justice.
This series centers on Matthew 25, wherein Jesus describes where we will find him – or rather, in whom we will find him. Each session will explore more deeply these six groups Jesus calls “the least of these”: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned. These same categories are now indicators of who is hurt “first and worst” by climate change and environmental injustice. Through additional biblical texts and contemporary examples, this guide offers a theologically grounded introduction to environmental justice, helping us discern how Jesus is calling us to respond. Orienting this study around Matthew 25 is inspired by the Strange New World podcast’s two-part series on climate change. The podcast is an excellent resource for understanding the biblical basis for acting on climate change.
I hope this resource is a blessing to you and your congregation as you continue to prayerfully and deeply engage the work of Creation care, racial justice, and environmental justice. As always, please be in touch about how we might take up this work together – I love hearing from you.
Download the 8-session Environmental Justice Bible Study
Emma serves as the Minister for Environmental and Economic Justice at the Southern New England Conference. She supports congregations in making God’s love real through engagement in environmental and economic justice. Contact her for: Support ...