Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

A Whole New World
distributed 9/28/01 - ©2001

I hear people speak of being in a "whole new world" since September 11.

It is not just a matter of the astounding number of people who were killed on that morning. We entered a new world that day because key elements of how we have understood ourselves were dramatically shaken.

  • A world that had seemed stable and predictable is now perceived as unstable and threatening.

  • There are new and confusing power structures, with different players that we don't fully understand.

  • We are called to confront different sorts of questions about justice and morality.
Suddenly, we have been thrown to the brink of an odd type of war. We are caught up in strange new alliances, and pursing unfamiliar strategies. And always there is the vivid awareness of death, to remind us that this is not just an exercise in social psychology.

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In some ways, the grief and the confusion of this new world seem very familiar to me.

14 months ago, I founded Eco-Justice Ministries because I believed that "the world had changed" in profound ways, and that the church was not well equipped to minister to -- or even recognize -- the new issues and needs of our day.

The new world that I have seen taking shape was not born in a few moments of terror. It has taken shape over decades. And because the transformation has been gradual, we have seen the signs of change without understanding or coming to grips with their implications.

The new world that many of us have seen taking shape over these years is defined by trends that we know about, including a globalized economy and spreading environmental disasters. The questions and uncertainties raised by this new world are exactly the same as those raised by Terrorist Tuesday.

  • A stable and predictable world is now unstable and threatening. Key natural systems have gone haywire. Jobs and pollution migrate around the world, leaving communities destitute and out of control.

  • There are new and confusing power structures, with different players that we don't fully understand. The governments of nation-states are being supplanted by the leaders of multi-national corporations. Artificial chemicals drift across the planet with effects that are beyond our grasp.

  • We are called to confront different sorts of questions about justice and morality. Actions that we have always thought of as local and harmless are now seen to tie us in ethical relationships with people and species around the world.
And yes, there is death and grief to show that this is not just a game: cancers are more common, workers are exploited, indigenous cultures are lost, coral reefs are in catastrophic decline, salmon and other fisheries are in collapse, a massive "dead zone" haunts the Gulf of Mexico, and the very climate of the Earth is being warped.

The trauma of the last few weeks has been new and vivid, but the questions, fears and grief have been remarkably familiar to me.

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As our world changes -- whether by terrorism or by the growing crises that are evident with an eco-justice perspective -- there are some core questions that we all must ponder. For if we are entering a new world, then we should try hard to enter it with our best values and purposes in mind. The questions that Eco-Justice Ministries has been raising for the past year still are pertinent for this new time of turmoil.

  • What is our appropriate place and purpose in the world? Are we (the US, and humanity) power-brokers with dominion over all others, or are we one among many?

  • What is the nature of power, and who are the stakeholders who must participate in the exercise of that power?

  • How do we define violence and harm, and who is responsible for the indirect violence of unjust systems?

  • What are the indicators of justice, and who (or what) has the moral standing to make claims for justice?

  • What are our deepest goals and aspirations? How do we define progress, and how do we measure movement toward our goals? Is the good life economic and material, or are other values equally or more significant?
These questions are vitally important as the US and the world come to grips with a new level of terrorist violence. And they are vitally important as we all come to grips with a planet caught up in an eco-justice crisis.

If the world is changing, then it is especially important that we in the church bring our moral and philosophical expertise to raising and wrestling with these questions. As new institutions, power structures and cultural standards take shape, we have an opportunity and an obligation to guide our society toward the most just and sustainable options that we can find.

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In the absence of honest, thoughtful and probing reflection, the new world that takes shape from the War on Terrorism will be born out of the largely unexamined values and expectations that are already driving the crises of social justice and the environment.

The current mood in the United States leans strongly toward patriotism and "standing united." Raising questions about our values and power structures at this time will be difficult. But it is precisely at this time of shifting programs and priorities that such core questions need to be discussed. The decisions that are made in the next few months will shape national and global options for many years to come.

I pray that the Christian church around the world, but especially in the US, will see beyond national loyalties and the comfort of familiar lifestyles. I pray that we can use our trusted and respected position in society to shape the debate about what this new world will look like. And I pray that the church will always hold up the faithful vision of justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

Under the guise of patriotism, Senator Inhofe is trying to attach the entire Republican energy bill (including a mandate to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) to the Defense Authorization bill now being considered in Congress. This is an outrageous attempt to circumvent public comment on a major national policy issue. A religious leaders' statement calling on the Senate to reject the Inhofe amendment, signed by Lutheran, Episcopalian, UCC, and Presbyterian policy offices, has been posted on our website. I urge you to contact your US Senators and voice your opposition to this amendment and this tactic.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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