Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Faithful, Relevant and Effective
distributed 6/12/03 - ©2003

Eco-Justice Ministries has received a great honor.

Two weeks ago, Presbyterians for Restoring Creation held the annual meeting of their organization in conjunction with the Presbyterian national convention. At that gathering, they presented Eco-Justice Ministries with a Restoring Creation Award for our "creative witness" through the past three years. The affirmation of that respected group is very meaningful to me.

They also invited me to deliver some brief reflections to the group. That was a challenge. What do you say to 100 of the nation's best organized, most committed Christian environmentalists? (Other than a very heartfelt Thanks!!)

I chose to build my remarks around a phrase from Eco-Justice Ministries' mission statement -- "faithful, relevant and effective" -- because those words pick up on commitments that the PRC members and I seem to hold in common.

It has occurred to me that the readers of this newsletter encounter my reflections on lots of issues and themes, but I rarely provide that sort of overarching perspective on doing faith-based eco-justice work. So let me share the heart of those reflections with you all.

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1) FAITHFUL: When I'm meeting with church groups, I often say that the church does not exist to be a branch office of the Sierra Club. And that comment usually gets a very positive reaction.

Our church institutions exist -- and people come on Sunday morning -- to praise God, and to nurture the community of faith. When we are working within a church setting, we are, first and foremost, doing "Church." We are calling the church to be everything that it can be and should be.

There are times when being the church involves Sierra Club-like activities, such as explicit environmental education and political lobbying. But being the church always involves worship, community, and pastoral care.

When it is being faithful, the church must always be rooted in our relationship with God, and in the biblical heritage of our Judeo-Christian tradition. We're not necessarily tied to the traditional expressions of that faith. But we are always rooted in the tradition, and we are always focused on our relationship with God.

2) RELEVANT: That call to be faithful is not a threat to our eco-justice agenda, because the church is also always called to be relevant.

The God that we worship and serve is revealed in, and works through, history. And so the church is always called to deal with the important stuff of the day. In the Year of Our Lord 2003, that important stuff clearly includes the healing of God's abused creation.

You all know the litany of issues. If the church is relevant to this age, and to the society in which we live, it will name those critical issues. It will interpret them, and address them, and cause large amounts of trouble about them.

But our calling is not only to be relevant to the headlines, in making bold prophetic declarations about the hot-button political issues of the day. We also have a calling to be relevant to the folk in the pews, and to the larger community. We have to connect our proclamation to what is going on in their lives, so that we are really offering them Good News. We need to bring genuine hope and healing that speaks to their worries, their struggles, their fears, and their pain.

As we work in our communities, we will find that Faithful and Relevant are inseparable.

3) EFFECTIVE: That is the big one for me these days. It is the piece that I worry about.

Of course, we are trying to be effective in bringing about justice and sustainability. But, in the church, we are called on to do that work in ways that are faithful and relevant. And so I suggest that what we really need to be effective at is the transformation of individuals, institutions and society.

That's hard work! It is a long-haul effort, and it demands that we offer -- not just a political critique or a technological fix -- but a positive vision for a hopeful future.

Being effective in transformation requires that we deal with the very best sources in theology and ethics. It requires that we tap into the most profound resources and directions in worship and education (which may not be the current trends and fads).

Effectiveness means that we look to the solid findings of modern science, pay heed to important insights from sociology and psychology, and learn from the experts in communication and marketing. And it means that we have to be brutally realistic in designing and evaluating our political strategies.

To be effective, we have to build diverse coalitions. And, more importantly, we need to expand and deepen our own constituency within the Christian church. We need to engage in issue work. But we also need to consciously and intentionally build the ongoing movement which is far broader than the specific issues.

And we have to be persistent. Transformation does not happen with a once-a-year Earth Day service. Effectiveness in transformation means that we need to press our point all the time, "in season and out."

Effectiveness is hard. It is a goal that we won't always be able to achieve. But to be faithful and relevant without also striving for effectiveness is a waste of our calling.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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