Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Celebrating Movements, Taking Action
distributed 1/14/05 - ©2005

This weekend, many churches in the US will observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Worship services will deal with civil rights, equality, dignity and hope. Some churches will even dare to look at the continuing importance of racism in US society, and see that the visionary work we honor in Martin is far from finished.

The danger in the ML King holiday -- beyond the normal trivialization that comes with 3-day holiday weekends -- is that the powerful, diverse and long-standing civil rights movement gets collapsed into a single personality, and a few dramatic moments.

The "I have a dream" speech is a brilliant, hopeful piece of oratory, but let's not forget that there were many other great speakers that day at the Lincoln Monument. Let's remember that the 200,000 people who formed March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom were the largest crowd that had ever gathered on the Mall.

Martin's leadership coincides with the 15 years that are seen as the height of the Civil Rights Movement -- from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to the late 1960s. We fail in understanding that movement, though, if we don't recall the deep roots from which it grew -- the struggles for freedom, self-determination and opportunity that go back hundreds of years through slavery and emancipation, in rural and urban contexts, grounded in culture, scholarship, politics, resistance, faith and community.

The King holiday is an occasion for us to remember one of the great movements for social change in the United States. As a movement, the cause we celebrate goes far beyond individual leaders and specific political issues. The movement includes landmark events in public protest, legal decisions and legislation, and it also includes more diffuse changes -- an affirmation of multiculturalism, shifts in language, and a reframing of perspectives to focus on white power and privilege. The civil rights movement led us to reconsider some of the central goals of our society -- do we seek assimilation, integration, amalgamation, or separation? Are we a melting pot or a salad bowl?

Movements do have visible leaders and historic turning points. We must always remember, though, that social change movements gain their power from the broad, diverse and ceaseless efforts of great multitudes of people, working at a great variety of issues. Movements are multi-faceted efforts to reach broad goals and lofty visions.

Many movements -- for civil rights, peace, and more -- have grown out of faith communities. Churches and other communities have provided guiding visions, passionate leadership, and committed workers. Other recent movements that did not grow from church roots have become transformational only when the political, financial, cultural and ethical power of faith communities have become engaged. The growing eco-justice movement is one of those places where faith communities are adding their power and gifts to a larger cause.

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It is in the spirit of the faith-based eco-justice movement that I heartily endorse a statement put forth by the Eco-Justice Working Group of the National Council of Churches of Christ. I urge you to read and sign God's Mandate: Care for Creation and to encourage your colleagues to do so as well. Signatures for the statement must be received by January 21, 2005, when it will be delivered to members of Congress.

In movement style, the 2-page statement ( speaks of broad values and universal moral precepts. It connects those principles to specific political issues that have special urgency. The statement says: "We are men and women from the pews and pulpits of mainstream America for whom environmental protection -- care for God's creation -- is at the heart of our religious faith." "From these perspectives, we feel called to express great dismay and alarm at plans by the Administration and the leadership of the 109th Congress to reverse and obstruct programs that protect God's creation in our land and across the planet."

Five issues in current public policy are named as matters of immediate concern: the (so-called) Clear Skies initiative which will weaken emissions reduction requirements for power plants; the Administration's energy policy; the de-funding of the Superfund toxic waste program; proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act; and the crucial issue of global climate change.

The statement also looks beyond these detailed points of public policy, and names more diffuse influences that increase the threat to God's creation -- reduced budgets, hostile judicial appointments, and special treatment for corporate interests. It names church-based projects for change that address legislation, moral perspectives and guiding visions.

God's Mandate: Care for Creation is an excellent statement from -- and for -- the faith-based eco-justice movement. As it says, "There will be no single approach to these challenges. But religious Americans everywhere increasingly recognize an overarching obligation for faithfulness in caring for God's creation."

I urge you to visit to read the statement, sign it, and spread the word to others.

On this Martin Luther King holiday weekend, I invite you to rejoice in the diversity and complexity of social change movements -- including those for civil rights, peace, justice and the environment. Give thanks for those who are providing committed leadership and service around specific issues -- and decide where you will concentrate your efforts.

Last week's Notes reflected on the hymn, This Is My Father's World. Several of our readers have offered alternate versions of the hymn that use inclusive language. (The awareness of the power of language is a gift from both the civil rights and women's movements.) Those variations are posted on this website.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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