Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Homeland Security
distributed 9/12/08 - ©2008

I am proud to be the father of a remarkably well-adjusted 25 year old young man. I think one of the most important things that my wife and I did in our parenting was to provide a secure family where our son could develop his distinctive personality and gifts.

From the day he was born, Allyson and I tried to provide Geoff with emotional security and the assurance of our love and commitment. We tried -- however imperfectly -- to maintain a family life that was emotionally safe and adequately structured. We snuggled with him and read to him as a child. Simple routines like family dinner together helped to nurture strong relationships. We helped with his homework, and encouraged his hobbies.

I know that our son had the blessing of security in ways that many children don't -- with sufficient food and shelter and health care. He was surrounded by supportive circles of friends, teachers, church members and neighbors. Committed adults helped him to build discipline and confidence through programs like scouts and school bands.

We tried to make physical security a piece of the mix, of course. But when he encountered bullies in school or violence in the neighborhood, the security he knew in other areas of his life helped him to keep his bearings and hold to his values.

As our kid now moves into his own adult life, I believe that he has been empowered and enriched by the deep seated security -- physical, intellectual and emotional -- that came from his extensive communities of support, and (by God's grace) from his parents. Providing that context of security is one of the essential responsibilities of parents. It is one of the functions of the "whole village" that it takes to raise a child.

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I celebrate our son because he -- among countless other children and families -- is a compelling reminder to me about the nature of real security. This week, contrasting themes have led me to be explicit in rethinking what security really means.

Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the occasion was marked by many public ceremonies. When the political campaigns call a truce for the day, we can see that "9/11" must be a defining event of our national consciousness. Whether or not those acts of violence in 2001 ushered in "a whole new world", I do know that my nation has been changed dramatically. For seven years, the United States has been dominated by a climate of fear, and a fixation with a very narrow notion of security. In a fearful quest for security, we've been taken into two wars, treasured civil liberties have been suspended, and we've taken off our shoes every time we fly.

But those fearful responses to terrorism are not the whole picture about security for our homeland, any more than strong locks on the door would be the whole picture of security for our family. Safety from external foes is just one part of the comprehensive security and well-being that is essential for a child, or a nation, to thrive.

As I write today, Hurricane Ike is moving toward the Texas coast with devastating winds and storm surges. Ike is the third hurricane to hit the US this year. The damage from these storms is increased by the loss of wetlands and barrier islands, and (some say) by the effects of climate change in strengthening tropical storms. We are insecure -- physically, economically and culturally -- when these storms bring repeated harm to our coasts.

Last week, I was at a conference in Wyoming where church leaders addressed the astounding impacts of rampant oil and gas drilling in their state -- on air and water quality, on wildlife, and on local communities facing boom-town stresses. Today's newspaper reported on pharmaceutical chemicals in drinking water, and yesterday it reported that 40% of fish populations in the US are "in peril." Forest fires have swept across vast swaths of the western US almost every year, made more dangerous by poor forest management, drought, insects, and stupid patterns of exurban home construction.

Children no longer play in the woods -- because they're drawn to the TV and computer, because they're overscheduled in other activities, and because they're afraid of a natural world that seems foreign. The US has more of its citizens in prison than any other country. Tens of millions have no health care. Families struggle to buy gas, heat their homes, and pay the mortgage. We are insecure when these basic criteria are not met.

On this year's political agenda, there is constant talk of war and terrorism, but climate change is mentioned only as a peripheral issue, and other ecological threats are not mentioned at all. The frightening prospect of exhausted natural resources is too often addressed by calls for even more rapid exploitation. A partial and misleading definition of national security has distort our priorities and confused our values.

If we think of security only as having to do with some evil people in other parts of the world, then we will be blind to the matters of genuine security that are close to home. If threats to security are all "out there", then we have little control. If, however, we see that most of the security that we need is tied to our own communities and our own stewardship, then we can act clearly and effectively to enhance our physical, economic and psychological security.

The theological principle of eco-justice has been summarized as "the well-being of all humankind on a thriving Earth." That's a good shorthand definition of the biblical principle of shalom, too, and it is a helpful reminder about genuine security. It is not a defensive stance, but a striving for the health and vitality of our towns, nation, and planet.

We are only secure when we are held within supportive and nurturing communities. We are only secure when the ecological functions that allow life are healthy -- climate systems and ecosystems, water supplies and the diversity of the web of life.

In campaign ads and political debates, a narrow compulsion about national security tends toward fear and militarism, and excludes the rich security that we desire in our families, local communities, and world. A "September 12" mindset ignores the importance of other very real threats, and denies of the positive qualities of true security.

In this election season, I pray that our love of God and love of neighbor -- human and other-than-human, now and into the future -- will empower us to cast out fear. I pray that we will be motivated by the positive forms of security which build community and care for ecological systems. I pray that we will insist on the rich and empowering kind of security for our families and cities, our nation and the world.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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