We have been reminded in recent days on a far-too-frequent basis that racism continues to be an ugly scar upon the soul of America.
Most of the media attention has focused on acts of violence afflicted upon African-American and Hispanic individuals.
This violence is totally unacceptable and somehow, someway, we have got to find a way to bring it to an end.
There is, however, another way racism continues to raise its ugly head and, unfortunately, it is not receiving a lot of public attention. What I am referring to is environmental racism.
I was in Columbus, Ohio, a few weeks ago for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly.
At this assembly Carol Devine, on behalf of the Green Chalice Program within Disciples’ Home Missions, brought a resolution to the floor that addresses this issue.
The proposed resolution said, “Environmental racism is an affliction where communities comprised of predominantly persons of color and/or low-income people are adversely affected by governmental, institutional or industrial practices or policies that either negatively affect or withhold the benefits of clean air, water, soil or natural spaces.”
It also revealed that “contemporary studies show that it is easy to predict the placement of hazardous waste facilities, the creation of food deserts and the lack of natural space by looking at the concentration of minority and low-income areas across the country and that since the afflicted communities, primarily those of racial minorities, lack local representation or national protection, these communities are made victims of environmental racism’s various forms.”
The resolution highlighted the following instances of this issue: “greater probability of exposure to environmental hazards, uneven negative impacts from environmental procedures and policies, targeting and zoning of toxic facilities, segregation of minority workers in hazardous jobs, little access to or insufficient maintenance of natural spaces, and disproportionate access to environmental services.”
Having acknowledged the problem of environmental racism, the resolution went on to remind us that the Bible “refers to the entire cosmos as God’s sacred creation and calls followers of Christ to care for creation and care for neighbors” and that “Jesus preached compassion to all people and tasked us, his followers, with ministering to and caring for all persons in all communities.”
Finally, the resolution called on all Disciples’ congregations, organizations, ministries and institutions “to address environmental racism in their communities through research and education, thoughtful engagement and prayerful action” to “support national, state or provincial legislation which prevents the further marginalization of people from their community.”
It urged that we “diligently strive to faithfully care for all of God’s creation and work for justice for all of God’s people.”
I’m happy to say that the resolution passed at the General Assembly without dissent. This speaks well of the denomination I happen to call my own.
But environmental racism is something all Christians (and everyone else for that matter) ought to be concerned about.
This is an injustice that needs to be dealt with just as much as the violence mentioned above.
But what can we do?
An addendum attached to the resolution in Columbus offered these suggestions. We can take action by:
1. Researching the pervasiveness of environmental racism in our area.
2. Joining creation, racial and economic justice movements.
3. Funding and supporting creation, racial and economic justice work in organizations and academic institutions.
4. Lobbying state/provincial and federal elected officials for stronger enforcement of environmental standards and petitioning for new legislation designed to address the affliction of affected communities.
5. Supporting and voting for candidates sensitive to and supportive of creation, racial and economic justice.
May God help us all to combat racism in any and all forms it might appear. In the words of the prophet Amos, “Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).
Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky. He is also a photographer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines and calendars; he has published three photography books. A version of this article first appeared on Seeing Creation, a blog that Summers co-authors with Rob Sheppard, and is used with permission.
Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky.