The issue I would like to bring to our attention is the question of environmental justice. Creation narratives speak to a pack between God and human beings, which involves the latter being given the responsibility to be stewards of creation. Somewhere along the way in the development of Christian spirituality, we lost our relationship and responsibility towards creation. We saw creation as an object of exploitation, rather than as a source of our sustenance, which requires not only our stewardship but our reverence as well.
In our search for justice, we have to seek ways of repenting our silence and collusion in the degradation of God’s creation. The results of a world that has been systematically weakened by the greed and profiteering of human beings are all evident in our communities. Sadly, the effects of such environmental abuse, which include deforestation, irregular rainfalls and floods, are mostly felt by the poor.
Nelson Mandela (15 August 1993) reminds us that “Environmental concerns can unite us – going beyond racial, political and economic barriers. In addition to the crisis in education, housing, employments and a host of other problems, the new democracy will be left with apartheid’s environmental legacy… it is often poor communities who are the victims of the government’s weak environmental policies”. Therefore, our repentance (metanoia) for the sin we have and continue to commit against creation has to be embodied in our liturgical and worship resources.
Many of us come from communities that are rich with indigenous knowledge systems that have a high regard for creation. We have to re-learn some of these systems and knowledge resources in order to contribute to a life where creation is treated with respect and given due regard. For instance, in the Setswana belief systems, they do not cut certain trees at a particular time in a year. They also have a custom of not oblitering the tree if they have to cut them for any purpose. The trees have to be cut in such a way that they can still have life in them. These are just a few and simple examples to illustrate the wealth of indigenous environmental knowledge. Each of our cultures is rich with this type of knowledge, which we have to find a way of including in our theological outlook as churches.
Metanoia (repentance) requires that we seek ways of living that offers alternatives to the continued destruction of the earth. There are some basic things we ought to be encouraging as part of our Christian spirituality. For instance we live in a very dry part of the globe, where water is a very valuable commodity, especially for rural communities. One simple way we can contribute to an environmental justice programme is by promoting the harvesting of rain water.
Each household could be encouraged to put an effort in acquiring a water tank to harvest rain water. This simple campaign can begin in our churches, where we can encourage every church to attach a water tank – and by so doing, save water as a spiritual imperative.
It can then go on to include all members of the communities and further be promoted as an ecumenical venture. Our commitment to environmental justice ought to be simple and practical, and inclusive of people in local communities.
Churches should also be involved in tree planting programmes. Many of us have big church yards that are bare and uncared for. Churches can join community initiatives that often involve re-forestation processes, and this could begin by planting trees and plants in our church yards. Perhaps, social justice teams could promote a seasonal/spring competition of church/community gardens to encourage a return to tilling and caring for land.
In our search for participating in environmental justice efforts, we will, in fact, receive redemption and blessings.
These efforts will enable us to move out of the walls of the church and to participate in the groaning and struggle of creation. Caring for the environment is the duty of every religious person.
“We simply have to stop taking the Earth for granted. It is, after all, the only home we’ve got. It’s already late in the day, and the need is more urgent than ever before for all of us who live together on this planet to work together seriously in order to repair the damage we’ve done, and to deepen our understanding of what went wrong and why,” Richard Branson – Chairman of the Virgin group of companies (Porritt 1991:31)