With Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, Red Letter Christians talked with Shantha Ready Alonso, Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, about ways churches and faith communities can be involved in creation justice this month and all year long.
Shantha, what sparked your passion for creation issues?
I am Roman Catholic, and I also grew up in an ecumenical family, regularly talking faith and observing holidays with family members whose faiths were shaped through South Indian churches, Lutheran churches, Assemblies of God churches, and others. This upbringing gave me a great picture of the church universal, as well as the shared moral imperative to honor our Creator by caring for creation, which is widely shared across Christian traditions.
My care for creation began in my childhood wonder for nature. My dad used to take me on long bike rides on the weekend on the bike trail near our house. We would stop and rest, and watch chipmunks and creatures. Mom would include me in all her gardening projects, and taught me the names of all the flowers. That sense of awe is one of my most formative experiences, and brought me closer to our Creator.
As I grew older and learned more about social and economic justice issues, I learned that not only was my wonder for the natural world important, but it was also a justice issue because not everyone has access. There are places called “sacrifice zones” where the gifts of the natural world have been stripped from the land, people cannot enjoy the natural beauty, and those that live there are at greater risk for adverse health affects. This realization galvanized my wonder into justice work.
What is Creation Justice Ministries?
Creation Justice Ministries is an ecumenical Christian organization that started in the National Council of Churches in 1983. We bring together 38 Christian communities. We exist to equip, educate, and mobilize Christians to care for, and do justice for, God’s creation.
In the beginning of Creation Justice Ministries’ history, many faith leaders who got involved were very concerned with the rhetoric of environmentalists that sometimes isolated humans as pollutants rather than as co-creators in God’s narrative. We saw the importance of reminding people of our important call to till and keep the earth, while also sharing our faith that God made all of creation good, including humanity.
Over the 30 years we have worked on many different issues including acid rain, toxic waste, food justice, and climate change. And so much of creation care is intrinsically tied into caring for the most vulnerable humans on our planet –the impoverished and the war-torn.
Tell us about Earth Day Sunday, which includes education, worship and action resources for churches.
For more than 15 years, we have produced an annual kit of resources called Earth Day Sunday. Earth Day is always April 22, and every year we invite churches to use some of our resources on the Sunday before or after April 22nd. The kit includes liturgy, Bible study, sermon starters, congregational projects, advocacy ideas, and other resources for churches to adopt.
This year’s theme is Care for God’s Creatures, with a strong emphasis on our Genesis call to dominion and responding faithfully to the endangered species crisis. You can find the landing page for it at: www.creationjustice.org/creatures. One of the action items this year is a great project for churches with radical hospitality missions – we’re asking churches to build a bat house, as bats are incredibly endangered right now. A bonus to this project is that bats are good guests; through their diet, they offer excellent pesticide-free mosquito management services.
Another potential action item is to stand with some our neighbors that are very aware that their ecosystems are intrinsically tied to their own flourishing. A native Alaskan people called the Gwich’in, many of who are Episcopalians, are fighting to protect their homes from oil drilling. They have a beautiful myth about the Porcupine caribou herd that is a native animal in their homeland. The myth says they share a piece of each other’s heart. They call the breeding grounds of the herd “the sacred place where life begins.” This community is extremely aware of keeping their ecosystem intact, and the areas that are the most vulnerable to drilling are where the caribou are birthed. To stand with the Gwich’in go to www.creationjustice.org/arctic.
This instance with the Gwich’in is a remarkable moment for the Church in the United States as well: A major denomination has made it a top nationwide advocacy priority to follow the lead of a local tribe in protecting that tribe’s traditional way of life. Episcopalians are standing in solidarity with the Gwich’in people.
Why is Creation Justice Ministries focusing on Creature Care this year?
Last summer, news came out that should have been more widely read than it was. Researchers found that earth is experiencing a mass extinction right now: 1 in 5 species are threatened. We felt urgency to lift up the need that we are in a web of life, that we have a moral responsibility to care for all God’s creatures, and that we are interdependent with them.
Ecclesiastes 3:19 says that the fate of the animals and the fate of humans are intertwined and we both share the same breath. We know not what we do when we allow species to disappear from the earth forever. Let us not undo God’s handiwork.
What Scripture encourages you in the work of Creation Care?
The Shema is an inspiration to me. Hear O Israel… Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And then Jesus adds to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we love our God with all our heart, we will love creation, and if we love our neighbor we must think about our entire ecosystem.