Introducing sexuality education into your congregation can be a wonderful opportunity to put faith into action. The impetus may come from the youth of your congregation, a parent's group, the pastor, a health professional, or someone else.
There are people throughout the United Church of Christ who have been trained as Our Whole Lives facilitators and have successfully implemented Our Whole Lives/ Sexuality and Our Faith —and many of them are willing to share their journeys with you.
The main ingredient in the success of implementing Our Whole Lives is a commitment to the sexual health and wholeness of the community. Other practical considerations many have found helpful are:
- building allies
- forming an oversight committee
- educating and inspiring the congregation, and
- implementing the program and including it into the congregation's ministry on an ongoing basis.
Choose the age group you want to start with (K-1, Grades 4-6, 7-9, 10-12 grades, Young Adult or Adult) and then check out the Our Whole Lives Training page to see where a training is being held near you. Trainings are held throughout the US and Canada, and often in partnership with Unitarian Universalist Association churches; however, wherever you go, you will receive training from Approved Trainers in the levels you are planning to implement. The training page updates frequently, so check back often. You may also choose to work with your local church, association, conference or national setting to host a training. There is more information about hosting in a downloadable guide on the Our Whole Lives Training page.
How long are the programs?
Good sexuality education takes time, especially in a culture which is raising its consciousness regarding sexual harassment, assault, and toxic gender roles and expectations. Don’t let the length of the programs deter you. Contact us to find out more.
8 sessions, 1 hour each
Parent meeting: 1.5 hours, Parent/Child Orientation: 2.5 hours
10 sessions; 75-minutes each
Program Information meeting: 1.5 hours, Parent/Child Orientation: 2.5 hours
25 sessions, 1.5 hour each
Parent Orientation: 1-2 sessions, 2-4 hours total
14 sessions, 2 hours each
Parent Orientation: 1-3 sessions, 3-4 hours total
12 sessions, 2 hours each
14 sessions, 2 hours each
*These levels of curricula are modular. You may choose to do only one workshop, or work through the entire manual, depending on the needs of your group.
What is Sexuality and Our Faith?
Sexuality and Our Faith is the faith companion to Our Whole Lives. Each level of Our Whole Lives has a corresponding Sexuality and Our Faith manual that provides faith-related information and questions for each workshop. Our Whole Lives itself is secular and can be used in community settings and schools in addition to churches. One half of each Sexuality and Our Faith manual contains material written by the Unitarian Universalist Association that brings in how their principles relate to the Our Whole Lives workshops, and one half by United Church of Christ authors who bring in prayer, scripture, litany and song to support what is being taught in Our Whole Lives.
What are the visual components? Who can use them?
The Sexuality and Our Faith DVD for Grades 7-9 and Grades 10-12 are designed for use only in UUA and UCC congregations who have approved trained Our Whole Lives/Sexuality and Our Faith facilitators for those grade levels, and can only be used in the context of the UUA or UCC church offering the appropriate level of Our Whole Lives. They are an optional resource that require parent permission to be viewed by youth. Comprehensive and effective sexuality education programs can be conducted without these visuals. Both the DVDs seek to underscore the values of the curriculum and were designed to answer participants questions about what sexual anatomy and activity look like in an environment of responsibility, respect, safety, and trust.
The DVDs can only be purchased by UU or UCC congregations and only after the congregation's Our Whole Lives facilitators have successfully completed training in the use of the resource. Individuals cannot purchase them. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about purchasing them.
Are the program lengths and sessions adaptable?
Our Whole Lives programs are flexible and can be adapted to your program needs. The older grades courses can be used in a retreat setting. In order to maintain the integrity of the program, it is highly recommended that all sessions of the resources in any program from K-1 through 10-12 be taught.
Can we collaborate with another church or community organization?
If there is another United Church of Christ congregation in your area, or a church that believes that sexuality education is an important part of their commitment to youth, it is appropriate to collaborate. The more diversity in a group, the richer the program. Because Our Whole Lives was written to be used in a secular setting, it does not contain religious references. The Sexuality and Our Faith manuals provide that optional addition. Be sure to have at least two trained facilitators before offering any Our Whole Lives program with any group.
How much does it cost?
What you need:
- A copy of Our Whole Lives for the level you will be offering for each facilitator on your team
- A copy of Sexuality and Our Faith for the level you will be offering for each facilitator on your team
- Training for your team
- If you are offering Our Whole Lives for Grades 4-6, there is an accompanying text called It’s Perfectly Normal, which some churches choose to provide for participants to borrow or keep.
- If you are offering Our Whole Lives for Grades K-1 or Grades 4-6, there is an accompanying Parent Guide which should be purchased for each family.
The United Church of Christ offers a significant 25% discount to UCC members who attend Our Whole Lives—Sexuality and Our Faith trainings for materials for the training they are attending. In order to take advantage of this special offer, participants need to call the United Church of Christ warehouse and order their own resources. This needs to be done at least 10 days before a training to insure delivery. The number to call is: 1-800-537-3394. When calling, tell the customer service person that you are a UCC member attending an Our Whole Lives training and would like to receive a 25% discount. Orders can be charged to your church's United Church of Christ Resource account. Click here to see what the pre-discount cost is for the resources you will need.
Congregations must also budget for Our Whole Lives facilitator training. The total cost for a congregation will be determined by how far they must travel and how many days it will take. Once the facilitators are trained, the actual cost of implementation in a congregation is small and includes costs such as printing, supplies and snacks.
What are the criteria for selecting good facilitators for Our Whole Lives?
The success of the Our Whole Lives program depends on the qualified and caring persons who are selected and trained to be Our Whole Lives facilitators. Keep the following criteria in mind when choosing your facilitators:
- Their commitment to value-based, comprehensive sexuality education. A facilitator needs to have values (responsibility, sexual health, responsibility, justice and inclusivity) in harmony with the Our Whole Lives program and goals, and to feel comfortable with their own sexuality.
- Their experience, skill and comfort with the specific age group they will work with and its developmental needs.
- Their anti-bias awareness. A facilitator needs to understand, appreciate, and celebrate diversity of race/ethnicity, culture, age, ability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. A facilitator needs to have the skills to create a safe and engaging/learning environment.
- Their ability to be an advocate for sexual health and safety. The facilitator must support your Safe Church Policy and must follow your state's process for reporting any alleged abuse.
- Their ability to build relationships with participants, and with their parents and caregivers. Facilitators need to build community in the classroom and develop relationships of respect and responsibility.
- Their faith. A facilitator needs to be a person who is respected by the congregation and comfortable discussing the integration of sexuality and spirituality with members of the faith community. They should be aware of their own spiritual and religious grounding.
At the facilitator's training, the facilitators are being trained and evaluated. Occasionally our Approved Trainers identify individuals during the trainings that might not be appropriate for teaching Our Whole Lives. Churches should know that their facilitators may not be approved if there are concerns that arise during the training. If this is the case, the facilitators will be notified directly by the trainers and the congregational contact person(s) will be notified.
Should we screen potential leaders?
The United Church of Christ Insurance Board and Church Leaders strongly advise that churches screen all people working with youth and children. We recommend conducting background checks on facilitators of Our Whole Lives.
Our Whole Lives and most Safe Church policies insist on having at least two adults with the children and youth in the program at all times. In addition, if concerns arise during an Our Whole Lives training about a facilitator's appropriateness for facilitating Our Whole Lives, the trainers leading the workshop will speak to the potential facilitator and to the professional leadership of your congregation about their concerns.
What are people saying about Our Whole Lives?
In addition to articles being written in major newspapers throughout the country, pastors, facilitators, students and parents have expressed gratitude for Our Whole Lives. Here are just a few quotes:
"Sexuality is too important a subject for youth to be without a trustworthy source of accurate, reliable information. To be involved with these young people in one of the most important stages of their lives is an honor which is not taken lightly." (Our Whole Lives facilitator and parent)
"The information presented in the Our Whole Lives programs is straight, honest talk about respect for one's self, friends and community. Our Whole Lives provides answers to basic questions and offers many opportunities to digest and reflect on what it means to be a healthy teen. How wonderful that, as a caring church community, we can offer so much to our children in a safe learning environment." (Our Whole Lives parent, nurse practitioner)
"Don't ever stop offering Our Whole Lives at church. I took it when I was in high school and I think it saved my life. Every kid should see themselves the way Our Whole Lives sees them." (College student)
"One parent gave me a hug and thanked me for introducing Our Whole Lives into the church. Another was near tears as she told me how excited she was that we would be offering the Our Whole Lives program, how impressed she was by it, how important it was to be doing this, and so pleased that her children would be in the program. Another just said, 'Look, you can tell how moved I am, I am trembling.'" (Pastor)
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. The training I received this weekend was the best training I've ever received. I arrived very nervous—what am I doing here? Now I'm leaving knowing that the youth from my church will be receiving excellent information—and I can do this!" (Our Whole Lives Facilitator)
Affirming democratic principles in an emerging global economy
A Resolution adopted by General Synod XXI (1997)
Whereas, The United Church of Christ has spoken consistently for a biblically-based and just approach to economic relationships nationally and internationally; and
Whereas, national and international economic changes today affect the traditions and values of civil liberties and political democracy in the United States and around the world;
Therefore, Be It Resolved that the Twenty-first General Synod reaffirms the heritage of the United Church of Christ as an advocate for just, democratic, participatory and inclusive economic policies in both public and private sectors, including:
the responsibility of multinational corporations and international financial institutions to respect and hold themselves accountable to fundamental human rights, particularly with regard to child labor, employment of minorities, and wages that are adequate for local costs of living;
the responsibility of workers to organize for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions, and the responsibility of employers to respect not only worker rights but also workersÍ dignity, and to create and maintain a climate conducive to the workersÍ autonomous decision to organize;
the responsibility of collective bargaining units, such as unions, to respect their members and encourage their participation in further efforts to democratize, to respect and hold themselves accountable to fundamental human rights, and to reform and expand the labor movement domestically and abroad;
the responsibility of governments at all levels to foster a more democratic system by seeking balance among the rights and interests of citizens, workers, and corporations; and to support existing as well as to facilitate the creation of new participatory community institutions for developing jobs and caring for people;
the responsibility of businesses, governments, and communities to share responsibility for protecting the earthÍs environment;
the responsibility of businesses, governments, and communities to support affirmative action for all who have traditionally been denied rights in the workplace;
the responsibility of all citizens to be informed participants in the political process at all levels and to form community organizations and associations to express common interests and achieve common goals in such areas as economic planning, neighborhood development, public education, and health care;
the responsibility of religious bodies to provide moral and ethical guidance for individuals and society in ways that respect other religious traditions and resist authoritarian powers and principalities wherever they appear;
the responsibility of The United Church of Christ in covenant with all churches and church institutions to practice principles of economic democracy which foster justice and participation in its own ministries; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Twenty-first General Synod of The United Church of Christ commends this resolution to the churches, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, and institutions of The United Church of Christ as a basis for their own policies and their ministries of social witness.
Subject to the availability of funds.
Through your generous gifts to Neighbors In Need, the United Church of Christ is offering hope to millions of people; we are transforming lives, the nation, and our world. These grants support work for human and civil rights, environmental justice and/or economic justice in one of the following ways:
- Direct Service ($1,000 - $3,000) – provides funding to meet the immediate needs of an individual or group (i.e. food, clothing, utilities).
- Advocacy ($3,001 - $5,000) – offers funding to assist communities who wish to change policy on a state or federal level via an advocacy campaign.
- Grass Top ($5,001 - $10,000) – is a highly competitive tier which seeks to award uniquely innovative programs which can be replicated in other settings.
For Grant Recipients:
If you were a recipient of a Neighbors in Need (NIN) grant, help us inform our members whose contributions to NIN have made your grant possible about how lives have been transformed because of their generosity. Access the reporting form.
Grant Recipients for 2017 by UCC Conference
Northern California Nevada Conference
First Congregational Church of Oakland / Rooted in Love
Building relationships, capacity and reflective practice of restorative and transformative care in faith communities of Alameda County
- Shadow Rock UCC Sanctuary Action Team - Hope Station
Southern California Nevada Conference
Central Atlantic Conference
- Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE)/Leadership Training in Civic Engagement and Organizing
- MicroBanking for Baltimore
- Hands On Hartford / Faces of Homelessness (FOH)
- First Congregational Church of New London - Urban Outreach Project
- UCC of St Augustine / Unity Enabled Day Camp
- First United Church of Christ of Tampa
- First United Church of Christ of Tampa Hispanic Ministry
- Friedens UCC / Weekenders Food Pack Ministry
- Blessings in a Backpack - Elkhorn Valley Schools
- Plymouth Settlement House - Youth Homeless Shelter
- First Parish Church of Newbury Community Food Pantry
- South Congregational Church / Pioneer Valley Project - Springfield Interfaith Sanctuary and Solidarity Project
Hadwen park Congregational Church, UCC - LGBT Asylum Task Force
Multi-family home for LGBT persons seeking asylum in the U.S. due to persecution in their native country.
- Lakota YouthStay
- World Voices
Missouri Mid-South Conference
Community Congregational UCC
Scholarships for summer camp at Camp Minanagish
New York Conference
South Central Conference
- Slumber Falls Camp / Twill Do Accessibility Project
- Friends Congregational Chruch / Interfatih Network: Building Sanctuary
- MOLO Village CDC - Restored Village Recovery & Reentry Program
- Oyster River Community Read: Addressing Racial Justice through Learning Together
- Alfred S. Forrest Elementary School Summer Enrichment Program
Religious and theological response to the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center and Pentagon has been quick, constant, and thorough. But while the public has been hearing the voices of the three traditional peace theologies, and reflecting on them, the voice of a fourth theological paradigm, just peace theology, has been less clear and less understood by the public as a paradigm. The three classic theological understandings in Christian theology—pacifism, just war, and crusade/holy war—have been articulated well and have increased or decreased in public affirmation. The fourth paradigm, just peace theology, has been spoken, but not perceived as clearly by the public. But if the Bush administration does not start taking seriously the call for Just Peace by many in the Christian community, it is going to lose the public support it so desires.
Pacifists have been vocal in insisting that terrorists must be held accountable for their acts and brought to justice. Pacifists have also put forward many alternative strategies, so that violence is not answered with violence. But on the central question of how the al Qaeda network might be brought to justice, pacifists have largely been silent.
Just war advocates have filled this silence, affirming that force in bringing al Qaeda to justice is morally justified. And a strong case can be made that all the criteria of a just war have been met. While there is room to argue over some of the criteria, generally this military action in Afghanistan has come closer to meeting all the criteria than any war in the past couple of hundred years. There are several reasons for this. Because wars over the past two centuries have seen such a dramatic increase in the power of weaponry, and because most wars have felt free to attack the infrastructure of the opposing nation, recent past wars, including World War II, have seen civilians deliberately attacked, and large number of civilian casualties. But Afghanistan had no infrastructure to destroy, and care was taken, using newer and more targeted weaponry, to hold civilian casualties to as small a number as could reasonably be expected.
So if this was a successful just war, why are we so far from peace? The very success of this "just war" shows the weakness of the just war theory.
Conducting a just war is only half the response needed. Force has been successfully applied, but justice has not been brought, nor has the cycle of violence been broken. Justice, of course, is a much richer concept than retributive justice. It at least includes restorative justice. While garbage trucks in New York were seen with large banners saying "revenge," the government has generally tried to minimize talk of revenge, and concentrate on bringing the wrongdoers to (retributive) "justice." By "justice," Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is clear: he wants Osama bin Laden dead or alive, but prefers him dead. Revenge is lurking just below the surface. And the U.S. government shows little interest in any larger concept of justice than using military force to stop or kill terrorists and end the threat of current terrorists. But this is why the Christian community has never regarded just war theory as the whole answer. The Christian tradition is much richer, and voices have been raised in the mainline Protestant community, the evangelical community, and the Catholic community urging caution in the use of force and insisting that a much larger effort is needed to restore peace and bring a just international order. It is this larger consensus in the Christian community that Just Peace theology has attempted to articulate.
Peace is not just the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of justice. Peace, or shalom, is a broad concept implying right relations and harmony. When the United Church of Christ defined "just peace" at its 1985 General Synod (in the process of declaring itself to be a Just Peace Church), it defined it as the interrelationship of justice, friendship, and common security from violence. The goal is always to minimize violence while working for justice and friendship. Just peace theology does not reject either just war theory or pacifism, as the United Methodist Church made clear in its 1986 document from the Council of Bishops entitled "In Defense of Creation." It attempts to put these Christian understandings in a broader context.
One way of putting this is that just war theory plus pacifism's non-violent alternatives to war equals just peace theology. Pacifists don't simply resist the use of force. They also insist that there are many positive alternatives to force, and if the cycle of violence is to be broken, and justice and friendship to be created, these alternatives must be employed. Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Catholics agree. And most pacifists have a great regard for the need for justice as well as for peace, keeping the two in balance. Just peace theology, of course, seeks to raise the commitment to justice equal to and interrelated to the commitment to peace.
Just peace advocates and pacifists ask these hard questions: How will the cycle of violence be broken? How will we acknowledge the beam in our own eye and our complicity in causing the situation? How will we look at the root causes of the conflict, and address the larger issues of justice, which must be addressed if there is to be reconciliation and the restoration of a just and peaceful community? How can we create international structures of common security from violence, international structures of justice?
Over the past ten years 23 Christian ethicists, biblical and moral theologians, international relations scholars, peace activists, and conflict resolution practitioners have worked to refine the Just Peace paradigm. Ten just peace practices were identified: (1) nonviolent direct action; (2) independent initiatives to reduce threat; (3) cooperative conflict resolution; (4) acknowledgement of responsibility and seeking repentance and forgiveness; (5) advancement of democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; (6) fostering of just and sustainable economic development; (7) working with emerging cooperative forces in the international system; (8) strengthening the United Nations and international organizations; (9) reducing offensive weapons trade; (10) encouraging grassroots peacemaking groups. (See Glen Stassen, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War; Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1998).
To fight terrorism, there are at least two broad categories where the United States needs to be offering proactive leadership, to address the question of justice and achieve a just peace. One is the development and use of greater international cooperation and the strengthening of international institutions. The other is the addressing of some of the root causes of unrest that Osama bin Laden has been able to exploit for his terrorist purposes. These include, above all, addressing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Right now the U.S. is attempting to define "terrorism" and "war on terrorism" by itself, without reference to any international standard or body. As President Bush put it, you are either for us or against us. How different that is from saying "you're either for terrorism as defined by the U.N., or against it." In the first case, the U.S. projects itself as an imperial power and invites the world to support U.S. power or oppose it. That is an invitation to more immediate terrorism and the nurturing of future terrorists, who will not agree with the U.S. imposing global imperial power.
If the U.S. wants to strengthen friendship with the Muslim and Arab world, as well as with other nations, and if it wants to maintain public support, it must put as much effort into initiatives of justice and development of international institutions capable of fighting terrorism over the long haul as it is now putting into military budgets and solutions. Justice, friendship, and common security from violence must be balanced.
Instead, if the U.S. thinks it can use unilateral military power, and use the language of holy war ("axis of evil" and other words which demonize perceived enemies, projecting all evil on one side and all goodness on the other), the U.S. will be giving bin Laden exactly what he sought: a holy war between the Muslim world and U.S. imperialism.
The Rev. Dr. Jay Lintner served as Director of the United Church of Christ Washington Office from 1985 to 2000. From 1981 to 1985 he served as Peace Priority Coordinator for the United Church of Christ, where he was staff to the Peace Theology Development Team that produced A Just Peace Church.
Resolution: Reaffirming Universal Health Care Y2K
Submitted by the former Board for Homeland Ministries, American Missionary Association, Health and Welfare Program
At its Eighteenth General Synod in 1991, the United Church of Christ voted a pronouncement and a priority with the goal to "enlist all members of the UCC and its constituent parts, in study and action so that they may be knowledgeable and empowered to work for the establishment of an affordable, accessible health care system for all persons residing in the United States." The UCC Health Care Task Force was formed in response to this pronouncement and priority. The Task Force was instrumental in publishing a working document titled Educating and Organizing Health Ministries, Volume 1: Toward An Accessible Universal Health Care. However, since 1991 and after the defeat of a national health care reform in 1994, the priority and empahsis of UCC health programming efforts has been on the development of Health Ministries within local UCC congregations. Nonetheless, health care continues to rank as a leading health issue for our country. And, there is growing public concern that the crisis in health care is deepening in our nation. This assault on affordable and accessible health care has reached beyond crisis proportions and is now a major epidemic in the United States.
The U.S. spends the most per capita on health care of any industrialized nation, and has the second highest infant mortality rate of these nations. Further, our citizens have the shortest life expectancy and are the least satisfied with their health care system.
Health care costs exceeded $1 trillion in a single year for the first time in 1996. It now accounts for 13.6% of the nation's economy.
In 1997 more than 2.5 million families spent 30% or more of their earnings on health care.
Currently over 43 million Americans are uninsured.
Over 31 million Americans have health insurance, but are under-insured. They are unable to afford premiums (even when employers offer coverage).
In 1996 over 11 million children were uninsured.
About 14% of people age 55-65 were uninsured in 1994.
The capping of total reimbursements to medicare providers makes it possible to withhold care from medicare beneficiaries with the greatest needs who are less profitable to serve.
States now have greater flexibility to force medicaid recipients into low-cost medicaid-only managed care plans with minimal federal oversight.
While the Portability Bill does prohibit private health insurers from imposing pre-existing condition exclusions beyond 12 months, it does not guarantee access to the same benefit or limiting the premiums that can be charged.
The Patients Bill of Rights was passed but is generally weak in that it still allows HMO's to make major medical decisions.
Managed Care (HMO's or MCO's) have all but replaced traditional fee-for-service plans and are now proving not to be any more cost-effective.
The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have national health care.
We need a system that provides universal coverage. And, we need to actively advocate for such a system by insisting that Congress put universal health care back on the agenda in 2000.
The UCC Health Care Task Force was revised and met in Cleveland in November to prioritize health issues and to develop a health agenda. One of the top five priorities that emerged from this meeting was Universal Health Care Access. The goal is to organize, educate, equip and mobilize local congregations and the community for advocating for universal health care! This resolution calls upon the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, the Office for Church In Society, the Office for Communication, the Office of Church Life and Leadership, the United Church Board for World Ministries, The Council for Human Service Ministries, agencies of the United Church of Christ, individual churches, conferences and associations to REAFFIRM their commitment to health and universal health care as per the recommendation from General Synod Eighteen.
WHEREAS, we believe that health care is a basic right and not a privilege; and
WHEREAS, the gospels convey a message from God—a very powerful message that is the Church's marching order to meet the issue of affordable, accessible health care for all; and
WHEREAS, medical and health research have proven beyond question that poverty is the single strongest predictor of disease, disability and premature death, and that poverty is also the strongest predictor of blocked access to medical care; and
WHEREAS, an estimated 90 million people have little or no health insurance; and
WHEREAS, rationed care, loss of doctor choice, reduced quality of care and higher costs have now become the norm rather than the exception;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries calls upon conferences, associations, and local churches to awake and rise to this epidemic of health care injustice and abuse of the health care system; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries encourages local churches, conferences, associations, instrumentalities, organizations, health and welfare institutions associated with the UCC to once again join with the National Council of Churches and other denominations in the movement to raise the visibility of "Universal Health Care in the 2000 electoral season."
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries encourages local churches, conferences, associations, instrumentalities, organizations, and health and welfare institutions associated with the UCC to join in education and advocacy activities to advance legislation that support universal health care;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries RE-APPOINT The UCC Health Care Task Force to work in concert with the office of Church in Society (OCIS), the Office for Communication, the Office of Church Life and Leadership, UCC Health and Welfare Coordinating Council, the UCC Parish Nurse and Physician's Network and the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) to revisit this issue and to develop new action plans and strategies for empowering our local churches to work for the establishment of Health Care For All.
“If you’re going to talk about clean coal, you have to talk about it from the inception of coal mining. So often now it’s about the burning of coal; nobody thinks about clean coal until it arrives at the power plant, and then you’ve got to figure out how to make it clean so it doesn’t destroy the atmosphere. The fact is, the true cost of coal has never been paid by the end user. My clients, the ones I’ve seen face-to-face in eastern Kentucky, have often borne the real cost of mining coal, which is the impact on their community, the impact on their lives, on their water sources, on their roads.’
-Joe Childers, Environmental Lawyer in Kentucky
What you Need To Know
Mountaintop removal is any method of surface coal mining that removes a mountaintop or ridgeline. Methods of mountaintop removal coal mining include: cross-ridge mining, box-cut method mining, steep slope mining, area mining or mountaintop mining. It is a form of extracting coal that uses heavy explosives to remove hundreds of vertical feet of a mountain to access thin seams of coal underneath. This “overburden” is then dumped directly into adjacent valleys, burying headwater streams.
Mountaintop removal has a devastating impact on the economy, ecology, and communities of Appalachia. To date, over 500 mountains have been leveled, and nearly 2,000 miles of precious Appalachian headwater streams have been buried and polluted by mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal follows this process:
- Blasting - Many Appalachian coal seams lie deep below the surface of the mountains. Accessing these seams through surface mining can require the removal of 600 feet or more of elevation. Blowing up this much mountain is accomplished by using millions of pounds of explosives. Every week, the explosive equivalent of 1 Hiroshima bomb is detonated in Appalachia.
- Digging - Coal and debris are removed using enormous earth-moving machinery known as draglines, which stand 22 stories high and can hold 24 compact cars in its bucket. These machines can cost up to $100 million, but are favored by coal companies because they displace the need for hundreds of jobs.
- Dumping Waste - The debris called “overburden” or “spoil,” is dumped into nearby valleys. These “valley fills” have buried and polluted nearly 2,000 miles of headwater streams. In 2002, the Bush Administration changed the definition of “fill material” in the Clean Water Act to include toxic mining waste, which allowed coal companies to legally create valley fills.
- Processing - Coal must be washed and treated before it is shipped to power plants for burning. This processing creates coal slurry or sludge, a mix of water, coal dust and clay containing toxic chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, lead, and chromium. The coal sludge is often contained in open impoundments, sometimes built with mining debris, making them very unstable.
- Reclamation - While reclamation efforts such as re-vegetation are required by federal law, coal companies often receive waivers from state agencies with the idea that economic development will occur on the land. In actuality, most sites receive little more than a spraying of exotic grass seed, and less than three percent of mountaintop removal sites are used for economic development. It may take up to hundreds of years for a forest to reestablish itself on the mined site.
Mountaintop removal takes place primarily in eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southwest Virginia, and into east central Tennessee.
Information above provided by www.ilovemountains.org
Why Is Mountaintop Removal An Issue of Faith?
When mountains are demolished for coal mining, they are gone forever. They lose their topsoil and forest, animal habitat and ability to filter water, and become uninhabitable places for humans and animals. Mountaintop removal is a permanent desecration of the gift of creation by a benevolent and gracious Creator.
Mountaintop removal also destructively pollutes the streams and valleys where people have lived for centuries in Appalachia. It destroys their culture, their way of making a living, and their family structures. It occurs in remote places where there is very little self-determining political organization and is a colonization and exploitation of the land by outside interests. If it were a profitable enterprise for the people of Appalachia, then they would at least benefit economically. However, the opposite is true as the Appalachian counties are consistently among the economically poorest in the United States.
Mountaintop removal is a choice and not an inevitable circumstance. Power can be generated in ways that are sustainable and beneficial to the health of the mountains, the eco-systems, and the people who live there. As demonstrated by the people of the Coal River Valley, the mountains can sustain wind farms that lead to power generation, local jobs, and a sustainable eco-system. People of faith make choices to live in harmony with God’s creation or not. Creation is groaning with the scabs of mountaintop removal.
What You Can Do
- Write, call, or e-mail your US Senator or Congressperson and tell them to support legislation that ends mountaintop removal. Tell them that this is a moral issue and that people of faith demand a halt to the desecration of God’s creation. Tell them that there are alternatives to coal mining through mountaintop removal and that the people of Appalachia have offered clear alternatives for energy generation.
- Support one of the groups working to ban mountaintop removal with your financial resources. Outside financial help is greatly appreciated because of the historic lack of financial resources in Appalachia.
- Do your own part to cut down on your energy use. Understand that the electricity you are using may very likely come from the destruction of a mountain in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, or Tennessee.
Links and Resources
- I Love Mountains
- Appalachian Voices
- Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment
- Physicians for Social Responsibility, “Coal’s Assault on human Health”
- Coal River Mountain Watch
- Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
- Christians for the Mountains
- Lindquist Environmental Action Fellowship
- West Virginia Highlands Conservancy
- Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment (formerly Save Our Cumberland Mountains)
- Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
- Mountain Association for Community Economic Development
- Appalachian Law Center
- Sierra Club
UCAN Stop AIDS E-News is the new HIV and AIDS e-newsletter published by the United Church of Christ HIV and AIDS Network (UCAN). By subscribing to this e-newsletter, you can receive updates on what the UCC office for HIV and AIDS Ministries is doing and what UCAN and Global Ministries' partners are doing, as we work together in response to the global AIDS pandemic.
UCAN Stop AIDS eNews 2007-11-30
UCAN Stop AIDS eNews 2007-10-15
UCAN Stop AIDS eNews 2007-10-01
UCAN Stop AIDS eNews 2007-07-10
UCAN Stop AIDS eNews 2007-06-19
UCAn Stop AIDS eNews 2007-04-17
UCAN Stop AIDS eNews 2007-03-16
UCAN Stop AIDS eNews 2007-02-26