A Resolution on the Rights of Nature Progresses
By Rev. Dr. Bob Shore-Goss
A proposed resolution on the rights of nature has its origins in a church green team, and it is now working its way through a discernment process to determine how the United Church of Christ might act upon it. The resolution is a “first of its kind” for a Christian denomination, and this is its story to this point.
The Federated Church of Marlborough, NH, is where my husband recently served as Senior Pastor, and I served as Chair of the Green Team. The Green Team went through the process to become a UCC Creation Justice Church in February 2020. Just prior to that recognition, the Green Team caucused on what we would seek to do next. We began discussion on the human and environmental rights movements among indigenous peoples. We talked about the incorporation of nature rights into the constitutions of New Zealand, Ecuador, and Bolivia. We considered various movements in defense of the rights of nature.
The Green Team and the Church Council voted unanimously to begin the process for proposing a resolution to New Hampshire Conference of the UCC that would affirm the rights of nature. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US.
Progress, however, continued. The Environmental Justice Team for the New Hampshire Conference vetted the resolution and voted to affirm it to the New Hampshire Conference Minister and Board of Directors. The Board then passed it on to the New Hampshire Annual Gathering in October of 2020.
Meanwhile, the resolution was discussed at Food Justice and Eco-Theology Affinity Groups of the UCC Council for Climate Justice. They gave positive feedback. The Council held a webinar on the Rights of Nature with myself and Tish Odell from Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Odell has worked on the Bill of Rights for Lake Erie.
Several zoom discussion webinars were held for New Hampshire Conference, and the Resolution for the Rights of Nature was affirmed by 99% of the votes at the Annual Gathering on October 19th. It was then sent to the General Synod Committee on Resolutions. The Committee, after reviewing the resolution, asked how it differed from two resolutions “The Earth belongs to the Lord” (2017) and “The Green New Deal” (2019). They also asked for several footnotes that substantiate claims within the resolution. After the edits and the comparing of the resolution with others, the Synod Committee determined that the proposed resolution was substantially different and forwarded it to the General Synod Disposition Committee Subcommittee to be classified for the Synod process and moved toward next steps with the Board of Directors.
Check out the proposed Resolution on the Rights of Nature: Study Guide on the Rights of Nature along with the Biblical and The Biblical Theological Rationale for it online. For additional background on faith and the rights of nature, one can also read an article from the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights entitled “Marching toward Change.”