Land Ethics Reimagined: Revolutionary Implications for Churches
In researching land justice and Indigenous peoples, I came to know some remarkable organizations that raise questions which would revolutionize how churches think about our moral responsibility to both land and our neighbors. One of the organizations I discovered was Nones & Nuns, while another was the Center for Ethical Land Transition. I have participated in the webinars of both organizations and want to share some of what I have learned.
“Nones” refers to “religiously unaffiliated individuals.” Three out of ten adults in the U.S. fall into this category. I was intrigued by a group of non-affiliated religious women working with Catholic nuns. Over a thousand women have come together with a common dedication “to care, contemplation, and courageous action in service of life and liberation.” The organization launched a land justice project that seeks to work “together with religious communities and movement partners” to “create new land transitions rooted in ecological and racial healing.” Land transitions entail moving away from a system of land ownership dominated by whites to new practices of justice, equity, and sharing.
The website for Nones & Nuns asserts that 98% of property owners in the U.S. are white. In response to the present reality of land inequity and exploitation, land justice includes “1) protecting land from extraction; 2) regenerating the health of the land and ecosystems; 3) and expanding land equity to Black, Indigenous, and other dispossessed communities.” I recommend downloading and reading three briefs on land justice: Regenerate the Commons, Reparations, and Landback.
Catholic nuns are facing diminishing numbers in the U.S. with mother houses and their accompanying large parcels of lands. There is a concern among Catholic nuns about how to transition their land justly for future use. There is exploration of creating land trusts. There is consideration of new directions in the communal and just use of lands. One example is Genesis Farms which was founded in the spirit of Thomas Berry by a community of religious women. They are dedicated to what is called Earth literacy. A number of Catholic nuns understand land not as private property but as something to which people belong over generations. They want to transition Catholic lands with justice and equity concerns. Another group of Catholic nuns in Minnesota has donated land for a center dealing with the sexual traffic of Indigenous women. This group is also working cooperatively with the University of Minnesota to regenerate their land.
In a justice land transitions webinar, the Center for Ethical Land Transitions provided a case study of just land transitions. One of their justice ethical markers was whether the stake owners considered their land as an “entity.” In other words, land as alive, a living system. Indigenous traditions and a growing number of ecological biologists, such as Andreas Weber, understand land as a living being.
How would our churches handle our land justly if they understood their land as alive rather than as property? What would they do differently if they considered the land as a living entity? What would be our moral responsibility to use our lands justly or to promote land equity by making land accessible to non-white populations? An example of the just and moral transition of land was the UCC South Dakota Conference’s act of returning 12 parcels of land to the Lakota Nation. Land equity, land generation, and reparations are key factors for land justice.
With church closures, might congregations include in their discernment just land transition? More generally, might congregations remember Psalm 24:1, “the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is the world”? For churches, how should we use the land we occupy justly and equitably? Would we open lands to neighbors for shared gardens, growing food for food banks, or training youth about climate justice? Land justice is important in the gospel when Jesus claims, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land/Earth.”
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