It won't be the first time Harold Beer has steered clear of fossil fuels on his way to a United Church of Christ General Synod. He biked to Synods twice. This time Beer and his wife, Marcia, UCC members from Michigan, will put in at Muskegon and sail their 27-floot sloop across Lake Michigan to to the 2019 Synod, meeting in Milwaukee June 21-25.Read more
The church and the world will hear from more young "climate prophets" if the United Church of Christ receives a United Nations prize for which it has been nominated.Read more
In February, I met with Brooks Berndt, the UCC’s Minister for Environmental Justice, to discuss a proposal for an eco-justice ministries network within the UCC’s Southern Conference. During our conversation, the tragedy of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis arose, and Berndt made the comment that numerous “other Flints” are occurring across our country at this moment with their own terrible consequences.
His words turned out to be prophetic. (Read more.)Read more
A few days ago the grassroots leadership in Flint began circulating the following list of demands following the ongoing crisis in the city:
As people of faith who want act in solidarity with the community in Flint, what can we do? Here are three ways to get involved:
1) Call President Obama to request an increase in federal funding directed to Flint that would allow for the replacement of the city’s water infrastructure. Call 202-456-1111.
2) Donate to the UCC Emergency USA Fund. You can choose to designate your contribution to Flint.
3) Share articles that highlight the role of systemic racism in the Flint water crisis:
- “How a Racist System Has Poisoned the Water in Flint, Mich.” by Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn
- “Flint’s Water Crisis: A Story of Racial Injustice” by the Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt
Written by Rev. Brooks Berndt
On the heels of a June and July that saw riots in major cities throughout the United States with death tolls reaching 23 in Newark and 43 in Detroit, King delivered his last presidential address to the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta on August 16, 1967. Newspaper headlines on that day reflected the controversy and criticism generated in response to King’s remarks the previous day when he denounced the racism of Congress, affirmed black outrage over urban conditions, and called for “mass civil disobedience.” In his address entitled “Where Do We Go from Here?” King displayed his remarkable ability to articulate the systemic character of oppression in a way that raises the consciousness of his hearers.
In the speech, King makes a case for the fundamental restructuring of society. In doing so, he lays out a series of provocative questions that ultimately compel a critical view of the entire “capitalistic economy.” Ahead of his time, King posits questions that would now be considered central to an environmental justice perspective. He asks, “Who owns the oil?” and “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?” With prophetic clarity, King saw how different evils become intertwined and interrelated. As much as ever, these insights are still needed today.
Excerpt from “Where Do We Go from Here?”
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. (Yes) There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (All right) It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?" (All right) These are words that must be said. (All right)…. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. (All right) These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
Rev. Brooks Brendt is the UCC Minister for Environmental Justice.
Written by Rev. Brooks Berndt
In his encyclical on the environment, the pope says that he wants to be in “dialogue with all people.” I have been imagining what it would be like to take him up on this offer—literally, perhaps over coffee. Compliments are always a great place to begin, so I figure I would start by giving him a couple of high fives before getting to a few burning topics.
The first high five would be for his environmental theology. The pope pointedly refutes theologies that interpret the opening of Genesis as a mandate for humans to rule tyrannically over all of creation. As an alternative, he instead proposes that God’s gift of creation necessitates an ethic of mutuality and solidarity, of love and care. For too long Christians have suffered from “anthropocentrism”—a fancy way of saying we need to get over ourselves and start caring for the world around us. When love directs us outward, the pope notes that it is not only concerned with immediate relationships but also with the larger world with all its economic, political, and social dimensions. Love propels us to care about giant-size wrongs and injustices. In a world dominated by individualistic piety, how refreshing to hear a prominent religious leader with such a broad perspective!
A second high five would be for the pope’s critical understanding of our economy and how the desire for more and more profit leads to the perpetual exploitation of both the poor and the environment. He excels at highlighting interconnections on this front. He reminds us that it is the poor who often suffer the most when air quality declines or weather disasters strike. His analysis further points to the ongoing legacy of colonial imperialism. He describes how the wealthy industrialists of the global north have pillaged the global south for raw materials while leaving toxic pollution in their wake. For using his holy megaphone to draw critical attention to the environmental injustices of the world, the pope certainly deserves a high five of resounding gratitude!
Before our coffee chat ends, however, there are a few other matters I would want to discuss. First, I would suggest that during his visit to the United States he give some attention to the intersections of race and the environment. Studies show that black people are more likely to breathe in higher levels of air pollution than whites. They are also more likely to live within 30 miles of a coal plant, the high exposure zone for the pollutants that cause afflictions ranging from birth defects to heart disease.
Second, I would want to explore with the pope how people of different faiths might come together to promote the kind of policies for which he calls—policies that shift our planet away from fossil fuel use to renewable energy. On Ash Wednesday, could Christians of diverse faiths join together for worship outside coal plants and corporate headquarters as we call for a national moment of confession and repentance? During the season of Lent that follows, could we then call upon our elected officials to put our nation’s economy on a permanent carbon fast as soon as possible?
While my conversation with the pope may be imaginary, it does lift my spirits and inspire bigger dreams. Maybe this Sunday preachers everywhere should ask their flocks, “If you had coffee with the pope, what would you say? What are your hopes for how people of faith can put love into action?”
The Rev. Brooks Berndt is Minister of Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ.
On the anniversary of the United Church of Christ's historic vote to take action to lessen the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, United Church Funds announced the launch date of a new fossil-fuel-free investment fund. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is a domestic core equity fund that will be free of investments in U.S. companies extracting or producing fossil fuels, and is targeted to open for investment on Oct. 1, 2014.
"Our staff has worked hard this year since General Synod to identify appropriate investment options and managers for this fund," said Donald G. Hart, president of UCF. "Our final manager selection will be based on total investment commitments from current and new investors."
The UCC became the first mainline religious denomination to vote to move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies as one strategy to combat climate change on July 1, 2013, at General Synod 29 in Long Beach, Calif. The resolution calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil-fuel-free investment vehicles, and the identification of "best in class" fossil fuel companies by General Synod 30, taking place June 26-30, 2015.
Since the resolution's passage, UCF and The Pension Boards of the UCC, the denomination's main investment vehicles, have been actively engaged in various levels of shareholder activism, using the process of shareholder engagement to work toward the goals of the UCC resolution. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is another step toward meeting those goals, which the Rev. Geoffrey Black, UCC general minister and president, says is a realization of the UCC's act of prophetic witness on climate.
"As stewards of God's creation, we must continue to grow in our commitment to initiatives like this if we are to have a sustainable future on earth," said Black. "The United Church of Christ's support of this fund will make it possible for others to follow."
With a commitment of $10 million in seed money from the United Church of Christ Board's Investment and Endowment Committee, UCF will be able to offer a fund based on the S&P 500 index, free of fossil fuel companies and inclusive of UCF's traditional set of exclusionary screens, which eliminate companies that conflict with the values of the investor. However, UCF's preferred outcome would require a total commitment of at least $20 million, with which UCF would be able to offer an enhanced index fund that provides an opportunity for higher investment returns.
Investors who are interested in shifting part or all of their domestic core equity allocation to the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund can visit the fund's website or send an email to BFFfund@ucfunds.org to receive a call from a UCF staff member. After Aug. 31, 2014, UCF will make a determination on fund style and manager based on investor commitments to the new fund.
"We, who are dedicated to protecting our planet, appreciate UCF's fidelity in fulfilling the commitment they made at General Synod," said the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC who spearheaded the UCC's resolution to move toward divestment. "I urge UCC churches and conferences to prayerfully consider an investment in this fund."
Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is making some upgrades to its facility, and doing so with the good of the earth in mind. Under the leadership of the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity UCC, the church is working to raise funds to replace its current roof with a green roof, which will provide the church environmental and financial benefits, while preparing it for a sustainable future.
"We have a leader with a vision and the chutzpah to get it done," said Ramona Westbook, Trinity UCC member and an architect who is helping with the project. "We talk about the people who have a mind to build. Well this is our wall, and this is our time, and this is our opportunity to be part of some amazing stewardship."
Trinity UCC's Raise the Roof campaign launched last fall and is seeking to collect $5 million in the next three to five years to complete the green roof project, as well as other infrastructure improvements such as replacing roofs on other properties, updating heating and cooling systems, modernizing the worship center, and repaving parking lots. The Raise the Roof campaign has already received $4.1 million in donations towards its goal from Trinity UCC members.
"This is a tremendous response from 1,026 members and households from Trinity United Church of Christ," said the Rev. Mark A. Smith, Trinity UCC's minister of stewardship. "The members are overly excited about the campaign, as has been exemplified through sharing their Raise the Roof testimonies during Trinity UCC's regular worship services."
The Raise the Roof campaign website lists several benefits the green roof will provide the church and the surrounding community, such as providing insulation to the building, increasing the church's green space, and absorbing and cleansing rainwater. The roof could also provide space for urban gardening and help mitigate the "heat island" effect that can cause higher temperatures in urban areas that have few trees and little green space. Green roofs are also known to have longer lifespans than traditional roofs and decrease the amount of energy a building needs to operate.
Preliminary stages of the project are already in the works. The project's Feasibility Committee has provided reports detailing research and recommendations for moving towards energy efficiency and sustainability, and the church had a site assessment conducted by a sustainability services firm. On March 19, Trinity UCC had a lighting audit conducted, and on March 21, met with a project manager from the firm that will advise the planning and phasing of the project with LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification as an objective. At this time, a timeline to begin construction and to complete the roof has not been set.
"Taking advantage of the latest in green technologies as we reinvigorate our aging infrastructure is a wonderful way to match what we preach with what we practice," Smith said on the Raise the Roof campaign website. "It is truly a blessing for me to be in a position to witness our church moving into this exciting area."
Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's 50-day earth care campaign that took place last spring, inspired an organizing theme around environmental issues that has really caught on at Trinity, said Rosalyn Priester, member of Trinity UCC's Green Committee and member of the UCC's Environmental Ministries Steering Committee. The church's theme for 2014 is "Love God, Live Green, Liberate All," which is meant to provide an overall framework for worship and become infused into the congregation's language and theological understanding.
"The spiritual practices of this church draw on African spiritual traditions in which there is no separation between the sacred and the secular," Priester said. "This means that church is not just about what happens within the walls of the church building, but is also tied directly to what happens in the larger community."