Our History in the Struggle for Environmental Justice

The United Church of Christ was an early leader in the cause of environmental justice and in the fight against environmental racism. We began with the protest against the establishment of a toxic waste dump in a predominantly Black community in North Carolina. Growing out of that event, the UCC Commission for Racial Justice conducted the now-famous 1987 statistical survey on “Toxic Waste and Race.” The UCC sponsored two “People of Color Summit Meetings” and the first of those meetings generated what is now seen as the classic list of ethical norms for the environmental justice movement.

Through the years, the UCC has actively provided support to a variety of grassroots groups addressing specific instances of environmental racism such as hog farming in North Carolina, the environmental destruction from military activities in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and pollution along the Mexico-US border. The UCC’s emphasis on environmental racism has been strengthened by its relationship to our denomination’s strong stands and constituencies related to racial justice, a well-established “issue-based” action strategy, and advocacy methods similar to that used for other justice work within the UCC.

The UCC Network for Environmental and Economic Responsibility (NEER) was formed in the late 1980s and early 90s as a grassroots effort with a broad eco-justice agenda. NEER was active in promoting “Whole Earth Churches” on the model of “Just Peace Churches”, and over 300 congregations made that declaration. NEER gathered a large delegation of UCC members to attend the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, and organized several regional conferences for education and leadership training.

In the new century, the UCC has continued its environmental and racial justice advocacy at the Centers for Education and Social Transformation. In 2007, the Energy and Environment Task Force presented a report to the General Synod to combine the strengths of our historic advocacy against environmental racism and the added advocacy for climate justice towards establishing the UCC Environmental Justice Center at Pilgrim Firs in Port Orchard, Washington.

The UCC Call to Action

2009 Twenty-seventh General Synod–Grand Rapids

  • On the Urgency for Action on Climate Change.  Resolution of Witness.  The Executive Council recommends referral of the resolution, “On the Urgency for Action on Climate Change,” submitted by the Connecticut Conference, to the implementing bodies named in “A Resolution on Climate Change” as voted by the Twenty-Sixth General Synod (07-GS-16). 
  • Earthwise Congregation: On Mediating Climate Change.  Prudential Resolution.  The Executive Council recommends referral of the resolution, “Earthwise Congregation: On Mediating Climate Change,” submitted by the Minnesota Conference, to the implementing bodies named in “A Resolution on Climate Change” as voted by the Twenty-Sixth General Synod (07-GS-16).

2007 Twenty-Sixth General Synod in Hartford

2005 Twenty-Fifth General Synod in Atlanta

  • Call for Environmental Education and Action This Resolution calls on all expressions of the United Church of Christ to implement programs for education and action to address issues of environmental protection, environmental justice and sustainable development. It establishes an Environmental Steering Committee to implement this Resolution in close coordination with Justice and Witness Ministries.
  • Resolution on Supporting Congregations and Providing Guidance for Leadership  This resolution is offered to initiate exploration by the United Church of Christ of the role of the Church in meeting economic, ecological, and consequent spiritual challenges associated with predicted declines in future oil and natural gas supplies. The UCC is asked to begin a long term program to support faith based actions to create conditions that will foster a movement to sustainable conditions at the individual church, conference, UCC, and broader societal levels.  

2001 Twenty-third General Synod

  • Call For Staffing to Address EcoJustice Concerns  This resolution urges each of the four Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of Christ to designate staff to deal with ecojustice issues and themes and to work cooperatively with the other ministries to ensure that the spiritual, theological, moral. and social dimensions of ecojustice are addressed across the life of the whole church.

Task Force

Formed in 2005 from a combination of two prudential resolutions Call for Environmental Education and Action and Resolution on Supporting Congregations and Providing Guidance for Stewardship of God’s Creation During the Coming Period of Declining Fossil Fuels at General Synod 25 in Atlanta, the Environmental and Energy Task Force (EETF) operates through Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to help provide resources, networking and guidance for environmental programming in the congregations and conferences of the United Church of Christ

EETF has issued The United Church of Christ: Toward a National Environmental Focus.  Its subcommittee, the Energy and Climate Work Group, has issued The next 50 years: sustaining our faith and promoting Peace and justice while using resources wisely to care for creation.  Both were reports prepared for General Synod 26 in Hartford in 2007.

In February 2009 a covenant was written between JWM and EETF’s Organizing Work Group to further define the partnership of this dedicated team of individuals—environmental leaders across the nation—with the traditional environmental justice work of JWM

Pastoral Letter

The Collegium of Officers issued a Pastoral Letter on Faith and Environment “And Indeed it is very Good” in April 2008 which invites us to offer prayer for care of the earth, and opens our hearts to seek compassionate actions that can be taken to alleviate the suffering of our fellow children (and creatures) of God. “