Posted by: wjlayton | September 19, 2011

Introducing Will: So What is “Eco-Justice,” Anyway?

This being my first blog post for the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program, it’s probably appropriate that I introduce myself. My name is Will Layton, and I’m a volunteer with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and the new eco-justice fellow at the NCC. I grew up in Iowa along the banks of the Mississippi, a river that to me is one of the greatest gifts of God’s creation, and studied at Luther College in the bluff country of Northeast Iowa.

I’ve spent a good portion of my first weeks here at the NCC thinking about what it actually means to be working towards eco-justice. Growing up, two things always played a major role in my life: the church, and the environment. As a kid along the Mississippi, my weekends were spent with my dad exploring the narrow strip of wilderness that lines America’s “third coast.” In the summer that meant canoeing, fishing, swimming, or camping out on a sandy, wooded island and cooking over an open fire of maple logs as the great river rolled by. In the winter we’d bundle up and hike through the crunchy snow or get out our ice skates and glide for miles, eagles soaring overhead. My dad was careful to teach me the lessons of caring for creation, showing me the visible affect of invasive, human-introduced zebra mussels on native clams or pointing out the wonder of the first young bald eagle born in the area since the 1960s. I carried that passion on to college, and became a member and leader in our campus Environmental Concerns Organization, just as Luther College as a community was deepening its commitment to be “green.”

Likewise, the church has been a major part of my life. My grandmother was the president of our church council, and by her side and in the care of Lutheran Sunday school teachers, I learned to read the bible, pray, sing hymns, and live out my faith. In college I learned how the church can work for justice after the immigration raid in nearby Postville, Iowa, when people of faith, from Protestants to Orthodox Jews came together to denounce the separation of families, mistreatment of workers, and unjust immigration policy. I learned that the church can, and must, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and speak truth to power.  From the church, I learned about justice.

So back to the original question: what is eco-justice? I get that exact question often now, when I tell people what I do. I’m still figuring out what it means myself, but I’ll take a shot at giving the best answer I have right now. As people of faith, the call to work for justice rings loud and clear. The prophet Micah tells us to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). As people created by God, and as part of creation, doing justice means, partly, being good stewards of the rest of creation.  When God called Noah to build the ark, he gave explicit instructions for Noah to take along not only his family, but said that “every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.” (Gen. 6: 19-20) Like Noah, we have a commitment to ensure that every living thing, all creatures great and small, have a chance to live in God’s creation.

Furthermore, to do justice, to love our neighbor, we must ensure that our neighbors both in our communities and around the w…orld have a chance to live their lives in the full goodness of God’s earth: to breathe clean air, drink clean water, walk freely through unspoiled woods and prairies and meadows, hear the birds sing, and see the animals run. These things are gifts from God, and they belong to all people, rich or poor. If we are to do justice, we must ensure that all people have access to these gifts.

At least, that’s what eco-justice means to me so far. I’ll keep exploring it throughout the year, and I’ll continue sharing my thoughts as my understanding of eco-justice deepens.

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Responses

  1. Looks like the last two paragraphs of Will’s blog got cut off; he meant to add, “Furthermore, to do justice, to love our neighbor, we must ensure that our neighbors both in our communities and around the w…orld have a chance to live their lives in the full goodness of God’s earth: to breathe clean air, drink clean water, walk freely through unspoiled woods and prairies and meadows, hear the birds sing, and see the animals run. These things are gifts from God, and they belong to all people, rich or poor. If we are to do justice, we must ensure that all people have access to these gifts.

    At least, that’s what eco-justice means to me so far. I’ll keep exploring it throughout the year, and I’ll continue sharing my thoughts as my understanding of eco-justice deepens.”


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