Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Five Remarkable Years
distributed 7/29/05 - ©2005

Five years ago this week, Eco-Justice Ministries was incorporated as a non-profit agency in Colorado. Our anniversary has me thinking back to what the world was like in the summer of 2000, and what has happened since then.

On that hot summer day when I bicycled into downtown Denver to deliver the paperwork to the Secretary of State (and, yes, biking was an intentional symbolic act!):

  • Bill Clinton was the US President, and he was trying to make sure that his legacy included a number of visible environmental accomplishments.
  • The upcoming political conventions were dominating the news, and "the environment" was one of the standard questions in public opinion polls. Vice President Al Gore -- with his deep understanding of ecological relationships and climate change -- was a strong presidential candidate.
It seemed like a good time to launch a new project that would work with churches to increase the depth and the range of their environmental programming. I knew that getting congregations to adopt a more ecological perspective was going to be a hard task, but there seemed to be a growing interest and openness to addressing those sorts of questions.

Eco-Justice Ministries was born in the midst of the 2000 election. Six months later, George W. Bush was the new President (remember the month-long turmoil of that election?). Right off the bat, controversy over energy policies and secret meetings with corporate officials brought widespread interest in "environmental" issues of national and global importance. The daily headlines were filled with the sorts of concerns that I was hoping churches would address. Our message resonated in many congregations.

But then came September 11, 2001. The political and psychological landscape changed.

In the last four years, the US has launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unilateral actions -- both military and economic -- have solidified the status of a US "empire" that both dominates the rest of the world, and ignores its wide-spread interests.

Meanwhile, hot-button questions about personal morality -- especially homosexuality and abortion -- have been in the forefront of politics at state and national levels. Those same questions have dominated and fragmented many Christian denominations.

The last four years have not been an easy time to push an environmental agenda in churches. The focus of most congregations has been in other directions.

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I don't intend to whine about the way things have gone. (Well, not too much.) All of us do our ministry -- whether as clergy or laity -- within a historical context. The events that shape our world and our lives will always provide both opportunities and constraints.

The remarkable and unexpected events of the last five years have shaped the mission and programming of Eco-Justice Ministries in significant ways. Our work has gone in directions that I didn't anticipate, and yet those new directions are entirely appropriate to our core message. I celebrate what we have done, and what we have become.

From the start, Eco-Justice Ministries has called on churches to be "faithful, relevant and effective" in addressing the most pressing issues of the day. In our perspective, those pressing issues include -- then and now -- the intertwined concerns of social justice and ecological sustainability. In the post-9/11 world, we have been persistent in that call for churches to engage a wide range of difficult issues.

From the start, Eco-Justice Ministries has lifted up the biblical vision of shalom as a guiding hope for a world of peace, justice and sustainability. The theological notion of eco-justice -- "the well-being of all humanity on a thriving earth" -- provides specific ethical norms that bring clarity and direction to that larger vision. In a time of terrorism, war and empire, eco-justice and shalom are validated as essential alternatives to conflict and exploitation. The same theological principles that we named in the relative peace of 2000 ring true in the very different settings that have emerged.

This agency's broad perspectives on eco-justice have allowed us to speak to many of the issues in the headlines in a way that a narrow focus on "environmental activism" could not. Our theological and ethical principles have enabled us to bring an eco-justice voice into debates about war and economic globalization, as well as matters like climate change and water rights. World events have pushed us to claim the broad relevance of eco-justice as an overarching principle for faith and ethics.

Our pastoral perspectives on ministry have helped us to speak to deep personal concerns in today's world. The interconnection of prophetic activism and pastoral sensitivity is revealed when fear gets in the way of hope, or when grief and guilt are roadblocks to transformation. Those pastoral themes, which we named at our founding five years ago, have taken on a new prominence in the more polarized and frightening world of today.

The last few years have called us to deal far more significantly with strategic questions about communication and transformation. When the eco-justice perspectives that are at the core of our mission are not visible in the headlines or the public policy debates, it is essential that we think very carefully about how to tell our story in a way that captures interest, speaks to diverse audiences, and is compelling. We've put much more work than I initially intended into theory about social transformation, "paradigm shift" and "framing the issues." We've developed specialized training in communications and social change that I can now claim as one of the distinctive gifts of Eco-Justice Ministries.

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When this agency was only a year old, "the world changed" with the trauma of September 11. Our work at Eco-Justice Ministries also changed on that day, but our core mission and values did not.

Five years ago, this agency was founded to help churches connect the biblical vision of shalom with the most pressing issues of the day, not only through issue activism, but also within the central ministries of the church. Our commitment to faithful, hopeful and transformational ministry has held firm through a tumultuous time.

In July, 2000, Eco-Justice Ministries was born with a small and local constituency. In these five remarkable years, we've grown to national and international visibility, built a vibrant network of committed church leaders, and gained a strong reputation for the distinctive work that we're doing within the faith-based environmental movement.

The work that we're doing today is deeply grounded in the founding dream -- and is very different from what I expected. I give thanks for the life-giving Spirit of God that has guided and sustained us in this work, for the committed community of faith that has participated in this diverse movement, and for the promise that Eco-Justice Ministries will continue to encourage relevant and transformational ministries for many years to come.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries   *   400 S Williams St, Denver, CO   80209   *   303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org   *   E-mail: ministry@eco-justice.org