Eco-Justice Ministries
   Eco-Justice: "the well-being of all humankind on a thriving Earth"

An Eco-Justice Lexicon

Jumb directly to the sections on:   Creation & the Rest of Creation,   Eco-Justice,   Ecology,   Ecumenical & Interfaith,   Environment,   Environmental Justice/Racism,   Exploit,   Globalization,   Integrity of Creation,   Nature,   Shalom,   Stewardship,   Sustainability, and   Denominational jargon:   Eco-Justice Coordinator & Restoring Creation Enabler,   Whole Earth


The language that is used about eco-justice is sometimes technical and confusing. The short definitions that are given here provide some sense of the current common usage.

About all the "eco" words
Just using the prefix of "eco-" stirs up confusion. Do we mean "economic" or "ecological" justice?

The problem comes from very old roots. Both words come from an ancient Greek word, oikos, which refers to the household. "Economic" talks about the transactions that are necessary to maintain the household. "Ecological" talks about the entire household.

When we talk about "eco-justice" we're drawing on the "ecological" connotation. Because of that, we usually speak the term with a long "E" at the start.

Just to add to the fun and the confusion, the churchy word of "ecumenical" comes from the same Greek root. It refers to the household of faith.

Creation &
The Rest of Creation
Creation refers to the fullness of what God has made. The term holds together the broad sweep of the cosmos, from galaxies to atoms, and includes both the living and the non-living.

The term, Creation, also places that entire complex of being within an relationship with the Creator, God. God has created all that is, and remains in relationship with all of creation.

Creation is sometimes used as a synonym for Nature.

The phrase, the rest of creation, is a collective term that is used to describe all that is not human. The usual intent in speaking of "humanity and the rest of creation" is to stress that humanity is a part of creation, and thus avoid the dichotomy that is found in speaking of human and non-human realms.

Eco-Justice Eco-Justice holds together commitments for ecological sustainability and human justice. It sees environmental issues and justice issues not as competing agendas, but as intertwined elements of how humans are called to relate to God's creation. It asserts that it is not possible to care for the earth without also caring for humanity, and that seeking human justice must involve care for the environment.

Ecology Ecology is the scientific study of the relationship between living things. An ecological perspective is one which respects, and seeks to preserve, those relationships. (Also see environment)

Ecumenical &
As noted above, the word ecumenical refers to the household of faith, and in particular, the Christian faith. An ecumenical project is one which includes, or is open to, all Christian people or churches.

Interfaith is more broadly inclusive, and encompasses people of any and all religious traditions.

Environment The environment is the complex setting in which a life community exists, including soil, air, water, energy inputs such as sunlight, and all of the diverse life that exists in that setting.

Environmental science or environmental biology is the study of an environment and the relationships within it. Environmental science tends towards the physical and chemical relationships, while environmental biology concentrates on the relationship between living things. (Also see ecology)

Justice &
Environmental justice asserts that the impacts of environmental degradation (such as pollution) should not fall unfairly on any human group, usually identified in terms of race or class. Environmental justice is a narrower concept than eco-justice.

Environmental racism is a form of environmental injustice in which the impacts are identified as falling primarily on people of color. The term was coined in a 1987 study drawing together US census data and government data on the location of toxic waste sites; the study documented "clear patterns which show that communities with greater minority percentages of the population are more likely to be the sites of commercial hazardous waste facilities."

Exploit To exploit another is to take advantage of the other, primarily through an unequal power relationship, for the purposes of personal gain. The exploitation of people is generally seen as morally wrong. The alternative to exploitation involves a balance of power and the freedom to negotiate within the relationship.

The exploitation of natural resources (oil, timber, water), however, has historically been seen as a morally neutral, or even noble, enterprise. From an eco-justice perspective, however, activities which are clearly abusive of life (such as some forms of industrial agriculture) or which are not sustainable (such as over-fishing or habitat destruction), should also be seen as morally wrong.

On this website, the term exploit always carries a negative connotation.

Globalization At the most basic level, globalization refers to the way in which commerce, information and culture are increasingly exchanged and managed on a world-wide, rather than local or national, basis.

More significantly, the term refers to the intertwined pressures of free trade policies, multinational corporations, and concentrations of power in producing a global culture grounded in financial principles and goals.

Integrity of
The integrity of creation is a theological assertion that the non-human parts of God's creation have worth, value and purpose in their own right. Their value is not dependant on human use, or on our economic valuations.

The integrity of creation stands in opposition to the theological assertion that the rest of the creation is simply the "stage" where the drama of God's salvation of humanity is acted out.

The most clear-cut biblical expression of the integrity of creation is found in Job 38-41.

Nature Nature is generally considered to be that part of the world which is not human. Processes that are natural are those which function without (or in spite of) human intervention.

Confusion arises, though, at the intersection of the human and the natural. Some would see indigenous human cultures as part of the natural world, suggesting that the real opposites are natural and technological. Some people use the term creation instead of nature in order to avoid the separation of humanity from the natural world.

Shalom Shalom is a Hebrew word most commonly translated as "peace". The word has far richer nuances, however, which include justice and prosperity.

Walter Bruegemann wrote: "The central vision of world history in the Bible is that all of creation is one, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature. ... Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation."

Stewardship Stewardship expresses the human obligation to care for God's creation. It is grounded in the proclamation that "the Earth is the Lord's" and sees humanity as caretakers, not owners, of the earth.

Stewardship has been given a wide range of interpretations. At one extreme, where humans are seen as separate from the rest of creation, stewardship is strongly colored by ideas of dominion, control and management. At the other extreme, where humans are seen as part of creation, stewardship is a way of expressing how humans might interact gently and responsibly with the rest of creation, and is a rejection of dominion.

Sustainability The United Nations World Commission on the Environment and Development (WECD) produced the most widely used definition of sustainable development: economic growth which meets the needs of the people living today without compromising the ability of future generations to support their own needs. That definition is entirely human-centered, and can be interpreted in very different ways depending on how much trust is placed in technology to find new ways of meeting future needs.

A purely biological or physical definition of sustainability insists that all activities must be able to continue indefinitely without exhausting or degrading other elements of the system. There is no way that current human populations can meet this strict definition of sustainability.

In common usage, sustainability is probably more of a goal than a formal standard, and the goal lies somewhere between the WECD notion of sustainable development and the scientific definition. When encountering this term, it is important to look at the context in which the word is used.

Denominational Jargon
Coordinator &
Restoring Creation
The role of Eco-Justice Coordinator (or Restoring Creation Enabler in the Presbyterian Church) is an appointed, usually volunteer, position. These individuals work with congregations in their judicatory (synod, conference, presbytery) to encourage involvement on eco-justice issues and themes.

Whole Earth Whole Earth is a phrase that was widely used in the United Church of Christ from the late 1980s (not as commonly in recent years) to reflect an environmental awareness and sensitivity. Congregations have declared themselves "Whole Earth Churches" to indicate their commitment to addressing environmental issues in worship, prayer, study and action.

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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