To become a Green Sanctuary, a church must complete two environmental justice projects. The Green Sanctuary Committee’s challenge was to explain the complex justice work at People’s Church.
“Environmental justice” is the antithesis of injustice. The idea emerged in recognition that environmental benefits and burdens are unequal in the US. Some neighborhoods have parks and clean air while others have waste dumps and pollution from near-by manufacturing.
These injustices have three causes: attitudes, social systems, and decision processes. Attitudes include stereotyping people by race and class. A 1987-study found that the best predictor of where toxic-waste facilities get located in the US is race. Disposal companies argue that the facilities bring jobs and income to low-income areas—an idea that garners political support even when local people protest about risks to their air and water.
Social systems such as zoning laws and transportation systems privilege some communities and impose cumulative burdens on others. These problems are compounded by unequal access to decision-making processes. People who do not have a voice in decision processes cannot: prevent citing of PCB dumps in their neighborhoods; oppose business routes that send diesel trucks past their homes and schools; or ensure city funds are spent to maintain parks so children have safe places to play.
Social justice efforts at People’s Church address all three causes of injustice.
1. The Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Multi-Cultural(ARAOMC) Committee addresses the foundational issue of attitudes. It helps members of our church and wider community become aware of institutional racism and ideological assumptions that perpetuate inequities. Awareness of the inequities built into our social systems is a precursor to reforming those systems and building a just, multicultural community.
2. Through ISAAC and special collections, the Social Justice Coordinating Committee (SJCC) guides church efforts to address problematic social systems. Programs like the nurse-family partnership counter inadequacies in health care systems, helping low-income mothers care for themselves and their babies so children start life safe and healthy. Special collections support organizations like Drug Court and the Immigrant Resource Center, which offer alternatives to dysfunctional systems.
3. The Lincoln School Tutoring program, Duane Roberts Scholarship, and ISAAC’s campaign for early childhood education also build foundations for environmental justice. Education makes it possible for people to participate in decision processes, to make their voices heard as citizens who vote, attend public meetings, and serve in political office. When students learn to read and thrive in school, they gain skills that allow them to become active citizens in our community.
All of these activities contribute to a just and healthy environment. Thus, environmental justice is not solely the purview of the Green Sanctuary Committee—it is endemic to our church’s work to build the beloved community.