I thirst for …
Access to clean, safe, and affordable water is a basic human right essential for a healthy population, environment, and economy. Not everyone gets that right. The Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ first coined a term to explain why. In 1987, they came out with a report and coined the term, “environmental racism” Environmental discrimination can be defined as corporate and government actions and decisions that result in the unequal exposure of people of color and low-income people to environmental dangers that threaten their physical, social, economic, or environmental health and well-being.
The Commission found a link between a person’s race and one’s likelihood of living near a hazardous waste facility. This ground-breaking report prompted numerous other studies that supported the UCC’s conclusions. Evidence mounted quickly saying that people of color and low-income communities bear a lop-sided share of environmental dangers and thus are victims of environmental racism. While many are quick to conclude that communities of color are targeted solely because of their generally low-income, many of demonstrate that race is more of a factor than class. In other words, if one were to compare a middle-class community of color to a low-income white community, and look at which community is more likely to have a hazardous waste facility sited there, the middle-class community of color would have a greater chance of being targeted for such a facility. In fact, in some cases, race is a more significant indicator of pollution burdens than income, poverty, childhood poverty, education, employment or home ownership.
For me, this is a faith issues. It is a thirst issue. Are we thirsty for justice? If we are thirsting for God to fill us, mold us and use us, are we also thirsting for all people to experience the same blessings? If others do not receive them, then my faith compels me to do my part to spread God’s love and compassion cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea. And for me, it starts locally. People of faith are called to care for all of our neighbors, regardless of their race, their income level, or their life circumstances. Can we look around us, during these dry and withered times, in our communities, with our neighbors, and say, “We thirst for righteousness, God.” When we say, as a church, that Black Lives matter, it means opening our eyes to these kinds of problems and working for change. If we say we are an anti-racist church, it means we pay attention when American Indian lands are victims of toxic assault. Today, hundreds of Indian Nations are being approached by both the waste disposal industry and the United States Government in search of new dumping grounds for the unwanted toxic, nuclear, medical and solid waste of industrial society. I read a story of Latino students in a school in California who were exposed to chemical pesticides in their schools. Officials knew about it and covered up the health risks. My faith tells me that God’s reign isn’t about supporting systems that make children sick and marginalized communities pay the price for economic progress. My faith tells me that when I thirst for justice, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.
- I wanted to check all of this out on a local level. So I went online to check the environmental scorecard for pollution in Maryland. Here is what I found:The worst is Hareford County, north of Baltimore to the State line. Hareford County has a lot of non-white, low income, lower-educated people who are exposed to high levels of pollution and toxins.
- Montgomery County is more or less equally dispersed between race and class. If anything, white and high income families and children above poverty in Montgomery County have higher exposure to toxic chemical releases.
Which gets me to one more issue. It’s the difference between equity and justice. Sometimes, governments try to fix social problems by working for equity. In the case of environmental racism, it means that everyone share more equally in the risks. No one group of people should be singled out. So, as numbers show in Montgomery County, everyone gets poisoned more or less equally? That does not make sense to me. We are not talking about environmental equity. We are talking about environmental justice.
There is a fundamental difference between “poisoning people equally” and “stop poisoning people, period!”
Thirsting for justice, thirsting for righteousness means seeing the blessedness in each us. A blessedness that is diverse and wonderful. A blessedness that insists that all lives demand dignity and respect. A blessedness that offers all people a vision of who they are created to be.
If God is the source of our life, so let us worship God by living rightly. If God is the source of love, so let us worship God by loving genuinely. If God is the ground of being, so let us worship God by taking care of the earth that grounds us. If God is just, so let us worship God by thirsting for justice.