As we learn in the opening pages of Genesis, our first calling as people of faith is to care for God’s creation. Whether it is taking on the climate crises or addressing the lead poisoning of children, environmental justice ministries could not have a higher purpose or calling than they do now. If the followers of Jesus today care about the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the world in which we live, then environmental justice ministry should undoubtedly be an integral strand in any church’s DNA.
The UCC’s Creation Justice Church program assists congregations in making the ministry of environmental justice an integral strand in the DNA of their faith community. A congregation can be designated as a Creation Justice Church by taking these six steps:
Step One: Create or Designate the Group Which Will Be Your Driving Force
Many green church programs place an emphasis on creating a green team. That is an appropriate step for a lot of congregations, and the UCC offers its tips for starting a green team. In some churches, however, it might be advisable for the governing council or the social justice committee to drive the process of becoming a Creation Justice Church.
Step Two: Discern and Implement Ways to “Grow Green”
The intent of the Creation Justice Church program is not to be rigidly prescriptive but instead to assist churches in developing creative and ambitious aspirations that are well-suited for each congregation’s particular context as it seeks to stretch itself and “grow green.” To support congregations in their own processes of discernment and implementation, the Creation Justice Church program offers guiding questions to consider along with resource pages that are full of ideas for what can be done. Congregations around the country have gifted to us best practices that might add to what your church is already doing. The questions and resources are grouped according to “The Four Dimensions of a Creation Justice Church:”
- Theology and Worship
Resource: Seven Ways to Jump Start the Greening of Your Church’s Theology and Worship
Questions to Consider: How can your congregation intentionally reflect upon God in relationship to caring for creation? How can it bring theological understandings of creation care and justice into its services of worship?
- Institutional Life and Practice
Resource: Doing a Green Church Inventory, Evaluation, and Action Plan
Questions to Consider: How can your congregation integrate care for creation into the life and work of its ministry teams, committees, and governing council? How can your congregation embody care for creation through its building and land use policies and practices?
- Circles of Awareness and Advocacy
Resource: Six Ways to Expand Your Circle of Awareness and Advocacy
Questions to Consider: With particular attention to socioeconomic factors such as race, class, and global inequality, how can your congregation research and inform itself about environmental justice issues at the local, state, national, and/or global levels? How can this awareness correspond to congregational advocacy and action?
- Connections to a Broader Movement
Resource: Five Ways to Connect to a Broader Movement
Questions to Consider: Within the UCC, what are the ways in which your church can connect with others, whether it is through a conference task force, a UCC campground, the UCC’s environmental justice newsletter, or other points of contact? Outside of the UCC, what are the ways in which your church can connect with interfaith, ecumenical, or secular partners engaged in environmental justice work?
Step Three: Draft a Creation Justice Covenant
In the UCC, the most solemn and sacred commitment one can make is that of a covenant. It marks a serious promise to God on the part of a congregation. A covenant also entails a promise among congregants to each other as they seek “to walk together in all God’s ways” (Constitution of the United Church of Christ). After a prayerful process of discernment, those who have been leading the church in seeking designation will draft a Creation Justice Covenant to be presented to either the congregation or the governing council for a vote. There are no requirements for how it is to be written but one can read a sample covenant to begin the process of generating ideas for what should be included.
Step Four: Vote to Adopt the Creation Justice Covenant and Become a Creation Justice Church
The Creation Justice Covenant and the decision to become a Creation Justice Church need to be ratified by either a congregational vote or the vote of the church’s governing body. A congregational vote is recommended because it ensures greater ownership and participation on the part of the congregation as a whole.
Step Five: Submit an Application
To become designated, one must simply complete this form which is based on the guiding questions listed earlier for the four dimensions of a Creation Justice Church. To submit the form:
- Fill out and submit the application online.
- Download application. The hard copy can be emailed to the UCC Environmental Justice Program or mailed to:
Environmental Justice Program
United Church of Christ
700 Prospect Avenue East
Cleveland, OH 44115
Step Six: Keep It Up!
Once a church is recognized as a Creation Justice Church, it is the responsibility of that church to maintain environmental justice as a core part of its DNA. While it is not required, it is recommended that each church revisit the four dimensions of a Creation Justice Church on an annual basis in order to measure and evaluate its progress.
What Is Creation Justice and Why Does It Rock?
Written by Shantha Ready Alonso and Brooks Berndt
For some, the phrase “creation justice” can at first sound odd and strange, but if one takes a step back to consider the broader context—the larger picture—out of which it emerged, it suddenly becomes a refreshing and compelling concept that is capable of succinctly capturing the power and essence of one of the most significant areas of Christian ministry today.
Among environmentalists, the language used to describe their focus has often been an area of debate and contestation. There have been arguments against a narrow definition of the term “environment” that refers to natural outdoor landscapes full of undomesticated plants and animals. Some contend that this definition reinforces false opposites in which the natural world and the human world are seen as two separate spheres. Others contend that how one defines “environment” is often shaped by experiences related to one’s race, class, and geographic location. Dorceta Taylor, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, once noted, “It’s not necessarily that there is a ‘black ecology’ and ‘white ecology.’ It’s just that our lived experiences with environment are different. White people bring their experience to the discussion — that’s why they focus on the birds, trees, plants, and animals, because they don’t have the experience of being barred from parks and beaches.” Notably, the definitions of environment that came out of the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 focused on “all aspects of daily life—where we live, work, and play.”
The echoes of past debates over language continue today among environmentalists. Some assert that there is too much focus on a narrowly conceived natural environment and not enough focus on the social justice impacts of environmental degradation on poor communities and communities of color. At the same time, some feel there is too much focus on humans in general. These two contentions do not need to be held in opposition. Notably, in his encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis excelled in connecting climate change to economic inequality while also criticizing a modern anthropocentrism that views “nature” as an object to be exploited for human ends.
Pope Francis’s views reflect a historic and evolving current among faith traditions. This current regards environmental consciousness and social justice as intimately intertwined. As part of this prophetic current, the language of “creation justice” has emerged. The word “creation” inherently evokes meanings that transcend artificial divides between the “human” and “nature.” “Creation” signals the truth of our interconnected reality. Moreover, it evokes the sacred story of origin that not only speaks to our common connection to each other but to our common connection to God. As Genesis 9:15 reminds us, God’s covenant is not only with humans but with “every living creature.”
Within this covenantal understanding of the web of life, the emphasis on justice arises as a central guiding impulse. If the word “creation” signals the totality of relationships with God, then creation justice signals the movement toward right relationships among all of God’s creation. Building on the concept of eco-justice, creation justice entails an integrated, holistic ecology. It entails an understanding of the world which includes the built environment, culture, economic and political activity, and all of humanity as part of God’s creation.
Using the term “creation” instead of “eco” or “environment” demonstrates our humble self-awareness that we are part of the created order our Creator constantly is at work with us to redeem and sustain. Using the term “justice” rather than “care” indicates our commitment to not only heal, tend, and restore God’s creation, but to ensure the protection of God’s planet and God’s people from exploitation, as well as provision for the remediation of the damage that has been done. Because of the connotations and meanings of the phrase creation justice, it was adopted in the naming of Creation Justice Ministries. More recently, the United Church of Christ has named their green church recognition program “Creation Justice Churches,” while the American Baptists have developed a “Creation Justice Network.”