Faith and water justice

July 08, 2020

By Isaiah Friesen

I am writing this reflection in the middle of a dark cloud of heartbreak and anguish in the wake of the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd. My heart breaks especially for my Black siblings, you who have watched your humanity publicly denied, again and again.

I feel anguish at the white churches’ failure to act in solidarity. I am asking myself the questions all of us white Christians should be asking: How am I working to name and dismantle white supremacy in my own body and soul, as well as in my broader culture and society? What is mine to say, and where, and to whom? How should I actively center marginalized voices?

It’s in this context, in trust that the work to protect clean water is bound up with my Black neighbors’ struggle for freedom, that I reflect on my involvement with the Ecumenical Water Initiative (EWI)—a multi-faith cohort of faith leaders who organize around water and justice issues.

Stepping into leadership in the EWI for me is part of living into the broader question: What does the church have to say about healing and justice in a world wrecked by human-driven ecological devastation?

For several years, I felt torn between a call to pastoral ministry in Christian community and a call to respond to the impending devastation of climate change. Working with the EWI has been a part of my journey in integrating these vocations, learning to see them as intertwined and continue to step more deeply into each.

Taking care of water is as good a place as any to start living more faithfully. In the Old Testament, we receive a call to care for the lands God provides us. We read that the well being of the land we inhabit depends on how well we care for each other as human beings. In the New Testament, Jesus calls us into lives of abundance and healing, which to me implies that there must be clean water for all God’s creatures, including, but not limited to human beings. It’s not too big of a jump to understand today’s crises of water pollution and privatization as matters of urgent Christian concern.

So if we are to care for our waters as a gift from Creator God, and love our neighbors by making sure everyone has access to life-giving drinking water, how must we act?

It is important to pray for the health of our local watershed and give thanks when we drink water. We can install rain gardens outside our houses of worship, and manage our private yards and gardens as sustainably as possible. These practices are important.

However, God also calls us to learn how to practice love and care as they relate to larger systems, such as the infrastructure that delivers drinking water and deals safely with our wastewater. This is where organized campaigns with the EWI come in.

With the EWI, I’m learning how to build the relationships and power that are needed within the church for us to contribute meaningful input to public, large-scale decisions. I am learning about how public policy relates to water quality and clean water access.

Churches have been good at making congregational and denominational statements, which are important for our own reflection on who we are called to be in the world. The community organizing we are doing with the EWI is a vital framework for building the grassroots connections necessary for us to embody those theological statements. As we grow in faithfulness, effectiveness, and relationship between communities, we can also apply our practice to be in solidarity with others doing vital organizing work for justice in other areas.

May we continue to grow and root in God’s vision of a world of peace and justice, wholeness, and abundance for all God’s creatures.

Isaiah Friesen is the Minnesota Annual Conference's environmental justice organizer, a position in which he works closely with Hopeful EarthKeepers, a network of individuals, small groups, and United Methodist churches moving toward a holistic relationship with God’s creation.

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