This past Monday the rally at the state capitol, organized by the Poor People's Campaign, focused on the deep connection between environmental degradation and its disproportionate harm to those living in poverty. The rally was meant to be a prophetic cry for change, for a turning away from unjust policies and practices that contradict God’s clear intent that we humans cherish the Earth and the most vulnerable members of the human family.
This rally called to mind ancient scriptures like Psalm 24:1:
The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.
Or like Psalm 140:12:
I know that the LORD maintains the cause of the needy and executes justice for the poor.
It is not a coincidence but a symptom of our deeply inequitable society that people of color and the poor suffer greatest from industrial air pollution, in places like River Rouge and Detroit’s 48217 zip code. We should all be scandalized by the knowledge that African Americans are 10 times more likely to die of an asthma attack than white people.
Lead poisoned water in Flint and the water shut-offs in Detroit are still more signs of our society’s egregious failure to be responsible stewards of our natural resources—to keep them clean and to ensure their accessibility to all: as a human right, as a gift from our creator
The rally on Monday was, we dare to hope, a way to awaken us, all of us made in the image of God, to our responsibility be the faithful and persistent voices and hands through which God’s good Earth is better cared for and the poor granted respect and justice.
In the compelling, bold, but non-violent spirit of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign and of personal repentance, I invite you to join me in this prayer:
The needs of those in poverty are so obviously around me. Keep me from selfish concern that preoccupies much of my time. Cause me to see compassionately through the lens of God’s unconditional love. Show me today where to act on your generous love. (Adapted from Daily Texts, Mt. Carmel Ministries, 2018)
Rev. John Schleicher is Bishop Emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, North/West Lower Michigan Synod and the Board Chair of Michigan Interfaith Power & Light.