The Beloved Community: Environmental Injustice as a Threat to Justice Everywhere

colorful skies

It is becoming increasingly evident that the planet and its inhabitants—human and otherwise—cannot sustain the destructive patterns of extraction, production, and consumption perpetuated by the modern era in which we find ourselves. Humanity has fabled an unlimited world and a blank check to cash against its resources, but reality is emerging through the cracks of the dream, and we are beginning to see the consequences. Climate change knocks at the door of every community, connected to and yet eclipsing all local and national conflicts. At the same time, the impacts of our inability to live within our limits and in harmony with the community of creation fall disproportionately on those whom the Bible calls “the least of these”: the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. What the scientific community is increasingly discovering has long been felt and known by indigenous and oceanic communities: Humanity cannot flourish unless it lives in right relationship with creation.

For these reasons and many others, it is impossible to think adequately about justice without considering environmental justice. More than this, when we think about justice from an anthropocentric starting point, we work out of a fractured, disembodied, displaced imagination and do injustice to the full community of creation. This conviction goes far beyond partisan politics of climate change and the polluting of our skies, lands, and waters; it is at the heart of what it means to be human.

God created the world for life, flourishing, goodness, and blessing. Our creator called humanity to protect, nurture, steward, care for, guard, keep, serve, and love the full community of creation, collaborating with all creatures as co-inheritors of the divine breath of life. This is why the Bible several times names the mistreatment of the land as one of the reasons for God’s judgment (Jer 2:1–7, Isa 5:8–10, Hos 4:1–3, Ezek 34:17–18). The earth with its skies, its lands, its waters, and its inhabitants all declare the glory of God (Ps 19, 29, 150) and we, in our pride, distort this eco-symphony of praise for our own profit and, ultimately, our collective harm.

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is time for us to recognize that we are indeed “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” and to recognize that this network extends far beyond our species; it is the single garment of all creation. Justice for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow will only flow like a river when we make things right with more-than-human creation. So, when we talk about climate change, deforestation, carbon emissions, overfishing, agrobusiness, pollution, or any other issue, we as Christians move beyond politics to pursue something deeper—the reclamation of our own vocation as bearers of the image of God and caretakers of this sacred ecosystem we’ve been entrusted to tend by pursuing justice for the whole community of creation.

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Austin Childress is Fuller’s enrollment communications coordinator.

Olufemi Gonsalves is pursuing a PhD in Theology with a focus on public theology from a womanist perspective.

Darren Hagood is a PhD candidate in Fuller’s public theology program, searching for ways to bring about world peace at the intersection of spirituality and global politics.

Barnabas Lin is pursuing a PhD in Theological Ethics under Tommy Givens.

Dylan Parker is pursuing his PhD in Public Theology, focusing on theological foundations for public engagement that prioritize what it means for the church to be the redeemed community.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the planet and its inhabitants—human and otherwise—cannot sustain the destructive patterns of extraction, production, and consumption perpetuated by the modern era in which we find ourselves. Humanity has fabled an unlimited world and a blank check to cash against its resources, but reality is emerging through the cracks of the dream, and we are beginning to see the consequences. Climate change knocks at the door of every community, connected to and yet eclipsing all local and national conflicts. At the same time, the impacts of our inability to live within our limits and in harmony with the community of creation fall disproportionately on those whom the Bible calls “the least of these”: the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. What the scientific community is increasingly discovering has long been felt and known by indigenous and oceanic communities: Humanity cannot flourish unless it lives in right relationship with creation.

For these reasons and many others, it is impossible to think adequately about justice without considering environmental justice. More than this, when we think about justice from an anthropocentric starting point, we work out of a fractured, disembodied, displaced imagination and do injustice to the full community of creation. This conviction goes far beyond partisan politics of climate change and the polluting of our skies, lands, and waters; it is at the heart of what it means to be human.

God created the world for life, flourishing, goodness, and blessing. Our creator called humanity to protect, nurture, steward, care for, guard, keep, serve, and love the full community of creation, collaborating with all creatures as co-inheritors of the divine breath of life. This is why the Bible several times names the mistreatment of the land as one of the reasons for God’s judgment (Jer 2:1–7, Isa 5:8–10, Hos 4:1–3, Ezek 34:17–18). The earth with its skies, its lands, its waters, and its inhabitants all declare the glory of God (Ps 19, 29, 150) and we, in our pride, distort this eco-symphony of praise for our own profit and, ultimately, our collective harm.

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is time for us to recognize that we are indeed “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” and to recognize that this network extends far beyond our species; it is the single garment of all creation. Justice for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow will only flow like a river when we make things right with more-than-human creation. So, when we talk about climate change, deforestation, carbon emissions, overfishing, agrobusiness, pollution, or any other issue, we as Christians move beyond politics to pursue something deeper—the reclamation of our own vocation as bearers of the image of God and caretakers of this sacred ecosystem we’ve been entrusted to tend by pursuing justice for the whole community of creation.

Written By

Austin Childress is Fuller’s enrollment communications coordinator.

Olufemi Gonsalves is pursuing a PhD in Theology with a focus on public theology from a womanist perspective.

Darren Hagood is a PhD candidate in Fuller’s public theology program, searching for ways to bring about world peace at the intersection of spirituality and global politics.

Barnabas Lin is pursuing a PhD in Theological Ethics under Tommy Givens.

Dylan Parker is pursuing his PhD in Public Theology, focusing on theological foundations for public engagement that prioritize what it means for the church to be the redeemed community.

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