Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Preview from the Fall 2012 PEC Update!

Download the entire Fall 2012 PEC Update here.

Dear Partners in Earth-caring,
God is good.  
God has gifted us with this sacred Earth, with which we may choose to work in partnership toward healing the planet. Thanks to all of you who work toward this positive ethic of sustainability, including those in this General Assembly (GA) story.

My home presbytery is Heartland, which is urban, suburban, and rural/agricultural.  I have come to greatly appreciate its prairie as well as those who tend it.  The nearby Tallgrass Prairie in Northern Kansas Presbytery is striking. And continuing westward is a very ‘down to earth’ place entitled The Land Institute, near Salina, Kansas, a non-profit research, educational, and policy organization dedicated to sustainable agriculture.  It researches Natural Systems Agriculture, which is a mimic of nature’s ecosystems.Their mission statement begins with, “When people, land, and community are as one, all three members prosper…”

With appreciation for this ethic, Heartland Presbytery’s earth care team (Earthkeepers) wrote an overture which was brought to GA by Heartland Presbytery. As an Overture Advocate, I signed in with the Committee on Social Justice Issues to speak.  As per committee procedure, a commissioner moved that the Overture be discussed.  That commissioner was the Rev. Seth Svary, who spoke fluently in favor of it (both in committee and on the GA floor). Another commissioner noted that he had just spoken with a farming friend who said he had used the system (of perennial grain hybridization) that the Land Institute researches and felt it was invaluable. 
Rev. Seth Svary (right) with Diane at the PEC booth at General Assembly.
Seth came by the PEC GA booth later in the week.  He is pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Sterling, Kansas, whose family has been in farming in central Kansas for five generations and has been recognized for their work in conservation efforts.  They have a diversified operation including rotational crops of wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, and sunflowers with pasture which helps sustain cattle, sheep, and goats.  Also, one of Seth’s brothers, Josh, was Secretary of Agriculture for Kansas from 2009 – 2011 and currently is a Senior Advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency in Kansas. (See the GA article).  This was all truly amazing.  God is good.

I am grateful for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, which added “recommendation” to the Overture.  The addition makes it more usable for environmental justice advocacy by the PCUSA, particularly the Office of Public Witness, “to orient their advocacy and programs concerning agriculture and food supply in accordance with the following principles and goals: renewability, sustainability, resilience, minimized carbon emissions, participatory research and decision-making, revitalized rural communities, strong local food economies, security of food supply, ethical treatment of animals, and fair and dignified treatment of persons working throughout the food chain.” The overture did pass and will be a tool for continuing support of eco-justice in our denomination.

God is good.  All the time.  Blessed be.
Diane Waddell, Moderator, 
Presbyterians for  Earth Care

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Together for Justice" Food Sovereignty and Land Grab Grassroots Panel

Dear Friends in Earth Care,

Last week, Diane Waddell, PEC Moderator, and I attended the Together for Justice 2012 International Gathering in Chicago, sponsored by the Joining Hands Initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.  The Joining Hands Initiative is an innovative way to mobilize people in focused campaigns to tackle systemic causes of hunger both in the United States and abroad as a witness to the wholeness of God’s creation. To date the initiative has been limited to Presbytery relationships, but the plan is to open the initiative up to churches, individuals and nonprofits. The campaigns are in five areas: extractive industries, water, access to land, food sovereignty and trade. The Steering Committee will be looking at potential collaborations for Presbyterians for Earth Care in these campaigns.

I attended a workshop led by Andrew Kang Bartlett, of the Hunger Program, on Food Security and Sovereignty. Food security relates hunger to a lack of food. Governments, charities and the market attempt to provide enough food for everyone to survive. Food sovereignty relates hunger to the control of the food systems. Food sovereignty puts the right to sufficient and healthy  food for everyone at the center of food and agricultural policies. Food security does not take the entire system into effect, such as environmental impacts. There is a never ending circle of injustice that prevents food sovereignty: starting with corporate mandates and greed, leading to economic exploitation, leading to a consolidation of power, leading to that power shaping policies, leading to the loss of family farms, leading to the loss of control of seeds, water and land, leading to environmental degradation, which leads back to corporate mandates and greed.

Panel speakers, left to right: Herman Kumara Wijethunge - Sri Lanka, Paul Raja Rao Valaperla - India, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste - Haiti, Doris Alicia Evangelista Ortiz - El Salvador, Kristi Van Nostran - Mission Co-worker to El Salvador, and Ruth Farrell - Presbyterian Hunger Program Coordinator.

I also met Vickie Machado, an 2011 and 2012 Eco-steward, and currently a Food Justice Fellow with the Hunger Program. Meeting a young adult who has explored the connection between her faith and the call to environmental stewardship through the Eco-steward Program, as well as participating in a program to fight for food justice, reminded me how interconnected faith, food and the environment are.

For more information on:

Blessings and Peace,

Sue Smith, PEC Treasurer

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Earth Advocacy: Speaking for God's Creation by Jerry Rees

Earth Advocacy: Speaking for God’s Creation

Our Call and Our Purpose:

People of faith are called to be bold advocates for environmental justice for all God’s people and all God’s Creation. We are called to protect the most vulnerable members of society and to ensure a thriving earth for future generations of all species. The purpose of earth advocacy is to give the natural world a strong voice in human affairs.

Education and Advocacy:

Education provides information, raising people’s consciousness and stirring their conscience so that they might incorporate creation care into their daily living. Advocacy promotes action, including political action, which includes encouraging people to respond to issues in the public sphere. As Advocacy dovetails with Education, our hope is to move people from denial to awareness to hope to action, realizing that we do not have the luxury of time.  Our belief is that there is a significant segment of the human population that would change their attitude and lifestyle if they were better informed and inspired, if they were given hope and encouragement that they could make a positive difference. 

There is an expression: If we each do a little we can all do a lot; if we all do a lot, we can do a lot more. But there is only so much that individuals can do. Ultimately we must change systems and infrastructures, which means changing the group practices of businesses, schools, all levels of government, and even faith communities. And we must change laws, which means getting political, taking a stand, and engaging in issue advocacy.  It is not enough to change light bulbs. Our challenge is to change minds, change behavior, and change policies.

Education without Advocacy is insufficient to make a meaningful difference for the well-being of the earth community.  If we are to confront “the fierce urgency of now,” we must speak, write, and act boldly without delay.

Ways for individuals and groups to become Earth Advocates:

  • Identify opportunities to do Earth Advocacy on local, state, and national issues.
  • Be selective in picking which of the many environmental issues to address. Be focused on a few where the congregation can become well informed and active. (“Lifting up too many issues as matters of advocacy can lead to confusion and burnout,” advises Rev. Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries.)
  • Communicate these issues to individuals, ministers, and faith groups, encouraging them to speak out and act in a timely manner.
  • Prepare and distribute resource materials, such as fact sheets, talking points, email templates, email addresses, phone numbers, and links to relevant web sites.
  • Network and collaborate with secular as well as faith-based advocacy groups that are already organized, such as the Sierra Club,, Interfaith Power & Light, National Council of Churches, and Presbyterians for Earth Care.  (Piggyback on their work.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel!)
  • Send emails, sign petitions, and write letters—letters to the editor, letters to legislators, and letters to leaders of your faith community (including and sometimes especially to ordained staff).
  • Prepare flyers and bulletins and newsletter notices.
  • Maintain an Environmental Bulletin Board for the dual purposes of Education and Advocacy.
  • Seek creative ways to be a faithful, prophetic, and effective witness that provides a voice on emerging or urgent environmental issues.
 Internal Advocacy occurs within the walls of our faith communities. Earth Advocacy can be top down, but usually it is bottom up, fueled by grass roots efforts to make contemporary faith relevant to contemporary issues. Its premise is that our theology informs our actions and becomes the basis for effective political change. It means promoting earthkeeping by reducing the environmental impact of our houses of worship and by practicing, modeling, and teaching faithful and responsible stewardship of God's Creation.  It means uplifting the sacredness of creation in worship. It means finding creative ways to challenge tradition-bound thinking that obstructs creation-based perspectives, which means educating and lobbying church leaders, including clergy.

External Advocacy is faith speaking to Power beyond the walls of our faith communities. It involves partnering with faith-based as well as secular environmental organizations. It involves joining their cause, educating congregants about the issues, and equipping them with tools to do Earth Advocacy. It involves joining a chorus that speaks for the earth in the public arena, so that trickles become a stream and streams become a torrent.

The Law:

Most faith communities are non-profit, tax-exempt entities with a 501(c)3 status. Legally this means they can engage in:
  • Direct lobbying: Within generous limits, individuals and organizations can express their positions on legislation.
  • Grassroots lobbying: Within generous limits, individuals and organizations can tell the public their positions and ask them to communicate that position to elected officials.
  • Voter education: Non-profit faith groups are permitted to educate voters about important issues, even if it means influencing campaign issues. (However, they cannot support or oppose candidates by name!)
  • Voter registration: Non-profit faith groups are permitted to register voters and urge them to vote.
(Adapted from How to set up an advocacy group with your congregation by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling.)

The Perspective of History:

Historically, religion has played a central role in social and political change. Every continent offers examples of faith-based and faith-motivated individuals, groups, and institutions. Recent examples include the African church and its leaders who spearheaded the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the liberation theologians of Latin America who engaged in social reform and political action in response to the human needs and social injustices they observed around them.

In the US, since the mid 1800’s, three instances of major social change have been fueled by religion and people of faith: the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the civil right movement. Will slowing, stopping, and reversing climate change be the fourth time?


Advocacy may be defined as active support of an idea or cause, especially on behalf of justice for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, or the voiceless. It inevitably involves the uncomfortable challenge of speaking truth to power. It also calls for the ongoing work of teaching, inviting, and urging. Advocacy requires persistence, patience, partnerships, relationships, and the agility to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. This is hard work and often thankless and discouraging. But advocacy has purpose far beyond one person's life, especially as we work for justice for neighbors suffering consequences of environmental waste, abuse, and degradation. In fact, we speak for creation itself.
~ Rev. Heather Entrekin, professor at Central Baptist Seminary in Shawnee, KS, and former Senior Pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, KS.

"A church that does not provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed--what gospel is that?
~ Archbishop Oscar Romero.

"A time comes when silence is betrayal."
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Closing Thoughts:

Faith communities can play the unique role of taking us beyond our enlightened self-interest down an ethical, moral, and spiritual path that other institutions do not. They are key in addressing the moral imperative of the environmental crisis, leading by example, by education, and by inspiration. They can influence people to transform their way of thinking and believing, which can transform their way of living and acting.

Another way to care about people is to care about the environment. Another way to advocate for people is to advocate for the natural world that surrounds and sustains us. In sub-Saharan Africa, people are 200 times as likely as Americans to die from climate-related disasters and 300 times more likely to be left homeless. Unchecked climate change has been compared to a world war or a great depression. According to the UN, "There are at least 20 million environmental refugees worldwide--more than those displaced by war and political repression." This number is projected to increase several fold.

~ Jerry Rees
Member, Steering Committee and Advocacy Committee of Kansas Interfaith Power & Light
Member, Advocacy Committee of Presbyterians for Earth Care
Member, Advocacy Committee of Sustainable Sanctuary CoalitionMember, Earthkeepers of Heartland Presbytery
Chair, Environmental Action Committee of Village Church

Ethics of Energy Webinar - Fossil Fuel Subsidies vs. Food for All - Sept 6 2012

Dear PEC Friends, 

Given PEC's new advocacy focus on the ethics of using fossil fuels, we wanted to make sure you were aware of the National Council of Churches' Ethics of Energy webinar series.

The next webinar will be on September 6th at 3:00pm EDT/12:00pm PDT, and it will focus on the true cost of energy subsidies for fossil fuels. It will explore how much it costs us every year to give financial support to oil and gas companies and provide an analysis of the number of families and children we could help and the benefits to Creation if we were to end these subsidies today. 

Click here to register for this September 6th Ethics of Energy webinar.

This webinar will feature a report that will soon be released by the NCC Eco-Justice Programs: "Faithful Budget, Faithful Stewardship: An Analysis of Energy Subsidies and Poverty Assistance Programs."

Shantha Ready Alonso
PEC Coordinator

ps. A few weeks ago, we sent around PEC's Advocacy Priorities. We sent the long version of the document, and we realize you may not have had opportunity to read it all. Click here to read a brief executive summary of PEC's 2012 Advocacy Priorities.

pps. There are many other exciting events coming up across the country, including the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, which will focus on Rio +20, and the Food Week of Action October 14-21. Please check out the PEC Events page to read about these events and more. Email to submit events that we ought to post. Thanks!