This post is written by Reverend Dr. Gerald L. Durley, Pastor Emeritus, Providence Missionary Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA and consultant for SACE.
As we celebrate Earth Month and reflect on bringing awareness and appreciation for the environment, it is incumbent on each of us to intensify our efforts to protect God’s perfect creation. For several years, I have known about Earth Day, and would even sometimes participate in Earth Day celebrations. However, like many of my friends, family, and community members, the meaning of Earth Day did not resonate with me and environmental advocacy had no significant impact on “my world”.
My purpose in life was chartered and clear, it was to fight for the civil and human rights of disenfranchised Americans. I was the Pastor of a Christian congregation, which was predominantly African American, and felt that I was challenged with enough real human issues (i.e. healthcare, unemployment, poverty, poor and unequal access to education, violence, and an unfair justice system, etc.) that would exempt me from taking on environmental concerns. Needless to say, I felt that there were enough wealthy white Americans to champion environmental causes like cleaning up water ways, purifying the air, shutting down fossil burning facilities, speaking out against the building of nuclear plants, and stopping the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. Although some recognized these issues as life threatening concerns, for me, they did not constitute an “immediate danger” to those I am called to serve. Making people aware about the destruction of the environment was a futuristic discussion for those who had the time and who were not confronted with day-to-day survival. This was my rationale for not getting involved with the environmental movement. In retrospect, I was simply ignorant…no, unaware of what was transpiring daily.
One day, I visited a children’s hospital in Atlanta, Georgia and I saw alarming rates of children who were suffering from asthma. I met with mothers whose children were being born sick and deformed because of the filthy, polluted water they had ingested during pregnancy. I began reading reports about the toxins that are in our food, soil, and air. It was then that I became cognizant that there can be no civil nor human rights movement without an aggressive climate change awareness movement. I now understand that our civil, human and environmental rights are all fueled by a moral obligation and responsibility to those who care about the next generation. It has become obvious to me that the reason I had yet to become an advocate for the environmental movement was because I was simply unaware of who, what, why, where and how our lifestyles were literally destroying us, and our planet.
I decided to get involved and inspire those around me to celebrate Earth Day. My message was clear; we must sound the Moral Trumpet to awaken a sleeping nation to the perils and ultimate collapse of a nation’s self destructing environmental behavior. I reasoned that, it should not require a Katrina Storm, a Sandy Hook Massacre, or a Boston Marathon bombing to wake us up and make us aware that an environmental time bomb is ticking and unless we care and act we will all suffer.
God has given human beings a special responsibility to care for creation. We are compelled to nurture, sustain and care for it. Once we become aware and begin to care about the earth we will quickly understand that “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Psalms. 24:1-2). As we become more aware of this fragile nature of the environment we must commit ourselves to an unyielding sacrifice to caring for all of God’s creatures and creation so that we may all live in harmony and peace. We were given a perfectly balanced universe with an environment created to sustain all of life. It is up to us to sound the Moral Trumpet to ensure a clean, safe, and healthy environment for generations to come. I am encouraged to be collaborating with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to deepen relationships and build strong partnerships with members of the African American community that will lead to long term participation and a commitment for grassroots and community advocacy throughout our region for climate and clean energy policies.