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Crossing Borders for Earth Justice

by Rev. T. Wyatt Watkins


October 5, 2015

Crossing Borders for Earth Justice

Rev. T. Wyatt Watkins

Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!

I have served on the board of Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light (H-IPL), the Indiana affiliate of the national Interfaith Power & Light movement, since before its official launch in 2011. H-IPL is a faith response to the climate crisis. Staging such a response in Indiana is significant, as my state is the fourth largest CO2-emitting state in the nation due to its overwhelming reliance on coal-fired generation of electricity.

Over this time, I have led numerous Creation Care Leadership Workshops, helped form eight affiliate groups of H-IPL congregations around the state, and have recently begun to conduct Climate Boot Camps state-wide with a climate scientist and biblical scholar. I convene a H-IPL affiliate group of congregations on Indianapolis’ eastside and am privileged to stand alongside many remarkable creation care activists in the work of education, advocacy, and practical energy conservation. H-IPL has received grants that have or will install solar arrays on over 20 faith buildings around the state, three on Indianapolis’ eastside, including my congregation. Cumberland First Baptist Church is now one of many “Seventh Day” congregations in Indiana, meaning that a third of our members have reduced home energy use by at least one-seventh and we’ve reduced congregational energy use by at least one-fourth. H-IPL also helped orchestrate a broad faith-based partnership with Sierra Club and many other Hoosier environmental groups to press our local utility to retire a noxious coal-fired plant within Indianapolis’ city limits.

As both a pastor and a career violinist in the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, I was not looking for more to do. I joined this movement because my frequent words of apology to my own children for the wreck of a planet my generation seemed to be leaving them began to ring hollow. The scientific consensus on our global crisis of climate was in. My faith included a call to serve and preserve the creation (Genesis 2:15). It was past time to act to help ensure that, at the end of the day, people of faith have done their part to safeguard creation and all of its inhabitants for generations to come. In so doing, we act on our deepest faith convictions, among them our care for the Earth as God’s gift to us, a faith mandate to bring comfort to those most vulnerable to harm and a willingness to face the trial that climate change poses to us all.

For most of our nation’s history, power plants have had no restrictions on the amount of carbon pollution they generate.

This carbon pollution is the main contributor to the climate disruptions, which, along with the effects of the pollution itself, affects our most vulnerable populations. These populations include the many in my home state of Indiana who suffer conditions like asthma because of soot and smog from dirty coal. People who live in coastal regions are now confronting sea rise caused by a warming planet. Those caught in extreme weather related to climate disruptions, like severe droughts and brutal winters, are also being affected. And as global habitats are compromised, we are in the midst of the greatest mass species extinction in 65 million years.

While the evidence of the crisis is clear and growing, it remains difficult to combat the entrenched interests and nearly unlimited influence of the coal and gas industry. And so it is always hopeful when public policy aligns with and affirms the core tenants of our faith. This is the case with the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently enacted Clean Power Plan, which presents a prudent and much-needed path away from the dangerous effects of fossil fuel extraction and emission.

The Clean Power Plan will spur ingenuity in the form of competitive, clean and renewable sources of energy that already give power in places like Washington, where hydro provides almost half of the power, or Iowa, which is second only to Texas in U.S. wind energy. The Clean Air Act safeguards spurred these industries that have reduced pollution while creating jobs. Further, the Clean Power Plan gives each state the freedom to come up with its own plan for cleaning up its power sector.

This plan is good for public health, as well. Since coal pollution inflicts $5 billion annually in health costs in my state of Indiana alone — to cover the cost of treating heart disease, lung disease, asthma, and other illnesses — the Clean Power Plan will improve the health and economic well being of Americans nationwide.

We each have a role to play in this movement toward a sustainable planet. You can visit to discover whether your state has an Interfaith Power & Light affiliate. The site has many fine resources to get congregations started with everything from forming a green team to carrying out a congregational energy audit to lowering your carbon footprint. Educating congregation or community members by sponsoring a green film series or a book study, or adopting a preaching series on creation care, are other great ways to get join the movement.

Imagine a world powered by clean energy that places value where it belongs: on people, on nature, on the priceless gift of the creation which God called “good.” That world is within reach. We can make caring for the Earth a key priority of our faith. As we do, we’ll be helping to birth a new and blessed tomorrow throughout this glorious creation.

Rev. T. Wyatt Watkins co-pastors the Cumberland First Baptist Church on Indianapolis’ eastside. He is vice chair of the board of Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light. A violinist in the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, he also plays fiddle in the Irish band, The Irish Airs, and frequently combines presentations on care for creation with Irish-Celtic performance. He is the author of four books, two with Judson Press.

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