By Ryan Felder, M.Div. ’21, co-chair of the Eco-Justice Caucus.
Without theological language, I find it impossible to grasp the magnitude of the ecological crisis and understand what my corresponding commitments are. In choosing to study ecotheology at Union, I was really choosing to study social ethics, education, and community development. This is because, from my Christian perspective, I understand the ecological crisis as the voice of Abel’s blood crying out to God from the earth (Gen 4:10). I understand the ecological crisis as a crisis rooted in social domination; in colonialism, in racism, in capitalism, in militarism, in patriarchy, in poverty, in heteronormativity, in a Christian hegemony, in our general alienation from each other, from the means of production, from political power, from the land.
In Gen. 4:10, God tells Cain to listen, and I think this implies a reflective practice that takes into consideration not just what scientists are telling us about crossing four out of the nine planetary boundaries that ensure stable and resilient global ecosystems, but to the voices of the marginalized and oppressed throughout history and today. There is no solution to the ecological crisis rooted in the forms of social dominance that have emerged throughout history. Instead, by listening to our ecosystems in crisis and the voices of the marginalized and oppressed, what are forms of ecological freedom and justice that we can begin to practice as communities?
This is the question that I wrestle with as an aspiring ecotheologian and community educator. For me, it looks like direct democracy, mutual aid, municipalism, democratic socialism, and a Green New Deal. For the Eco-Justice Caucus, this has looked like restoring human systems and increasing ecological awareness in our community at Union Theological Seminary. With the community dishwashing station, we hoped not only to increase awareness about our community’s use of disposable plastics, but to also provide a new form of collaboration, interaction, and dailiness to our community. In calling for Union to declare a climate emergency, we are asking Union to engage in a reflective practice that acknowledges the ecological crisis in its institutional operations.