Faith leaders have plenty on their radar screens these days: poverty, homelessness, joblessness, to name a few. So when the faith community responds to something, you know it's important because it has moved up through the priorities and floated to the top.
That's what happened this past week . . . and it should cause us all to do a double take.
Notwithstanding attention-getting headlines like urban violence, racial inequities, and economic downturns, more than 100 faith leaders representing tens of thousands of people of faith across the Chesapeake Bay watershed stopped what they were doing and took action. They came together in a unified message about the moral imperative to restore the waters of the Chesapeake.
Their united voice was articulated in a letter addressed to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Chair of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which has the reins on the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the regional plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. The faith leaders challenged the governors of all six watershed states and the D.C. mayor to re-commit to the hard work that lies ahead to meet agreed-upon milestones in the Blueprint. They affirmed the great work that has been accomplished thus far, but recognized that we simply have not done enough to heal our watershed. Speaking with one voice, "If our generation will not accept responsibility for this, who will?"
Bishops, Presbyters, clergy, congregational leaders, and faith-based organizations from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian, and Non-Denominational traditions shared a common concern about the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And, why does this matter to them?
The answer is simple. Until we heal the Earth, we cannot heal ourselves. Until we love the Earth, we will not love each other. Until we honor the sacred waters that connect us all to each other, we will continue to disrespect those downstream of us and those who will walk in our footsteps for generations to come. As Wendell Berry eloquently said, "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." Loving each other is the fundamental tenet of all faiths. Loving each other by respecting the Earth is the natural extrapolation of this.
We heard this recently in Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato Si', released in June 2015. "All of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect." (89) He goes on to say: "We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature." (139)
I was so proud of the Chesapeake's faith community this week. They understand the issues, they remain steadfast to their beliefs, and they reminded their elected leaders to be guided by a moral compass during the Chesapeake Executive Council's meeting so that all of creation can thrive in the beauty of the Earth as our Creator intended.
Now, we watch to see, how will our leaders respond? What is on their radar screen?
--Jodi Rose, Executive Director of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake
Chesapeake Bay Foundation