Personal Experience with this Subject
This website incorporates insights that I gained over decades of immersion in ecumenical program development as well as scholarly activity, teaching and writing focused on ecology with justice. I entered the ordained ministry at the outset of the 1960s. A few years in pastoral ministry were followed by Ph.D. studies in social ethics, after which I awakened to the real depth and breadth of the environmental crisis. In the early 1970s, I became an active participant in the eco-justice movement, and , building on the work of pioneering leaders, began to interpret and deepen eco-justice ethics.
My studies for a Ph.D. in Christian Social Ethics (1966, SFTS) occurred in a progressive intellectual culture that antedated much awareness of the environmental crisis. But my consciousness of this looming reality had already been quickened by Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, the Port Huron Statement by Students for a Democratic Society, and Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler’s incisive reflections on nature and grace.
Then, during the “Second Sixties” (1967ff.), I experienced the North American environmental movement as an expression of progressive social activism intersecting with the continuing civil rights struggle, the rise of feminism, urgent concerns for nuclear disarmament, and growing opposition to America’s tragic escalation of counterinsurgent warfare in Southeast Asia. Thus I was prepared to see environmental engagement in relation to public advocacy and activism for equality, justice and peace. Such interrelatedness became, and still remains, a feature of the eco-justice movement.
I was personally immersed in, and contributed to, the first two waves -- that developed in the 1970s and 1990s -- of scholarly writing on eco-theology and ethics. Years of creative interaction with other North American scholars doing eco-theology and ethics deepened my knowledge and gave me added impetus to initiate and edit this website, in anticipation of a third wave that may develop in the second decade of the 21st century.
In 1991, after leaving the PCUSA national staff, to become a visiting professor of ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, I decided to find a way to give undivided attention to this subject matter and movement.
First, while in Chicago, I began to plan an ecumenical program for scholars and teachers that integrates ecology, justice and faith. The design for this endeavor grew out of several conversations with my friend, J. Ronald Engel, then Professor of Social Ethics at nearby Meadville -/Lombard Theological School. Together, we approached a key staff person at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with our proposal to begin an ecumenical professional development program in North America with a strong Chicago component. Toward the end of 1991, we received from the MacArthur Foundation the first of three multi-year grants that enabled us to proceed effectively. This funded more than a decade of concentrated activity and learning on my part (at modest pay) as founding director of the Program on Ecology, Justice and Faith (PEJF), a collaborative ecumenical endeavor that has fostered the professional development of several hundred teachers and graduate students in religion as well as interested church leaders.
Second, I was invited to become a resident member for a year of subsidized residence at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, NJ (1992) where I did research and writing. That enabled me to catch up on relevant scholarly literature in ecologically aware theology and ethics, while beginning to reformulate or refine my own ethical thinking on eco-justice.
Third, from 1993 forward, I also developed and co-directed TEMEC --Theological Education to Meet the Environmental Challenge -- as a second way to carry out the objectives of PEJF with a growing network of teachers and students of religion and theology. This was done in partnership with Richard M. Clugston, executive director of the Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE) in Washington, DC, a division of the Humane Society of the U.S. that was established to foster sustainability in society through higher education. For a decade, CRLE provided steady administrative support and in-kind funding for the TEMEC program. We utilized funds from the MacArthur Foundation’s grants to PEJF, and a special grant from the global stewardship program of The Pew Charitable Trusts, to work with “lead institutions” of higher education regarding their curriculum, practices and public role. Through conferences, publications and technical support TEMEC informed quite a few scholars on ways to introduce and deepen theology, ethics and ministry for earth community.
Fourth, serendipitously, as a participant in consultations that informed the Earth Charter Drafting Committee, and then fostered integrated Earth Charter ethics after the Charter was issued in 2000, I was able to pursue an international aspect to my eco-justice engagement. All four steps involved “we” more than “I”. Several persons were indispensable in making this good work possible, the most important of which was my encouraging, supportive wife Karen who was actually employed with health benefits!
Finally, let me explain why this website concentrates on ecumenical Christian thought and action in response to the contemporary earth community crisis. a) About thirty % of the world’s population is nominally or actively Christian, but generally not well-engaged with issues of earth citizenship. b) The ecumenical movement’s early thinking made a special contribution to the development of global eco-justice ethics, and needs to inform the emerging ecology-religion alliance. C) As an active participant in the ecumenical eco-justice movement over the last 40 years, I am familiar with what progressive Christians have been doing (and not), and can see what to do next to bring this ethic to the forefront of religious environmentalism and earth-friendly living.
Other monotheistic faiths, as well as religions originating in Asia and the spiritual traditions of Indigenous peoples, are also making important contributions to earth community vision and values. To further explore interreligious resources, see the FORE website and its series of scholarly volumes on 10 major world religions and ecology.
To achieve ecological integrity with socio-economic justice is now the urgent moral assignment for people of every faith and of no organized religion. We must counteract oppressive patterns of maldevelopment that disregard neighbor and nature while we support positive alternatives that move toward just and sustainable community.