Written by Luke Overstreet //
“Loving kindness and truth meet together; Righteousness and peace kiss each other. Truth springs from the earth, And righteousness looks down from heaven.” Psalm 85:10
I still remember the first time that I ever read Psalm 85. I was sitting under a neem tree near my family’s home in Nouakchott, Mauritania. I was eight years old at the time, and I was memorizing this Psalm for Sunday School. I remember thinking to myself, “What does it mean that righteousness and peace kiss each other?” I pondered this question for some time, and couldn’t arrive at a satisfactory answer. That Sunday, I asked my teacher, “What does this verse mean?” and he responded, “It means that righteousness and peace belong together. In a way, they are married. There is no way to have one without the other.”
Fifteen years later, I was in downtown Chicago as Black Lives Matter protesters chanted “No justice, no peace! No racist police.” My mind thought back to Psalm 85 and to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice” (King, 04:40-04:48).
My Sunday School teacher was right, those protesters were right, and Dr. King was right – there is no way to have one without the other. Justice and righteousness require peacemaking because, without peace, injustice is bound to continue. True peace requires justice and righteousness because, without them, peace will be an elusive goal. When I say “true peace,” I refer not to an absence of conflict, but to a state of right and harmonious relationship between humanity, the earth, and our mutual Creator.
Shortly after I graduated from Wheaton College, I accepted a joint staff position with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (Y.E.C.A.) and Evangelical Environmental Network (E.E.N.) I was suddenly immersed in an organizational community of people who are passionate about justice, peacemaking, and environmental care – and who integrate these pursuits with their faith.
Y.E.C.A. was launched when 18 young evangelicals gathered together to draft and sign the following Call to Action, and signing it remains the first step to joining in the movement:
We are young evangelicals striving to live out what Jesus said was most important: loving God fully and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Climate change is already impacting our neighbors and God’s creation here in the United States and around the world. For the sake of “the least of these,” we believe God is calling us to faithful action and witness in the midst of the current climate crisis. Therefore, we commit ourselves to living faithfully as good stewards of creation, advocating on behalf of the poor and marginalized, supporting our faith and political leaders when they stand up for climate action, and mobilizing our generation to join in (“Sign Our Call to Action”).
This Call to Action captures what I believe is at the heart of environmental justice: love. By taking personal action to live as good stewards of the environment, using our voices to advocate for positive change and protection of the most vulnerable, and supporting justice and righteousness wherever we see it – we are loving our neighbors and affirming their dignity and value.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Haiti and visited the Artibonite Valley, where I witnessed a beautiful example of environmental peacemaking. This once-lush area with thousands of acres of farmland produced the majority of Haiti’s rice crops for centuries. However, due to environmental degradation, climate change, unsustainable farming techniques, and poor irrigation, the valley dried up in 2012 and essentially became infertile. In 2016, a community effort led by YWAM Haiti successfully raised funds for and installed a water pump able to irrigate 900 acres of this farmland, restoring life back into the valley and enabling the land to grow crops once again. This single water pump has brought income back to over 1,000 families in the valley (“Help them Feed Themselves”). By reforesting the area to help restore and retain natural water catchments, adopting sustainable farming practices, and responsibly irrigating the land – the Artibonite Valley farmers are making peace and restoring their own right relationship with the land.
Though you or I may be more insulated from the immediate effects of environmental degradation and climate change than people living in the Artibonite Valley, we should not be any less concerned about these issues. Loving our neighbor, making peace, and doing justice in the world each require caring about the world that we are all sustained by. Environmental degradation and climate change are justice issues. They are love issues. They are faith issues. We must include them in and link them to our discussions about justice. Again, we can’t have justice unless we have peace, and we can’t have true peace unless we have a restored relationship between people and the environment.
I believe one of the best ways to further develop our understanding of and commitment to environmental justice is to start by simply paying attention to our immediate environment. I do this by saying a prayer of thanks for specific weather and environmental events: if it’s rainy, I take a moment to reflect on and give thanks for how the rain cleanses and brings life to the earth; if I see a particularly beautiful tree, I give thanks for the air that it makes fresh for me; if I drink a glass of water, I give thanks for the blessing of clean water while internally renewing my commitment to not be wasteful. Practicing environmental mindfulness will make us more grateful for the environment and more conscious of how we affect it by our actions and lifestyles.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. “MARTIN LUTHER KING AT SANTA RITA.” Pacifica Radio Archives. Prod. Collin Edwards. KPFA. BB1460. Santa Rita, California. 15 Jan. 1968. Web. <www.archive.org/details/MartinLutherKingAtSantaRita1968>.
“Help them Feed Themselves.” Youth With a Mission – Haiti. March 22, 2016. Web. <www.ywamhaiti.org/ministries/helpthemfeedthemselves/>.
“Sign Our Call To Action.” Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. 2016. Web. <http://www.yecaction.org/call_to_action>.
Luke Overstreet lives in Albany, Illinois with his wife, Katie. He does freelance graphic and video design work for a number of Christian ministries and serves as a member of the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action steering committee. In his free time, he enjoys fishing on the Mississippi River (which is a stone’s throw away from his home) and exploring state parks.