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Eco-Journey is the blog of the Environmental Ministries Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It includes a wide array of environmental topics: upcoming environmental events, links to interesting articles and studies, information on environmental advocacy, eco-theology topics, and success stories from churches that are going “green.”

Author Rebecca Barnes is the Associate for Environmental Ministries at the PC(USA). She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) dual degree.

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June 26, 2015

Gender, Race, Environment and Religious Ethics

A Conversation with Rev. Dr. Melanie L. Harris


How does gender relate to an environmental ethic?

The connection between women and the earth is often seen as both empowering and paradoxical. Because of the hierarchical dualisms that function normatively in Christian and Western thought (i.e. spirit vs. body, male vs. female, heaven vs. earth), there are many ways in which the feminine has been devalued within the tradition. At the same time, the connection that women have with the earth has often been celebrated. For example, a parallel is often drawn between an image of a woman as creator, (creative producer of ideas, thoughts, ethical systems, agency, communities, children, adopted children, space, food) and the earth as a “mother” who also creates.


How does race relate to an environmental ethic?

Within African American communities, historically both women and men carried vast amounts of agricultural knowledge within their beings. This is an important aspect of African American Environmental History and Ecowomanism.


It is the work of social activists, civil rights and grassroots organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP wherein we find a deep commitment to earth justice and attention to environmental health disparities. For decades, these organizations and more have been educating about the impact of Climate Change in global communities, the root of cancer producing toxins lying “dormant” in neighborhood water sources, and have publically endorsed support of EPA efforts to implement the Clean Air Act.


In the 21st century, a majority of members in African American faith communities are women. This means that many who will be actively, living out the faith through forms of spiritual activism, social and earth justice activism are likely to be women. In North America it has often been the women in African American churches who have recognized, analyzed and strategized how to protect their communities, and protest environmental racism.


Could you share what “ecowomanism” is?

Ecowomanism centers the voices and perspectives of women from African descent as they engage earth justice. Drawing upon African cosmology these perspectives understand the earth as sacred. There is a connection between humans, the divine realm, and the earth. This worldview guides ethical decision-making, community relationships, and understandings of health and welfare. Showing care and love for the earth are ways in which beings can live out principles of mutuality, reciprocity, and equality in relationships; human to human, and human to non-human.


How are women oppressed in ways that the earth has also been oppressed?

Noting the complexities of hierarchal dualisms and the paradoxes already mentioned, it is true that the same logic of domination at work in the enslavement of African women in the United States is the same logic of domination at work when we think about environmental degradation.


Womanist theologian Delores Williams, makes this point in an article entitled, “Sin, Nature and Black Women’s Bodies” wherein she documents how African enslaved women’s bodies were used for breeding. They were raped, sexually violated, and impregnated, some being forced to give birth to multiple sets of children during the course of one lifetime. (Some slave narratives record enslaved women giving birth to more than 24 children.) Williams suggest there is a striking parallel between the logic at work here and the process of strip-mining that can dangerously impact a mountains’ ability to produce or reproduce coal. Just as the sacred womb of a woman is traumatized by rape, so too is the womb of a mountain traumatized by an act of earth violence.


There is a connection between the suffering of women and the suffering of the earth. There is a connection between the logic that allows for these oppressions to take place in human and non-human (earth) community. Tracing that connection, (in this case) in the logic that purports racial superiority and gender oppression to the logic that insists the earth be controlled and dominated, is a part of the work of Ecowomanism. When we look towards solutions in the form of racial justice and gender justice we are also simultaneously looking for solutions for earth justice.


What is part of your "earth story" or eco-memory?

Uncovering one’s eco-memory is the first step of an ecowomanist method. Essentially this invites you to reflect upon your own relationship with the earth and to recall a story from your childhood, or your life since in which you experienced a connection to nature. My eco-memory dates back to before I was born. I am a descendent of African American sharecroppers who migrated from Mississippi to Dearfield, Colorado during the Great Migration. In order to escape the death-dealing atmosphere of the Jim and Jane Crow Era, my grandparents sacrificed; leaving their home and family to help establish a community. Dearfield as was one of the first all Black settlements in the U.S. While the farming community did not last long (1910-1920) my own eco-heritage includes the courage of grandparents who brought with them deep agricultural knowledge about how to respect, honor and work with southern soil. Just as important however is their genius in having to learn how to cultivate those gifts of knowledge to work with, respect, and honor the rocky soil of Colorado. Making a way out of no way, and partnering with the earth, I believe that a part of my eco-story is also the eco-story of millions of African Americans whose ancestors also joined the Great Migration.



Dr. Melanie L. Harris is Associate Professor of Religion and Ethics at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas where she teaches in the areas of Christian Social Ethics, Womanist Religious Thought, African American Literature and Religion, and Media and Religion. Author of the book Gifts of Virtue: Alice Walker and Womanist Ethics. Dr. Harris’s scholarship provides insight into ethical theory and by uplifting the moral practices and values of women.


Categories: Eco-Justice, Environment, Womanism, Women

Tags: african cosmology, eco-womanism, environment, ethics, gender, melanie harris, race, religion, theology

June 23, 2015

Papal Encyclical

On Thursday June 18, Pope Francis released the long-anticipated papal encyclical on the environment. In this profound pastoral statement, Pope Francis affirmed all creatures as beloved by God, the interconnection of environmental, economic and social systems, and our human responsibility to care for the world around us. Presbyterian General Assemblies have passed many environmental resolutions on caring for God's creation, acting on everything from water and land use to energy and climate change, while congregations, church institutions, and individual Presbyterians are committed to earth care as part of daily discipleship. PC(USA) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said in response ...

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June 23, 2015

PCUSA Welcomes Papal Encyclical

Last week, Pope Francis released the long-awaited papal encyclical on the environment. In response, PC(USA) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons posted this affirmation of Pope Francis' message.


The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) welcomes the release of Pope Francis’ papal encyclical Laudato Sii

June 18, 2015

We celebrate the faithful witness and words of Pope Francis today as he encourages responsible, loving care for God’s creation in the release of his papal encyclical Laudato Sii. We affirm its echo of the great St. Francis’ reverence for nature. At the same ...

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June 23, 2015

Articles on Pope Francis' Encyclical on the Environment

Great thanks to the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale, pulling together a long and helpful list of articles about Pope Francis' encyclical!


You can read the encyclical on the Vatican site:

There are a number of resources on the Forum site ( to provide you more information on the encyclical, including “Frequently Asked Questions on the Papal Encyclical,” a video recording and transcript of the Yale panel discussion entitled “Pope Francis and the Environment: Why His New Climate Encyclical Matters,” and news articles that address ...

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June 12, 2015

Papal Encyclical Released Next Thursday

Next Thursday, June 18, Pope Francis will release his papal encyclical on the environment. While no one knows the precise content of the encyclical until it is released, it is anticipated that it will include messages consistent with the moral mandate to care for God's creation and the understanding that poverty, hunger and environmental degradation are interlocking issues that invoke our faithful action. It is also anticipated that he will speak clearly on the ethical responsibility to act in the face of climate change.


Presbyterians General Assemblies have passed many environmental resolutions and statements on caring for God's ...

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