"What happens when the whole church works toward justice?" asked Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, Senior Minister of Riverside Church in New York City, in her recent Patheos article. Dissecting the various components of church operations, Rev. Butler investigates how different areas of a church community may collaborate on environmental and financial justice. During her public discussion called #TrendingAtTRC Conversation, Rev. Butler asked for thoughts and reflections on how a church, with all its moving parts, may work more succinctly toward social good.
Her first of a three-part series begins with a discussion of divestment and the language we employ to motivate and move forward. Rev. Butler, like many of her contemporaries, understands the critical role of using the proper language in advocating for movements such as divestment, warning of the pitfalls in our path.
When we’re not clear about what we’re talking about—especially in emotionally charged and potentially controversial conversations—those on both sides of the conversation often slip into using language as a weapon: accusatory, vague references to some shadow terror that only raises fear instead of leading us toward helpful and collaborative solutions. This creates enemies, not friends; combatants, not collaborators.
Raising four questions for reflection, Rev. Butler looks for a 'tangible position' that:
- reflects our social justice investment initiatives
- is a clear and shared understanding of what divestment means to us
- carefully stewards the investments for which we’re responsible, with a full understanding of the need we have to create income with these assets
- is not mere tokenism—that is, whatever action we take has a real and substantive impact on the injustice we want to address?
Rev. Amy Butler | Patheos
The Riverside Church has a long history going back to its founding of being a prophetic voice on critical issues of our day (from WWII to Civil Rights, Apartheid in South Africa to LGBT inclusion). We believe that the church is called to do justice and defend the vulnerable. But with so much that needs our attention in the world, it is easy for churches to get pulled in many different directions and for ministries to become siloed from one another. At Riverside, we’ve recently started conversations on how all the different areas of our church – from budget and finance to worship, social justice to education – can work together on collaborative efforts to address the challenges we face.
I recently had the opportunity to have a public discussion called #TrendingAtTRC with Beth Ackerman, Head of Riverside’s creation care ministry Beloved Earth, and Lisa Hinds Salmon, Chair of our Finance Committee, to talk about the ways their work intersects. And we know these discussions are not limited to just our church. As Earth Day approaches, we wanted to continue the conversation by exploring a series of questions on this blog together in the hopes that they could be useful to others as well.
This will be a series of 3 posts where each of us answer questions about how different areas of a church community can collaborate together on environmental and financial justice. The first question we explore is on divestment from fossil fuels and how our financial commitments can be a tool for change.