In today’s highly polarized world, and especially in this emotionally charged political season, it’s easy to break into separate camps, to lump people as “us” and “them.” As a Christian, I believe that all people are created in God’s image. Likewise, I believe the Earth, and all that is in it, belongs to God. For a reminder of our unity and interdependence, one only needs to take a breath of air, drink a glass of water, and admire the interconnected web of life God has created.
Yet, in numerous places, we are failing to sufficiently protect the gifts of God’s creation on which we all depend. One of the special places that most needs our attention right now is the Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage area, the public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon.
The immense space, layered beauty, and diversity of life of these public lands invite reflection on our place in this world and the grandeur of God’s power. For many that venture there each year, the Grand Canyon and the lands and waters that surround it are awe-inspiring. For Native American Tribes in the area, these lands, and especially these waters, are sacred. Many springs in the region are important not only as water sources in the parched landscape, but also for cultural identity.
Yet, these same waters are threatened by uranium mining pollution. Already local communities’ drinking water supplies have been contaminated, and cancer clusters have developed among communities with few resources to cope. Past pollution remains a present threat, and few steps have been taken to ensure such tragedies will not be repeated. The status quo is unacceptable.
With plans for new uranium mining on the horizon, the time to act is now. Recently,32 faith leaders from the Southwest and across the country sent a letter to President Obama urging him to safeguard the precious waters and lands of the Greater Grand Canyon by making that area a national monument. “We stand with our indigenous neighbors to defend health, dignity, and justice for all,” stated the leaders.
The leaders’ letter also notes that God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves – including our Native American neighbors. Respect for Native cultures and tribal rights is not only a stated value of many faith traditions, but should also be a core value for all of us who live in the United States.
Lastly, the letter highlights our shared belief in the value of conserving God’s creation for the sake of future generations. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to protect, restore, and rightly share all of God’s creation. This includes sharing the gifts of the natural world with people from all walks of life, as well as all other species who share in the abundance, too. For our fellow species – both plants and creatures — having space, clean water, and abundant food sources is crucial for helping them adapt to climate change – particularly when they are trying to survivein the harsh desert. Certain desert plants have also proven to be powerhouses for carbon sequestration. It is amazing what God’s creation can do for our climate, if we conserve enough of it to let it do its job.
It’s in wild places that we can hear the still small voice of God. There where we can grow our faith and our connections with others; and there that we store wonder for future generations.
These common values – the importance of protecting and restoring God’s creation, finding God in the wilderness, caring for our neighbors, and seeking justice for all, especially the vulnerable – are the motivating force behind all of the campaigns Creation Justice Ministries takes part in, from addressing climate change to transitioning to clean energy.
I hope and pray for the thriving of the land, creatures, and communities of the Greater Grand Canyon. I will continue to stand with the tribes of the region and to advocate for this proposal which unites so many different groups of people behind a common vision– for what is faith without works? Now it is President Obama’s turn to act. I hope he will do so without delay.
Shantha Ready Alonso is the Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, a Christian organization that educates, equips, and mobilizes 38 denominations, communions, and fellowships to protect, restore, and rightly share God’s creation.