A Kind of Trinitarian-ish Logic Comes to Unitarians

Justice on Earth, part 3

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan that broke into national news a few years ago is another example. If I may remember with you today some key details of that story:

Flint, Michigan has just under 100,000 people, 41% poor and 57% African-American. In 2014, Michigan state authorities, to save money, switched the water supply of Flint, MI, from Lake Huron to the Flint River, known for its pollution. Almost immediately, boil advisories had to be issued because fecal coliform bacteria was flowing into the homes of Flint. Because the Flint River is polluted to begin with, water from that river is corrosive. Flint River water was found to be 19 times more corrosive than water from Lake Huron. Treatment with anti-corrosive agents would go a long way to address that, and federal law requires such treatment. But the state Department of Environmental Quality violated that federal law and simply didn’t treat Flint’s water with anti-corrosive agents.

So this corrosive water, unmitigated in its corrosion, began flowing to Flint. It was coming in through aging pipes, and because it was so corrosive, it leached lead out of the pipes. Lead content in the drinking and bathing water in Flint shot so high it met the EPA’s definition of "toxic waste."

In fairness to the state of Michigan, as fair as we can be, the switch to the Flint River was always meant as a temporary measure for two years while a new pipeline from Lake Huron was being constructed. OK, good to note. But, still! It is not OK for the water in people’s homes to be toxic waste for two years – or even for one minute. Is there any doubt that what happened to Flint would never have happened to a predominantly middle-class and white city?
“African Americans making $50,000 to $60,000 per year are much more likely to live in a polluted environment than poor white families making just $10,000 per year.” (Paula Cole Jones, Justice on Earth).
These examples – and there are many more -- show us the interconnections between environment, race, and poverty.

As Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti writes in Justice on Earth:
“Lack of economic opportunity is tied to the quality of local schools and the health impacts of pollution; the inability to access clean water and healthy food directly impacts one’s ability to function in school or at work; and the intentional siting of power plants and waste facilities away from wealthier and whiter communities impacts local housing prices, affects health, and points toward endemic, structural racism. It is all linked; no single piece stands in isolation.”
Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom’s essay in the book notes that
“communities of color were exploited and poisoned through the entire nuclear fuel cycle: from uranium mining on Indigenous land and the contamination of surrounding Indigenous, Chicano, and Latinx communities to nuclear waste storage in communities of color.”
Militarism, colonialism, racism, and the environmental degradation are interrelated and mutually support each other.

And just as environmental problems – the pollution, and the climate change – disproportionately affect the poor and people of color, environmental protections offer us opportunities for addressing income inequality. Paula Cole Jones’ essay reminds us that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 30s “provided resources for renewing the land and putting people back to work. There was a great deal of environmental activity across the country, including the creation of the Civil Conservation Corps.”

Government programs can create Green Jobs that especially recruit among minority communities. Working for this requires seeing the interconnections between issues – seeing that they all flow from the same root, and coming together to address that root, rather than fragmenting ourselves into discrete silos of concern.

There is a certain theological irony in Unitarians coming around to this view – a view that many nonUnitarian thinkers and writers have been fleshing out for some years – this view of all justice issues as interconnected, as all based in conceptions of supremacy and dominance.

We Unitarians, you’ll remember, got our name from rejecting Trinitarianism. Unitarianism began around central values of freedom, reason, and tolerance -- but, in particular, what we wanted was the freedom to follow our reason in leaving Trinitarian Orthodoxy behind. Trinitarianism says that God is one and three at the same time. The Athansian Creed puts it this way:
“there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.”
Trinitarianism says God is one essence, in three persons. The origin of Unitarianism, some 250 years ago in America, lies in saying this makes no sense. "One is one, and three is three," we said. "One is not three, and three is not one. That's just being self-contradictory."

A couple centuries later, when it comes to justice, we are again Trinitarian – or, rather, not Trinitarian, but Multi-tarian. There is one injustice to people of color, another to the Earth itself, another to LGBTQ folk, another to women, another to the poor, another to nonhuman animals. But the justicehead for people of color, for the Earth, for LGBTQ, women, the poor, and nonhuman animals is one. “The glory equal and the majesty coeternal,” we might add. There is one essence of justice – the ending of all forms of supremacy and domination – but that essence presents in multiple “persons”: in the multiple forms that oppression takes.

Here at CUUC, we have a number of Social Justice Teams, and this is central to our mission – we’re here to foster compassion and understanding and engage in service to transform ourselves and our world. If you’re not on one of our Social Justice Teams, I hope you’ll consider joining one.
My goal is 100% of the members on some Social Justice Team. What I’m saying today is that our Social Justice Teams each need to think about their interconnections with the others. Join the team – the “person” of justice that most resonates with you – but don’t silo there. Remember that there is one essence of justice uniting the various “persons” – and that all the teams here are working together for the same one thing.

Let us then increase our communication among the different teams, find joint projects if possible, and even when we are working on separate projects, to do so in a way that is conscious of the relationship to all the other issues.

What are your hopes for peace and justice in the new year, and how will those hopes affect your life?

From Justice on Earth, including Justice to the Earth, we get to Peace on Earth. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Justice on Earth"
See also
Part 1: Christmas and "Peace on Earth"
Part 2: Environmental Issues are Race and Class Issues

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