By David Jones and Laura M. Hartman
Jones serves as a pastor at Williams Memorial Baptist Church, Roanoke. Hartman teaches environmental studies at Roanoke College. They are co-chairs of RAISE, Roanoke Area Interfaith Stewards of the Earth, an affiliate of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light.
As people of faith who value the well-being of God’s creation and of God’s beloved poor, we urge Roanoke Gas to exit their contract with the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
The world is not ours to use or discard. For most people of faith, it was created by, and belongs to, God.
The opening words of the Torah emphasize this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Likewise, the Christian New Testament says, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Heb. 1:10). The Qur’an declares: “It is God Who has made for you the earth as a resting place, and the sky as a canopy, and has given you shape and made your shapes beautiful and has provided for you sustenance” (Surah 40:64).
All of creation is interconnected: Flora and fauna, land and sea, big and small; all are part of what Episcopal theologian Barbara Brown Taylor calls the “luminous web” of creation. We, too, are a part of this web, but we often exploit our special role in it. We think that we are alone – as individuals and as a species. We could not be more wrong.
Martin Luther King, Jr. writes that we are in “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” When we fail to see this interconnectedness and interdependence, we forget our responsibility for creation.
People of faith must care for the Earth, in part, because we care for the vulnerable. The ramifications of our extraction of the Earth’s resources (air pollution, toxic waste, climate change) threaten us all – no one wants children to breathe polluted air. But these ill effects land particularly hard on the marginalized. Who has the most asthma? Cancer from toxic exposure? Threats from climate impacts? The vulnerable, the poor – those highlighted for special care by our faith traditions.
Real people suffer at the hands of a system that always seeks to prioritize profits over people. The “logic of possession,” as Baptist theologian Willie Jennings names this tendency, along with its partners, manifest destiny and eminent domain, places a burden upon those least able to bear it.
All faiths agree on care for the Earth and care for the poor. But they struggle against what Zen Buddhist teacher David Loy calls a “false religion”: that which places profits over people and planet.
We see a virulent example of this false faith at play in the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), whose developers seek profit without proper regard for the people and ecosystems they harm. They fail to respect the interconnections between their pursuit of profit and the vulnerable lands and people they use.
MVP has already damaged beautiful landscapes and fragile habitats, including an endangered fish, the amazing Roanoke logperch. MVP has also taken property from private landowners without adequate public benefit, since the pipeline does not fulfill a local need.
We can use cheaper gas from existing pipelines. Demand for all fossil fuels, including gas, is decreasing. God has blessed us with inexpensive, efficient solar and wind power. The transition away from gas and other fossil fuels will take time, and needs to be done in a way that protects the vulnerable.
One step in the right direction: Roanoke Gas exiting their contract with MVP. In June 2020, Roanoke Gas can cancel their agreement to purchase $100 million worth of gas from the ill-fated MVP project with no penalties. We urge them to do so.
Customers may have noticed a refund that offset a couple months’ worth of gas bills recently: we were overcharged in an attempt to pass the costs of the pipeline on to customers, but the SCC halted it. If Roanoke Gas doesn’t exit their contract, we expect they will once again pass along the higher costs to us. How might this impact those neighbors and institutions (including houses of worship) who already struggle to pay the bills?
Fossil fuels are not the future. These beautiful lands and interconnected, vulnerable people need protection from a false faith in maximizing profit. God created this Earth to be green, and it is our responsibility to keep it that way.