My body is still in Tempe, but my heart and mind are in North Dakota today. Last week a call was issued for clergy from many faith traditions to come and stand witness with the Standing Rock Nation in its protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This pipeline would carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois, crossing lands and rivers that provide water to millions. The advocates at Standing Rock have resolutely declared that they are not protestors but protectors, acting out of a sacred commitment to protecting all life. They say, “water is life.” Yet, they face violence.
They have stood as peacemakers while government authorities and hate-filled hecklers deride them as criminals, rioters, and terrorists. Recent reports tell the story of children, women, and men gathering in prayer and song, only to suffer at the hands of those wielding batons and pointing rifles. We have witnessed an escalating, militarized response to their acts of nonviolence. Advocates have been arrested, strip-searched, and humiliated.
So far more than 400 clergy from 15 different faith traditions have registered to Stand With Standing Rock. They join together as a Peaceful, Prayerful, Lawful, Non-Violent witness. The Standing Rock Sioux challenge us to re-consider our theology. As T.S. Eliot said, “A wrong attitude toward nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude toward God.”
Environmental destruction is a spiritual issue. Our theology—which gives (some) humans “dominion” and disregards the lives of other creatures—is killing us and destroying life on the planet. We need to name it for what it is: sin. Augustine spoke of sin as “disordered loves.” We love a lot of things: our family, truth, our nation, money, popularity, God, dark chocolate, clean air. But sometimes we get those loves out of order.
The #1 rationale for every barrel of oil pumped, every mountaintop removed, for every stream polluted, every mine dug is always “jobs” or “the economy.” We love jobs—and we should. We love a robust economy—and we should. But at what cost? The Standing Rock Sioux invite us to reorder our loves.
If anyone needs good jobs, it’s the Standing Rock Tribe. The Standing Rock poverty rate is 43.2%, nearly triple the national average of 14.5%. In North Dakota—where an oil boom has bolstered the state economy and driven the unemployment rate down to just 3.1%—the unemployment rate on the Reservation is 79%. If anyone has the right to argue for jobs at any cost, jobs over the environment, it’s the Standing Rock Nation. Yet, they courageously, prophetically insist that clean air, pure water and the future of our children deserve to be considered higher loves. Today I’m Standing with Standing Rock.
Rev. Doug Bland
Arizona Interfaith Power and Light