The environment and racism are social justice issues


Football fans can congratulate the home turf, south Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, for winning exemplary certification for excellence toward the environment. Whether Cowboy or Giant or Eagle fan, everyone breathes the same air and appreciates less smog. The Linc recently was awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council for operating 100 percent on clean energy, diverting 99 percent of waste (some 4,000 tons annually) from landfills, and phasing out plastics like an annual half-million drinking straws from concession stands. You would not think a professional NFL team would risk the derogatory epithet “snowflake” for deserving this distinction.

Perhaps you have noticed on TV or when driving on I-95 the 14 spiral windmill turbines lining the stands. They generate electricity, as do the 11,108 solar panels of the 2003 stadium. Clean energy means air without carbon particulate from burning coal.  Miners could describe as well as any physician what causes black lung.  They should legislate tax exemptions for any industry or commercial firm that does the same. But of course there will be resistance from well heeled lobbyists as there usually is when big money is confronted by people of conscience.

Racism is another issue professional sports courageously takes on, without fear of macho criticism from the right. Look at the skin colors when players stand in a line for the national anthem. Imagine how any team would crumble if someone segregated African-Americans to the bench. Taking a knee has been a public defense of the racial equality of all players. Against them we hear racially charged abuse claiming it dishonors the flag when racism does that far worse. Who would have thought that sports figures would do the work of Christians and other believers by demanding respect by a visible public protest?

For too many this appeal to the consciences of believers is a stretch too far. Social justice addresses the imperative of justice in society — seeing to it that every segment and color of society gets what is rightfully its own. Pope Paul VI and his 1971 Justice in the World encyclical declared that it constitutes the preaching of the one gospel just as surely as does the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. A Christian does not have the liberty of taking a pair of scissors to the New Testament and cutting out the demanding parts and leaving the innocuous ones. Minds even as great as Thomas Jefferson’s had the misfortune to try that.

In our country we see how deeply we are motivated, even dominated by money. Saint Paul told us that the desire for it is the root of all evil. It is the mania, the tunnel-visioned pursuit, the crazed drive for it that ruins. He was not talking about the wages an honest worker takes home. We are left with the silent scandal of desperate refugees at our borders facing billion-dollar walls and dying while trying to get the same refuge our grandparents from Europe, Asia and other continents sought. And got. Even when financial authorities tell us we need laborers at a time of record low unemployment, we balk at letting in people of different languages, colors and beliefs. In our comfort, difference frightens us.

The environment and the acceptance of all races are clearly two matters of social justice.Christian clergy routinely lead the congregation in the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with the Lord’s claim that we are all sisters and brothers. That means no one can pretend a superiority under God our parent. The kingdom mentioned in that prayer presupposes a livable environment for all the members of the human family. And if God is monarch of this kingdom, money is not.

Have I mentioned here before that I have on my roof 13 solar panels which enable me to power my electric car? They are paying for themselves since my electric bill is about $4 per month. Air in my neighborhood is arguably cleaner, too. The advantage of social justice is that care for the environment and for a diverse neighborhood eventually is cheaper. The refusal of such principles is its own punishment. It’s a case of the repairman’s saying “Pay me now or pay me later.”