Christians For The Mountains "The Earth is the Lord's" Conference Report

Mountaintop Removal Mining Desecrates God’s Property

“The Earth is the Lord’s along with everything on it.”  That message from Psalm 24:1 sums up the calling of Christians For The Mountains first conference held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, West Virginia November 11-12. Attendees agreed that a corollary application of that scripture is that mountaintop removal mining desecrates God's property. That practice must stop!

Forty people from West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, DC, Illinois, and Missouri pledged their efforts to mobilize Christians and their churches to combat abuses against God’s earth with special concentration on mountaintop removal mining. SEE PHOTO PAGE.

Well-known songwriter/singer/writer Kate Long kicked off Friday evening’s program leading the gathering in singing.  Mary Ellen O’Farrell led a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving, repentance, and consecration. 

Noted author Denise Giardina challenged all of us in her keynote address with three major points: (1) Luke 5: 43—“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Giardina explained that love for the enemy does not mean we cannot condemn what they do.  Nor should we hesitate to name them enemies, for they do everything in their power to destroy creation.  To deny what they do is to grant them “cheap grace.”  We should not wish them ill – but ill is upon them.  Their lives are bent on destruction.  Destruction is their life’s work.  They are cut off from community.  They are cut off from beauty.  They are cut off from God.  We must pray that these people find their way out of hell and stop mountaintop removal

Giardina’s next point challenged the escapism that “Jesus will make everything all right.”  There will be consequences in this life and this world for our mistreatment of the earth.  God’s creation is intricate, and the punishments for misusing it are built-in.

Giardina closed on a message of hope.  The Christian gospel good news is that the resurrected Christ has overcome evil and death.  Hope is when we align our lifestyles with living faith in accordance with the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Allen Johnson showed a draft version of a slide show on mountaintop removal mining. Modified  from Dave Cooper’s successful travel show to resonate with Christian audiences, the show when completed will be available for members to show in their homes and churches.

Ed Wiley, a coalfield resident, former Massey Coal employee, and grandfather of children attending a school beneath a huge sludge pond , spoke passionately from his heart about the threats to his community from current mining practices.  His message was clear.  Mining companies such as Massey will disregard safety in order to maximize their profits. Wiley gave examples from his first hand knowledge as a former employee.

Saturday morning opened with prayer and a litany led by Edna Hess, CPPS; Ruth Kuhn, SC; Joellen Sbrissa; and Diana Oleskevich (Sisters of St. Joseph).  Traveling from Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, these four also shared their work buying stock in companies such as Arch Coal and Peabody Coal to urge them to responsible corporate practice.  Throughout the conference these four shared their Catholic social justice work of responsible investment. 

All attendees introduced themselves and their work or interest they have in earthkeeping.  The gathering included college students, a number of local Charleston area residents, and some persons who traveled a considerable distance.  Linda Powell from Falls Church, Virginia, took bus transportation to attend the conference.  Brian Bolton of Sojourners magazine and Lindsay Moseley of the Sierra Club’s National Office on Partnerships drove down from Washington, DC.   Moseley was one of a number of Christians attending the conference who are active in national or regional environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Coal River Mountain Watch.  Several of these persons shared the link between their faith and their advocacy for the environment through their organizations.

Dr. Howard Snyder, a nationally recognized evangelical scholar and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, presented an overview of the Christian mandate to be responsible for God’s creation.  Snyder drew upon his recent paper given at the Kingdom Conference at Asbury a few weeks before, titled “Salvation Means Creation Healed: Creation, Cross, Kingdom, and Mission.”  Snyder chastened the churches for too often neglecting the doctrine of creation, allowing in philosophies that devalue and commodify the material realm, and individualism at the expense of community.  Snyder exhorted the group to practice the Christian walk in every day decision-making.  Creation care is for God’s sake, for our own sake, for creation’s sake, for the sake of mission, and for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Greg Leffel, from the Communality fellowship in Lexington, Kentucky, followed with a short discussion on building relationships with others that can impact positive social change.  Leffel, who also teaches at Asbury, was joined by fellow Communality member Geoff Maddock, a native of Australia.

Janet Keating then facilitated a strategy session during a working lunch.  This important session developed an outline to engage members in constructive and effective action.  Members will be invited and encouraged to get involved within these categories:

(1) Outreach and Advocacy:  Holding house parties; 1-1 dialogue with others; shareholder corporate investment influence; public relations; church congregation petitions to power and coal companies; influence church “movers and shakers” locally, regionally, and nationally.

(2) Education: Take religious leaders to MTR sites in air and on ground; educational packets to church leaders; church bulletins and newsletters; prayer books and other scriptural-based writings; support traveling teams to present slide shows; music concerts and CDs that promote our message; use yard signs, T-shirts, and other message formats; develop increased practice and consciousness in personal conservation of energy, using such films as “Kilowatt Ours.”

In the afternoon 12 persons had the opportunity to take flyovers with Southwings.  Hume Davenport took four flights with three passengers every flight over mountaintop removal mining sites and sludge dams.  This was the first time any of the twelve passengers had seen the devastation of MTR from the air.  As Diana Oleskevich commented, “The availability of  Southwings flyovers was a tremendous aid to understanding the scope of rape of Earth, the magnitude of the destruction.”

A number of other participants, including a few of those who also did flyovers, visited Kayford Mountain where Larry Gibson maintains an oasis of earth sanity surrounded by a huge mountaintop removal operation.  Several dozen college students from around the region were also present.  Gibson gave an impassioned talk that touched everyone with the realization that the exploitation of the mountains also impacts human lives and their communities.  Gibson led the group on a tour of his place to look out over the wreckage of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Saturday evening the group convened again at St. Luke’s.  Diana Oleskevich led us in body and spirit worship, then Kate Long led forth with more singing.  The featured speaker, Jack Spadaro, spoke of his work as a federal mining official whose refusal to whitewash violations resulted in pressure from higher up officials.  Spadaro showed Bob Gate’s recent film, “Mucked” which illustrates the extraordinary damage that sludge spills wreak on communities.  Spadaro’s integrity, warm manner, and comprehensive knowledge was inspirational to all. 

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church provided an excellent place to hold the meeting.  Bob Marshall generously provided delicious snacks, breakfast, and lunch.  The attendees from various denominations all enjoyed one another and worked together cooperatively. Many folks expressed that they were rejuvenated and motivated participating in the gathering.