A Call for Dialogue and Action on Standing Rock

From time to time the ABCUSA Board of General Ministries (BGM) will establish a task force to dig deeper into a subject of concern to American Baptists.  The task force will be composed of persons from various regions, both lay and clergy.  Each task force is free to issue statements to encourage discussion.  The content of the statements is the work of the committee and is not necessarily reflective of the position of national boards or staff or any ABC region or local church.  Currently there are task forces considering:  Race and Race Based Violence; Creation Justice; Immigration.

In solidarity with the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, the ABC Creation Justice Network, a task force of the Board of General Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, USA declares its opposition to the continuing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is proposed to deliver over a half-million barrels of fracked Bakken oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois.

Beginning in 2014, the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota (“Sioux”) people began objecting to the construction of this pipeline, which is slated to travel beneath the Missouri River, and which passes through lands of longstanding religious, cultural and ancestral significance, including important burial sites. Earlier this year, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, arguing that it granted approval of the pipeline without a comprehensive environmental and archeological review. Early on, pipeline builders, Dakota Access, LLC, had rejected an alternate route through the state because environmental impact assessments showed that the pipeline would have posed a threat to the safety of the water supply of Bismarck, North Dakota. The pipeline’s current siting takes the project through treaty lands, less than one half mile from the Standing Rock reservation, threatening not only the water supply of the Tribe, but Lake Oahe and the Missouri River itself.

The ABC Creation Justice Network recognizes that concerns about the Dakota Pipeline touch upon matters of both racial and environmental justice. The Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people are not the only ones endangered by the potential breach of this pipeline—breaches are possible anywhere along the 1,100 miles of the line.

The situation in Standing Rock is complex: it is inspiring and beautiful as well as challenging and, at times, chaotic. Hundreds of tribes from around the country and world as well as numerous non-indigenous allies have gathered at Standing Rock to join the movement to protect the water of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people and those downstream. In early November, Rev. Stacey Simpson Duke, a member of our ABC Creation Justice Network steering committee, joined hundreds of other clergy at Standing Rock (including a few other American Baptist pastors) in a spirit of solidarity, reconciliation, and peaceful, prayerful protest. In a formal ceremony with Native elders, Christian leaders repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery in an act of repentance from centuries of un-Christian disrespect and persecution of Native American Indians and indigenous peoples around the world. In dialogue with American Baptist leaders in North Dakota, we have also heard troubling reports of outside agitators who have used aggressive and destructive protest tactics, and whose presence is not welcome by local tribal leaders. We share in the concern and distress of local ABC churches about the behavior of these outside agitators. At the same time, we are also deeply concerned by numerous reports showing police and private security forces using intimidating and disproportionate force against peaceful Water Protectors. The situation is tense and difficult, and we pray for peace and understanding between Water Protectors, construction workers, and law enforcement. We affirm the principle of non-violent resistance to evil rooted in the example of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who struggled for justice in a spirit of love and forgiveness, even for his oppressors. As we follow in Jesus’ footsteps in the struggle for racial and environmental justice, we are nurtured by his Spirit and strengthened by his Presence. We strongly oppose any acts of violence by or against protestors and seek for peaceful and resolute solutions.

Another serious concern is the tremendous climate impact of burning hundreds of millions of gallons of fracked Bakken oil—oil that will be made more available to the market by the completion of the Dakota Pipeline. Heeding the warnings of the world’s top climate scientists, in 2015, over 200 nations participated in the historic Paris Accord, where they agreed to reduce their carbon output “as soon as possible” in an attempt to keep global warming “to well below 2 degrees Celsius.” As Americans and global citizens, we must question how we can transition “as soon as possible” to a renewable energy future while, at the same time, continuing to allow—and sometimes even promoting—massive investments in potentially environmentally devastating infrastructure underwriting the burning of carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

As Baptist Christians, we honor the words of the Psalmist: “the Earth is God’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). This precious Earth, we believe, is not ours to destroy or to diminish. We have the knowledge and resources to produce all of our nation’s energy needs without burning fossil fuels. We know we can produce the energy we need without doing harm to the earth, or to the creatures that live upon it.

Our American Baptist Policy Statement on Human Rights (1976) affirmed all peoples “right to a secure and healthy environment, clean air, pure water and an earth that can nurture and support present and future generations.” Our Resolution on Global Warming (1991, revised in 2007) reminds us “as travelers on this globe together, we are commonly dependent upon Earth for sustenance. We are interdependent with all creation. We must learn to understand what it means to respect all that God has created…”

In light of our theological commitments, we urge our Baptist family to prayerful action in support of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota people’s efforts to halt the construction of the Dakota Pipeline. We invite Baptists to consider coming to the Camp of the Sacred Stones to participate in social action, donate supplies, or contribute to the funds needed to support the activities at Standing Rock. We invite American Baptists to lift up in prayer the ministry of First Baptist Church in Bismarck, North Dakota as they serve as the hands and feet of Christ in this area of conflict. May we stand together with our neighbors and with the Earth, as we work towards a more peaceful and just future for all of God’s creation.

The members of the ABC Creation Justice Network are: Ashley Anderson, Karyn Bigelow, Dwight P. Davidson, Stacey Simpson Duke, Kathleen Moore, Jamie Washam, David Wheeler, Tom Carr, Ian Mevorach and Don Ng.


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