Coal Theology

Earlier this year, I attended the Heartland Coalfield Alliance (HCA) Organizing Retreat. The HCA works to reduce impacts from dirty coal mining, coal burning and coal waste disposal while promoting cleaner, more sustainable and affordable energy solutions for the Illinois Coal Basin.

A highlight of the retreat, the Friday afternoon coal tour gave us an opportunity to see up-close the impacts of coal mining in the region. We also heard the stories of residents affected by mining. The old Will Scarlet Mine, one of the most polluted, abandoned mine lands in Illinois, encompasses about 500 acres in Williamson County. The dried watershed areas had a deep orange hue due to the acid level. The vegetation was withered. Nearby creeks and streams were completely devoid of aquatic life. Truly, a deeply disturbing place.

The active Eagle River surface mine came next. A resident in Saline county for over fifty years, Johnny lives right across the road from this active, expanding mine. With obvious distress, he recounted what the mine has done to his life. Everyday the ground shakes after each blast, often knocking him down. There is no notice before a blast. It’s scary. The dust from the blast looks like a sand storm. He doesn’t open his windows. Neighbors can’t use swimming pools. Heavy trucks run 24 hours a day up and down the highway that separates his neighborhood from the mine. He plans all of his outdoor activities on Sundays when the mine is closed. And hopes it doesn’t rain.

In A New Climate for Theology, Sallie McFague explains: “The environmental crisis is a theological problem, a problem coming from views of God and ourselves that encourages or permits our destructive, unjust actions.” Our view of God can be one that does nothing as dangerous toxins are released, or it can encourage harmony and right relationship with creation, insisting on standards rooted in compassion and respect for life.

God created all that is and called it good. And we have a responsibility to see that it stays good. How we understand who God is and who we are is central to shifting our behavior toward a just, sustainable living.

Photos by Pam Richart of Eco-Justice Collaborative and Megan Johns of Prairie Rivers Network. View more on facebook.

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