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Building in Good Faith - Green Building Resource for Religious Institutions

Seven Jewish and Christian Theological Principles for Green Building (4)

Religious Facilities Can Become Instruments of Ecological and Social Justice.

Religious Buildings Contribute to Environmental Racism and Injustice

All Creation suffers from environmental degradation. It is also well documented that the communities that suffer worst are those which are most vulnerable – communities that are racially and economically marginalized on a local, regional, national and global level.

Building construction and maintenance in the United States contribute significantly to environmental injustice; all religious buildings share in this pattern. The impacts of the sourcing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of building materials all degrade the earth and harm human health – especially the health of those living in the most vulnerable communities.

Because of this, from a religious perspective issues of green building are not solely issues of ecology. They are issues of justice.

For many religious leaders, buildings are an unfamiliar frontier in the struggle for justice. Religious leaders are more accustomed to addressing issues of justice in relation to issues such as hunger, poverty, racism, and sexism. However, we believe that religious leaders should seek justice not only in regards to these areas of focus, but also in relation to their buildings.

Religious Architecture Can “Speak” of Justice, Now

All Western religions articulate visions of justice, visions animated by the belief in the possibility of harmony between God and all members of the Created order. Jewish and Christian worship spaces are filled with features that point to and articulate these visions of justice – the communion table or altar at which all are fed and reconciled to the Creator, lecterns or (Torah closets) holding Bibles or Torah scrolls that proclaim bold prophetic teachings, sacred space that offers sanctuary and solace to the persecuted. By going green, religious building can be a language about justice spoken in material form.

Many within Judaism and Christianity see salvation or any final justice occurring in an afterlife, or after an apocalyptic end time. However, both traditions also assert that justice can come about, with God’s help, through human effort here and now. In the Jewish tradition, this is known as tikkun ha-olam, the perfecting of the world in partnership with God, an affirmation of the human responsibility for the restoration of Creation. In Christianity, Catholic social teachings through the centuries, leadership provided by many African American urban churches, the “social gospel” movement, and many other forms of Christianity each express a sense that justice, while perhaps not final, can indeed happen now.

Biblical Sources

There are numerous laws in the Bible, which attempt to redress the power and economic imbalances in human society. Examples are the Sabbatical year (Exodus 23:11, Leviticus 25:2-5, Deuteronomy 15:1-4) and the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-24). The Bible also expresses an interest in the establishment of a balanced distribution of resources across society (Exodus 22:24-26, Leviticus 25:36-37, Deuteronomy 23:20-1, 24:6,10-13,17). These passages are an expression of the concept of the Hebrew word Tzedek, which means righteousness, justice and equity. It is the value which seeks to correct the unjust imbalances which humans create in society and in the natural world.

The Bible demands that we create a worldwide economy that is sustainable and that is equitable, and that the waste from our consumption not be visited on those who are poor and powerless. Through green building, religious communities can support the creation of an environmentally just world.

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