Turn the tap in Birmingham, Alabama, where I became a bishop in The Episcopal Church and you get grade-A water. In 2006 I was elected Bishop of the Diocese of California, and we moved from Birmingham to San Francisco. There’s a lot different between these two great American cities, but at least one thing stayed the same: when we turn the tap in San Francisco we get abundant, pure water – grade-A.
With climate change, we in California have been living with drought for the last five years. As of last week, nearly 60% of the state is experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought. It is no accident, however, that in our suffering state, we in San Francisco can live day-to-day without worry about either how much water we have or how clean it is.
There is a contentious, tangled history behind the water status of San Francisco, tied up with race, environmentalism, entrepreneurship, and frontier mentality — among other factors. But the stunning fact that California has more billionaires than any country in the world besides the United States itself, and China, and that half of those California billionaires live in the Bay Area is a salient fact related to our abundant, clean water – we can afford clean water, which is arguably a basic human right. (Natia Shavik, Forbes, March 2015)
According to water.org, a water-rights advocacy group, 1 in 10 people on the Earth do not have access to clean water: 663 million people. One group of people. You can be sure that the vast majority of these people who suffer from lack of access to clean water are poor people.
One group of people, here in the United States is acting to seek to preserve their access to clean water – the Sioux People of North and South Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation. I first visited the Standing Rock Reservation back in the 1990s. I remember looking out from St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, located about a mile from where Sitting Bull was born, over the silver shine of the dammed headwaters of the Missouri River, the very area where the planned Dakota Access Pipeline would go under the river.
The many tribes of the Sioux Nation have banded together with the people of Standing Rock to block the construction of the pipeline — which would transport over 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day — under the Missouri. The solidarity of the entire Sioux People around this issue is inspiring. With the intervention of the Obama Administration the Sioux have achieved a temporary victory in their struggle to maintain their access to clean, abundant water – in other words, to have eco-justice.
It is a little-known fact in The Episcopal Church that the only diocese of our Church where a minority population is the majority of the diocesan membership is South Dakota. As with the on-going struggle to keep oil drilling out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a struggle led by many Episcopalians from the Gwich’in People (including my friend, Princess Daazrhaii Johnson, who was part of the Presiding Bishop’s delegation to COP21 in Paris in 2015), Episcopalians from around our Church are standing in solidarity with the people of Standing Rock.
This weekend, our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, will join the Bishop of North Dakota and the Rev. Canon John Floberg among many others to continue the protest of presence over the pipeline construction. Here in our own diocese, California, the people of All Souls’, Berkeley, (which has been in a relationship of shared mission with the Episcopal Church on Standing Rock) are organizing to donate money, offer their prayers, and work on policy advocacy.
Causes of eco-justice are moments when we are given the opportunity to manifest the Beloved Community, the Body of Christ created by our shared faith. As St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Let us all act together for the justice our sisters and brothers are praying for at Standing Rock.