Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA Advocacy

Living Earth Reflection: When water becomes no longer safe

By: The Rev. Jack Eggleston, South East Michigan Synod

People around me know that I drink a lot of water. Many years ago, Carl, a member of the congregation I served, told me of the health benefits of drinking water. I drink at least 80 ounces of water a day. When I am tired, a glass of water refreshes my body and renews my energy. Nothing renews like the life-giving water Jesus offers (John 4), but safe water is one of our most basic needs.

Last fall, when refilling my water bottle at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich., numerous people told me they had concerns about the water and that I should use bottled water. I filled my water bottle from the faucet, but along the road found it discolored and did not taste right. Only later did I learn how dangerous the water is. Flint’s water is unsafe, toxic and a danger to health.

Water pipes are corroded throughout the city, and lead contamination in many homes and at Salem Lutheran Church far exceed safe limits. Lead harms the blood and can damage the brain. After extended exposure, it builds up in organs and bones, remaining years after exposure. All of this contamination could have been prevented. When people complained and physicians reported unsafe levels of lead, the concerns were dismissed. After 18 months, the water is still unsafe for consumption, cooking or even doing the dishes.

Flint is one of the more impoverished cities in America. Local General Motors employment fell from a high of 80,000 in 1978 to under 8,000 in 2010. More than 40 percent of the people of Flint live below the poverty line. The population has declined from a high of 196,000 in 1960 to just under 100,000 today. The city, under an emergency manager, decided to switch water sources and failed to adequately treat the water. The state of Michigan houses nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. It is hard to comprehend unsafe water with such great water supplies nearby.

The long unheard cries of people in Flint remind me of the Israelites refusing to drink the water at Marah because it was bitter (Exodus 15). They complained to Moses, and he cried out to the Lord. The Lord and Moses made the water sweet. Every day, the water crisis in Flint touches me more deeply and reminds me that there are many water concerns throughout the world. Global warming is drying up lakes. The Aral Sea, once one of the world’s largest inland seas is mostly desert now, having receded by more than 75 percent in recent decades. Lake Chad in Africa has diminished by nearly 80 percent over the last 30 years due to global warming, reduced rain and water extraction.

Sharing God’s gifts and life-giving water with people in Flint

After visiting Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Bishop Donald P. Kreiss and Robin McCants, assistant to the bishop for advocacy and urban ministry, both of the ELCA Southeast Michigan Synod, shared the expanding depths of the crisis with the synod and the ELCA. With some government support and generous response from the synod, ELCA World Hunger, and people around the ELCA, Salem is now one of the largest distributors of fresh bottled water in the city. Claimed in baptism, refreshed by life-giving water from Jesus that gushes up to eternal life, members of the ELCA are sharing God’s gifts and life-giving water with people in Flint.

jack EgglestonFlint will need water for a long time to come. Find out how you can help by visiting the Southeast Michigan Synod website at

Congress is currently considering funding for resources to make the water in Flint safe to drink again. Find out more and take action by visiting the ELCA Advocacy Action Center.

This Sunday when I preach at Salem, I will bring cases of water and two of my own large drinking water bottles. When I return home I will refill them from my faucet and remember the people in Flint. I will be more attentive to ELCA blogs and advocacy requests. Jesus, who gives life-giving water, compels me to do this and to act.

ELCA World Hunger is providing support to address the immediate need for water and food through the Southeast Michigan Synod. Click here to show your support for the welfare of Flint and to ensure that we can continue to work for systemic change that truly supports our brothers and sisters facing poverty and hunger. 

The Paris agreement: What’s next?

By Mary Minette

mary 3After nearly 10 years of service as ELCA Advocacy director for Environmental Policy and Education, Mary Minette has completed her work with the ELCA Advocacy Office and is moving to a new position.

 “Mary has provided tremendous leadership for the whole church in her vocation and passion to care for creation. Her voice and perspective is respected from Washington, D.C., to congregations and synod assemblies throughout the church.” – Stephen Bouman, ELCA executive director for Congregational and Synodical Mission

 We hope you enjoy her final Living Earth Reflection below. Mary’s thoughtful and faithful leadership will be greatly missed by Lutheran advocates and ecumenical partners, but in her new role she continues her work for creation justice. Please join us in thanking God for Mary’s ministry and wishing her the best of luck!

On Dec. 12, 2015, in Paris, nearly 200 nations agreed for the first time to collectively take steps to address climate change. The Paris agreement was the culmination of years of movement building by groups ranging from environmentalists to labor unions, from local governments to the business community. The faith community has played a key role in the U.N. climate negotiations since their beginnings at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, but in Paris faith advocates were present in the highest numbers and had the greatest visibility and access ever.

Under the Paris agreement each country has pledged to set its own greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and to review those goals on a regular basis. As of this writing, 160 countries have submitted national goals, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).  The INDC for the United States includes actions across our economy—raising fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and methane emissions from oil and gas production, increasing energy efficiency, and encouraging adoption of renewable energy technologies. Other countries have also stepped forward with ambitious plans. For example, during the Paris meeting in December, leaders of African nations announced a new initiative that will make their continent a leader in the adoption of renewable energy—addressing both climate change and the continent’s need for energy development.

The Paris agreement pledges to keep total human-induced global warming below a 2-degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels, which climate scientists consider a key threshold for preventing catastrophic climate change. Although current INDC are not sufficient to meet that goal, the Paris agreement also includes mechanisms to review current commitments and to scale up ambition for reducing greenhouse gas emissions every five years. This creates opportunities for advocates to put pressure on our own governments to make good on their promises and to increase ambition over time; however, it will be incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we keep building pressure on our elected officials to ramp up their goals.

The Paris agreement includes financial commitments to help developing countries adopt cleaner energy technology and to help vulnerable countries adapt to already occurring climate change, including rising sea levels, increases in severe weather, and long-term droughts.

A key priority for faith advocates during negotiations was helping vulnerable countries address so-called “loss and damage,” the term used to refer to irreparable impacts of climate change on lives and livelihoods, including loss of territory. Island nations, such as Kiribati, might soon be completely submerged and will face relocation and sovereignty issues.

The Paris agreement did not provide a final answer to these difficult questions, but it did include a recommendation to continue working for solutions to loss-and-damage issues, which faith advocates can build on in future years.

How can we help support the Paris agreement?

We can support initiatives, such as the Clean Power Plan, to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and rules to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

We can continue our strong support for the U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund and to poverty-focused international development.

This agreement, for the first time, considers local actions as part of what will be needed to keep temperatures within safe boundaries. As advocates, we can work with our cities and counties and states to push for more renewable energy, higher energy efficiency standards for buildings, better land use practices and other things that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We can build on what many of our congregations are already doing—making our buildings more energy efficient, putting solar panels on church roofs and geothermal heating and cooling systems under our foundations.

And we can continue to look at our individual contributions to climate change—driving less, turning down the thermostat, recycling, and prioritizing small and large actions to reduce our carbon footprint.

 And most importantly:

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.Romans 12:11-12