[Episcopal Public Policy Network policy alert] The bishops of the Episcopal Church recently returned from a meeting in Alaska where they encountered the pressing need to address issues relating to the environment. In their Letter to the Church, the bishops of The Episcopal Church stated: “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are … members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). The residents of interior Alaska whom they met are not strangers; they are members of the same household of faith.
Among those “members of the household of God” the bishops met in Alaska were members of the Gwich’in nation. An indigenous people, the Gwich’in have lived in the area today called the Arctic Refuge for more than 10,000 years through subsistence hunting. While they are today overwhelmingly Episcopalian, the Gwich’in nation’s historic cultural and religious traditions hold that an area within their land where the caribou calf their young is called “the sacred place where life begins.” As the bishops lead Episcopalians in their prayer:
Give us new ears to hear and understand those who live off the land
and to hear and understand those who extract its resources.
Give us new hearts to recognize the brokenness in our communities
and to heal the wounds we have inflicted.
Give us new hands to serve the earth and its people
and to shape beloved community.
This sacred land is under threat. Congress is about to vote on plans that would open the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. The Episcopal Church has long stood by the Gwich’in, defending their right to exist and feed themselves. As the bishops of the church call us to prayer, education, and reconciliation, we must also act.