A Broken Relationship in Southern Appalachia

By Rev. Pat Watkins

As Christians on this earth, we are called to be in relationships with God, with each other and with creation. We care for God’s people with a special place in our hearts for the poor, the oppressed, children and those who have no voice. But with so may other problems facing us, who has time to think about the planet?

In truth, the earth also has no voice, and in recent history has begun to be oppressed. It is time for Christians to stand up in defense of God’s creation.

The prophet Hosea took the three relationships with God to a new level; he knew the connection between our relationship with the Almighty and our relationship with His creation. When the Israelites had failed in their relationships with God and each other, Hosea indicted them: “There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air; even the fish of the sea are perishing.” (Hosea 4:1a-3 NRSV)

Hosea connected these relationships in such a way that if our connections with God and each other are not right, then God’s creation will actually provide the evidence.

Mountaintop removal coal mining, taking place in central Appalachia, provides evidence that the land is mourning, the wild animals and birds of the air are languishing and even the fish of the sea are perishing. To use Hosea’s theology, perhaps the evidence of mountaintop removal points to a failure, not just of our relationship to God’s creation, but also a failure in our relationships with each other and with God.

Mountaintop removal mining is an environmental disaster, no doubt. But could it also be a relationship disaster? Relationships are hard; none are perfect. We all make relationship mistakes that cause pain and hurt and suffering for ourselves, others—even those we love the most—and for the planet itself.

As the health of the mountains in Appalachia deteriorates, so dwindles the health of the people who live there. It is no coincidence that when our relationship with God’s creation suffers, our relationships with each other suffer as well.

Our desire for cheap electricity somehow has given us “permission” to abuse not only our neighbors in Appalachia but also God’s mountains. Somehow we have come to believe the mountains belong to us to do with as we please, but the Psalmist says otherwise; “In God’s hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are God’s also.” (Psalm 95:4 NRSV)

Faith speaks to abusive and broken relationships, whether with each other or the planet. But isn’t faith about healing broken relationships?

Perhaps faith can be and maybe even has to be part of the solution. Faith heals broken relationships; faith directs us in how to appropriately live out our connection with God through our ties with each other and with God’s creation.

When our relationships with God and each other are redeemed, God’s creation will celebrate, even the mountains of Appalachia will celebrate. Thanks be to God, the creator of heaven and earth!

Rev. Pat Watkins is the executive director for Caretakers of God’s Creation, a church and community ministry of the United Methodist Church. He can be reached at CaretakersOfCreation@me.com.


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