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The Religious Mandate To Not Abandon The Gulf

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By Rachel Cohen
Religion News Service

(RNS) Six months ago, we watched in horror as an offshore drilling rig exploded and five million barrels of oil began pouring into the Gulf. As people of faith -- called to care both for God's creation and for our brethren in need -- we were inspired to respond immediately to the disaster.

Faith communities in the Gulf and around the nation have provided resources for direct relief and coordinated national solidarity events and advocacy efforts. Six months later, we remain focused on pursuing environmental and economic justice, and we refuse to let the Gulf
disappear from public attention. We are illustrating our commitment through AftertheSpill.com, a new interactive website that highlights how members of the faith community are working to strengthen the health and security of the Gulf Coast in response to the oil spill disaster.

The debate over how much oil remains, and what to do with thousands of tons of oil waste, rages on as Gulf Coast residents struggle daily to navigate claims processes, facing dire economic straits as they wait to return to work in industries crippled by the spill. Across the region, fishermen remain out of work after a lost season, communities whose land has been destroyed cannot rebound, and affected families feel violated by the transgressions of justice and the culture of greed that have, for too long, characterized the way our country treats the Gulf.

Countless questions about the spill itself remain unanswered: What are the long-term ecological effects? How do we hold responsible parties fully accountable? How can we prevent future disasters? Answering these questions will require sustained attention from scientific experts, government officials, industry and advocates.

But one question demands our immediate attention: How do we respond to the overwhelming human needs -- food security, income loss, community devastation -- caused by the spill, particularly as public interest wanes?

When the well was capped this summer, media and public attention shifted rapidly, but community leaders across the Gulf continue to voice a clear, unified message: This crisis is far from over.

As the Rev. Kristina Peterson of the First Presbyterian Church of Bayou Blue explains, "The spiritual, social and environmental damages of the oil disaster are pulling at the fabric of our communities. Healing has to come -- spiritually -- to give strength to endure the long road
ahead, knowing that the issues from the oil will certainly intertwine with additional hurricanes, floods and land loss."

Gulf Coast religious leaders are urging Congress and the Obama administration to invest in the Gulf, both to meet immediate needs and to ensure the long-term health and safety of a national treasure. These investments will help rebuild broken communities, grow sustainable urban gardens, and implement a clean energy infrastructure with jobs to replace those lost in the oil industry. And these investments will benefit our entire nation, which depends on, and benefits from, the energy, food, culture and beauty of the Gulf Coast.

People of faith around the country are hosting worship events, sending resources, and taking action in their communities and in Washington. Our obligation is not just to the citizens of the Gulf but also to our entire country and to our fundamental notions of economic and environmental justice.

Five years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people of faith flocked to the Gulf to join clean-up efforts. Though we, as untrained volunteers, cannot clean up the oil, we can provide resources, and we can demand sustained attention to and serious investment in the Gulf in the wake of this disaster -- from our elected officials and from all people of good moral conscience.

That's why we've launched AftertheSpill.com, a hub for advocacy and programmatic resources, and the latest news on the Gulf. The pages of After the Spill tell the stories of Gulf communities and highlight how religious groups are engaged in the restoration process, and we hope they will resonate with people of faith across North America.

The well is dead; our commitment to the Gulf cannot be.

Rachel Cohen is Sustainability Program Coordinator for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a new position focused on greening the Reform Movement and coordinating interfaith response and restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast.

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