In September 2014 Earth Ministry member, Abby Brockway and four other people chained themselves to a tripod over a train track used for oil trains on the BNSF line. They were arrested for trespassing after many hours on the tracks. Abby joined the group, now known as the Delta 5, as a way to put her faith in action. She stated, “Before taking action I read the daily prayer from The Book of Common Prayer. I took the prayer with me as I climbed atop the tripod. I understood that climbing the tripod was my way of participating in the Book of Acts.”
The trial of the Delta 5 in Lynnwood two weeks ago marks the first time that a US judge has allowed a climate necessity defense to be heard. These two perspectives on the trial from Earth Ministry board member Holly Hallman and Earth Ministry seminary intern Laura Baumgartner provide more information and witness to the faithful advocacy of the Delta 5.
EARTH-Keeper: Abby Brockway
Let me introduce you to the Amazing Abby Brockway. She is the first of our new Earth Keepers and here is how that came to be.
It was January 2014. Seattle Presbytery was considering an overture that would support the Lummi Nation in their efforts to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from building the largest coal terminal in the United States. The discussion went back and forth until a young woman came to the microphone and said, “I support this overture and I will be advocating for the Lummi in the months ahead. When I do I want to know that the whole Presbyterian Church has my back.”
Nine months later four people cabled themselves to a railroad track building a tripod 18 feet high above them. That same young woman sat atop that tripod blocking a train at the Delta switching yards in Everett Washington. The five of them were arrested and spent the night in jail. They were charged with trespass and delaying a train. January 11, 2016 their trial began. The day before her trial Abby Brockway, ruling elder, gave the sermon at her church, Woodland Park Presbyterian.
While she was speaking, John Fife, founder of the sanctuary movement in the 1980s, was across town addressing another Presbyterian congregation. John said that the Presbyterian Church is very good at reform. He said that the Presbyterian Church is amazing at charity. Who does a better bowl of hot soup and a warm blanket? He said that Presbyterians are articulate and energetic advocates on issues that span all of our global concerns. He said that isn’t enough. In order for the Presbyterian Church to be relevant to those who are inheriting our damaged earth and to make the issues move forward in a gridlocked Congressional world the church must resist. The fourth step, the next step, is resistance.
What would that look like?
Trial Day One
I stood outside the Snohomish County South Courthouse with a group of retired women before the sun came up talking about what brought us here and our support for those who had prevented an oil train from proceeding by placing themselves in harm’s way and eventually being arrested for taking a stand against oil trains in our region. One woman said, “If I had the guts I would have been there with them. I don’t so I’m here.” I think we might all have our own reasons for not taking a stand in front of the oil train, involving guts and other commitments and desire to be a spokesperson and all kinds of other things. But in some way we all have a story to tell about our way to support environmental activism.
The mood of the people waiting in the lobby is jovial and friendly. We are trying to stay out of the way of those who work here and also be visible and present. Some have surveys about predictions for the new year and some are busy on their phones or laptops. Some are reading books, sleeping, perusing the newspaper, or visiting. As I sit here, I think about the defense of the Delta 5. The judge in this case is allowing necessity as a defense for the climate trial, for the first time in this country. We are making history at this trial and necessity about sums up what the feeling is among those who care for Creation. It not seem like a necessity because the earth will cease to exist if we don’t do anything.
However, it’s not our place to save the earth. Our Creator will save the earth and we aren’t necessary for that. However the reason that necessity is the appropriate defense for this trial is that we are called to be part of Creation and we have been acting like we are in charge. We have a necessity, but it’s not a necessity to take charge. That’s the approach that’s helped us arrive at this point. The necessity is that we give up our take charge attitude and we assume instead the position that we are a vital and key component in a much larger system among many other vital and key components, including endangered species, polluted waters, and a drastically altered climate. The necessity is that we start to understand and occupy our rightful place in Creation.
This judge and jury had a huge challenge in front of them. They heard that there is a necessity for oil companies to make a profit. They heard that there is a necessity to bring oil to market so that people can fuel their cars and make electricity and protect themselves from the cold. They will have to ask and answer the hard questions about how economic and political and environmental and social necessity all comes together to form a future in which humans and the rest of Creation live together with respect and love. In the end, this case was decided and small steps were taken in setting precedent for this type of defense in the future. All God’s people now must make the necessity of Creation our constant motivation.