God, self, humanity, Earth: Christian ecological ethics in local contexts
Chicka, Jessica Ann Hittinger
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The complex issues of environmental justice require a contextualized approach, analyzing the intricacy of global ecological issues and studying local communities in which ecological issues are entangled with other concerns, such as ensuring economic survival and protecting the viability of local communities. Such contextual analysis is needed to guide Christians in making ethical decisions. This dissertation utilizes an ethnographic case study of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in two local communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania to describe and analyze the global and local tensions created by the social, economic, and environmental effects of these practices. The description and analysis of the case study contributes to the development of a contextual Christian ecological ethical framework that is forged at the intersection of lived experience and Christian theological ethical principles and practices. Lutheran and ecofeminist theological perspectives provide a framework for a contextualized Christian ethic that identifies and negotiates through the economic and ecological tensions present for individuals and communities facing ecological injustice, resulting in the development of ethical principles that enable practical action in establishing justice within communities. By reshaping the dialectical method found in Martin Luther’s theology, feminist intersectional theory, and middle-axiom ethical approaches, this dissertation argues that a contextualized ethical framework can be employed in local situations of ecological injustice for a more realistic and potentially transformative outcome. Specifically, I engage the coram relational model found in Luther’s writing, as described by Gerhard Ebeling and interpreted by Lutheran feminist theologian Caryn D. Riswold. My theological ethical approach is to engage people in dialectical reflection on their relationships with God, themselves as individuals, humanity, and the Earth. Through investigating these relationships, individuals come to understand the self as a complex manifestation of identities that influence the ethical decision-making process. Based on the self-knowledge gained in these reflections, community members can participate in dialogue to develop ethical principles in the form of middle axioms that can guide their community as a whole toward practical action. The case study analysis reveals how dialectical reflection and the development of middle axioms build upon each other, enabling practical ethical action in communities facing ecological and economic injustice.