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US-based law professor seeks Spirit-led actions of solidarity for water justice

US-based law professor seeks Spirit-led actions of solidarity for water justice

Susan Smith discussing the water and energy waste involved in beverages bottled in plastic.Helen Putsman/WCC

24 March 2015

Professor Susan Lea Smith hails from working class roots in the western United States. Hers’ is a family of farmers, loggers, miners, and carpenters who were also union organizers.

“Because my family was politically active and deeply valued education, I sought training in law and public policy at Harvard University about 40 years ago.”

She practised environmental and natural resources law, including water allocation law and water quality law, in Washington, D.C. and the western United States for 20 years. After seven years of part-time and full-time seminary study, she is now approved for ordination in the United Church of Christ (UCC) and anticipates seeking a call to eco-justice or water justice ministry.

“I have taught law for 25 years now in the rain-blessed western area of the Pacific Northwest.”

Professor Smith sees the essence of being Christian as walking with or accompanying others, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, in the struggle for justice. She seeks to shape water resources management toward ethics, towards doing justice to all God’s children and creation.

“Our actions of solidarity and accompaniment should be led by the Spirit. But it also requires that we reflect deeply on how our work shapes our faith and how our faith shapes our work."

“Organic indigenous spirituality has taught us where we need to begin by living in community with each other.”

At her urging, Smith’s home church, First Congregational UCC in Salem, Oregon began a Drink Water for Life Lenten observance in 2006.

“We ‘sacrifice’ by drinking water instead of lattes and other expensive beverages to finance water and sanitation projects.”

In 2010, the UCC’s Central Pacific Conference took on Susan as an intern to spread the word to other churches.

Since then, more than a dozen UCC as well as Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Methodist churches in four U.S. states have helped finance clean water, health promotion education, and adequate sanitation projects in the Central Plateau of Haiti.

In 2013, Smith represented the Ecumenical Water Network at a dialogue with the Coca Cola Company’s official representatives in New York on the issue of contentious ground water exploitation in Plachimada, India. R. Ajayan of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee was also part of the dialogue.

Read also: Bringing Paradise Closer to Earth. This reflection by Prof. Susan Smith was published on the EWN website as part of the Seven Weeks for Water 2015.

A group of 17 people, most of them theologians, but also lawyers and an engineer met at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, Switzerland, in a theological consultation on water justice from 8-11 December 2014 to develop a theological framework for water justice. Some of the group told Peter Kenny about the issue of water in the context of their regions, nations and local areas. So did some of the students currently studying at Bossey. The interviews will be published in the EWN website over the coming weeks.