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Spring 2020 · Vol. 49 No. 1 · pp. 28–41 

The Shanty and the Watershed: Economics and Atonement for an Integral Restoration of Creation

Nathan Davis Hunt

Just north of downtown Denver, America’s most polluted zip code spans the South Platte River. Its people are working poor and working class, immigrants, and people of color. Children climb through railroad yards to reach school as two interstates, the smokestacks of Suncor Energy, and Purina’s cat food factory congest the air. 1 A hundred years ago, smelters leached lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals into soil where the poor made their homes. Soil that runs into a river on its way to the Mississippi and the Gulf, but whose flow runs weak after passing through a series of dams and canal systems built to satiate four million residents on Colorado’s arid high plains. Gentrification also looms. Enticed by low land-costs, proximity to downtown, and new public transit, developers arrived with long-absent capital, inflating the market and displacing longtime residents. Nearby, in the shadows of industry and overpasses, camped on the river’s banks, are the signs of Denver’s impoverished thousands struggling to survive without a home. Homelessness grew since federal housing cuts began in the late {29} 1970s, 2 but numbers boomed after the Great Recession. Denver electeds, lobbied by the Downtown Business Improvement District, responded in 2012 with one of the nation’s most draconian urban camping bans. 3 In a twisted scheme meant to drive people experiencing homelessness into shelters—which notably have fewer beds than people without homes, are unable to accommodate most special needs, and with severely limited abilities to reconnect users to permanent housing—it became illegal to sleep or cover oneself with a blanket on the coldest night.

Only genuine encounters with the human and more-than-human Others of creation can free us from the hegemonic tyrannies of contemporary life.

As so many layered threads come together in the tight confines of a western watershed, three interwoven forms of blindness are exposed in society at large and in the minds of those who profess to follow Jesus: blindness to the other, to systemic dynamics, and a theological blindness to the holistic mission of God. This article seeks to shine a light on these obscured territories against the background of a simple thesis: any faithfully Christian theology and vocation, issuing from the good news of the loving God’s incarnate solidarity with creation and Jesus’ resurrection victory over the powers of death and violence, must be what Pope Francis calls an “integral ecology.” An integral ecology seeks holistic restoration of the community of creation, integrating justice for the oppressed with ecological care into its principles, methodologies, and pursued ends. 4 These commitments necessitate a critique of capitalism. By drawing on examples of the intertwined damage to people and planet sowed in Denver’s South Platte River watershed, I will outline five elements of the extractive economy, then proceed to restore a theology of atonement that centers God’s cosmic and placially-particular project of shalom-making to resurrect a unified perception of creation and our role within it.

LIGHTING THE UNSEEN

The particular unveils much in the common lot. In the case of Denver’s South Platte River watershed, a conflict in the spring of 2019 between homeless advocates and river conservationists over a municipal ballot initiative draws out the tragic results of an ecological imagination that has not reflected on those radical dimensions privileged by Gustavo Gutiérrez: the historical, the structural, and the knowledge of the oppressed. 5 With thousands on the streets, and because even the most aggressive housing investment would leave many fighting for survival in public space for years to come, a proposition was written to not only overturn Denver’s urban camping ban but replace it with a new set of rights to protect basic human activities required for survival: sharing and eating food in public space, sleeping in a legally parked vehicle, covering oneself for protection from the elements, the right to rest in a non-obstructive manner, and a right to privacy and safety of person and property. {30}

Surprisingly to some, local park and river restoration organizations came out prominently against the ballot initiative. Fearing the initiative’s passage would permanently institutionalize camping along the river, they were featured in TV commercial spots and Facebook-sponsored opposition ads. Despite overwhelming evidence that river pollution comes from the historical and ongoing effects of industry and urban runoff, those closest to river restoration efforts became fixated on the poorest and least powerful members of the Denver community, scapegoating them by characterizing the ballot initiative as a “river killer” and describing it as a cause for being “deathly afraid.” 6 The proposition would go on to lose at the polls by a crushing 63 percent.

Such is our contradictory contemporary condition. Prominent environmentalists concerned with the health of the river scapegoat people experiencing homelessness while an extractive and polluting industrial economy clearly dominates the watershed. Adjacent to the river, investors in long-neglected neighborhoods build residential developments, new parklands, and infrastructure. But pursuing their goals outside of relationship, these improvements become the primary drivers of displacement and gentrification. Meanwhile, the church, apart from marginal but notable exceptions, is either aligned with the interests of capital, self-protectively sharing in the fear of the poor, or simply absent from the conversation.

As a local advocate and faith-leader involved in each of these issues, I am often left dumbstruck. A society that must debate whether people, whatever their social class, can share food in a park and cover themselves from the cold is a society that has lost its way. And, of course, the same must be said of those who trash their own water source. Should not the river and those who huddle for warmth on its banks hold one another in solidarity beneath their common abuse at the hands of an extractive economy that has for decades excluded, abandoned, and exploited them? Tragically, the shallow analyses and bifurcation of social and ecological justice found in my watershed are mirrored on a global scale when crises of climate change are set in conflict with the development of impoverished nations. The poor are scapegoated as polluters as they suffer the worst environmental conditions, while GDP growth is ruthlessly pursued with the assumption that ecological-health considerations must wait until economies “modernize” (a calculus that exacerbates both economic inequality and environmental degradation). 7

The case of Denver’s South Platte River watershed brings to light a triple blindness plaguing our communities. First comes the blindness of othering. Our sight is muddied by alienation from the poor and the land. The collective failure of relationship is by design. American society is spatially, temporally, and ideologically structured to ensure that the privileged will {31} not experience conscious presence of mind, body, or spirit with creation or the oppressed—particularly a presence that could witness the poor or creation as variegated Subjects who possess privileged messages. Without presence, subject-to-subject relationship cannot emerge. Without mutual relationship, there is no knowledge. Stumbling unaware in the darkness without the warm flame of relational-knowing, there is no affection, no perception of inherent unity, no collective praxis capable of birthing the all-inclusive mystery of God’s shalom. And so the unknown remains the Other whose stories and dreams stay hidden beneath fears of difference, with violence waiting in the wings.

Second, the Orwellian language of neoliberal local and global political economies confuses, appeases, or misdirects even concerned citizens with regard to the common historical and structural causes producing social and ecological injustices. We may call this systemic blindness: the inability to perceive the design and emergent effects of one’s own society. Economic illiteracy is a plague particularly virulent within the church. Christians who scapegoat the poor, whether in lofty defense of nature or simply to secure their own gains, make a Faustian bargain. Until we can see and describe the interconnected economic operations of exploitation, extraction, and exclusion behind the damage to rivers and violence to the poor, we will remain incapable of incarnating the Christian vocation of co-creating a just peace in cooperation with God.

The final blindness is theological, a paradigmatic blindness whose frame so distorts what is viewed through it that the beautiful becomes hideous and the hideous beautiful. The typical American Christian imagination—which, regardless of tradition, has been conditioned by the values and logics of modernity, coloniality, capitalism, and whiteness—limits one’s ability to compassionately encounter creation as an integrated whole in which humans are fellow creatures. Nowhere is the inversion of the good news of Jesus more evident than in foundational theologies of atonement. Regaining eyes to see requires a theological vision that can unify the frame, draw us into already existing interrelationships, and generate a missional strategy for structural transformation.

The first blindness can only be healed through orthopraxy. Neither study nor the most revelatory paradigm shift can heal the post/neocolonial world’s great wounds of alienation until the way of Jesus is practiced. Only relationships in the real can heal these wounds. Only presence offered by the privileged over time as pilgrim, servant, beginner, listener can restore our capacity to see and know the land and poor as God sees them—and to truly see ourselves. Only genuine encounters with the human and more-than-human Others of creation, free of demands for reconciliation and communion before there is liberating transformation, can free us from the {32} hegemonic tyrannies of contemporary life. Such a praxis leads down roads of lamentation, repentance, and humbled struggles in solidarity that must be traveled repeatedly to access the kingdom of God. It is toward such journeys that discipleship in the Spirit of Christ has always beckoned us. Jesus calls us to become gardeners and those who break bread with the poor.

Yet as Bonhoeffer famously said: If you lack faith, practice obedience; if you lack obedience, have faith. 8 We have the opportunity to begin the journey with a renewal of our minds. Thus the remainder of this paper seeks to shed light on the second and third forms of blindness, beginning with an analysis of the evolution of capitalism.

TRACING THE EXTRACTIVE ECONOMY

The phases of economic activity through which Denver’s urban ecology and social milieu were produced offer a useful case study for exploring the common causes of homelessness, class and racial segregation, inequality, and watershed degradation. While other valid categorizations could be offered, 9 I briefly examine common themes and interrelated impacts on ecology and society across three historical phases of capitalism in this western city: settler-colonial, industrial, and the real estate state.

That settler-colonialism provides the foundation for subsequent political, economic, and cultural developments should, by itself, deeply problematize anything built on it for a people formed to love their neighbors. Such dissonance rarely occurs, in part because settler-colonial actions are temporally and ontologically cordoned off in Western imaginations from modern capitalism. In practice, not only were they contemporaneous; each accepted feature of mature capitalism was operational: debt finance, private property, corporate structures, separation of ownership and labor, regulated markets, entrepreneurialism, and so forth. However, it is the subtextual layers of system goals, unofficial means, and motivating values that most reveal the continuity of capitalism through each phase of Denver’s growth.

Greed, justified by theologies of Divine Right, drove first wave settler-colonists since the conquistadors. 10 Land and gold were the most exploitable resources, and to access them, nonwhite peoples were consistently eliminated, excluded, or exploited as labor through violence to maximize value extraction. 11 Settler-colonial capitalism depended on the expropriation of land through violence and its conversion into private property. Violence against the South Platte watershed’s Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Ute nations reached a nadir in the Sand Creek Massacre on November 29, 1864. Methodist preacher Colonel John Chivington led the party, and rationalized his violent animosity theologically. Chivington deemed Native communities “heathen savages,” and deployed the racist {33} anthropology to claim ethical grounds for his mission to murder and expropriate: “I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.” 12 The massacre took the lives of over 105 women and children and 28 men. 13 Lands seized in Colorado and elsewhere were redistributed to white people. Racialized class violence continued in Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot of 1880 when xenophobic fears of immigrants taking jobs were stoked by white political leadership, resulting in the destruction of washhouses and at least one man’s death. 14

With the land appropriated, colonists began tearing holes in it. Though gold ran thin in the Front Range shortly after Denver’s 1858 founding, mining operations spread deeper into the Rockies and found a succession of minerals: silver, copper, lead, coal, and, later, molybdenum and uranium. Nine of Colorado’s nineteen active superfund sites date to these mines. 15 Denver converted from mining town to merchant city, supplying newcomers and shipping products east on freshly laid railroads. Merchants exploited miners, who exploited the land and often themselves immigrated from Europe where they belonged to the landless and increasingly impoverished peasantry. Meanwhile, an owner-class (including philanthropists on whose foundations my nonprofits and I now depend) became spectacularly wealthy, reflecting the western face of America’s radically unequal Gilded Age.

The young city faced an unpredictable climate and western aridity. Life west of the 100th meridian is marked by its cycles of flood and famine. Ignoring Indigenous warnings that the location is a flood basin, Denver was built at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Six years after its founding, most of the city was destroyed by a wall of water over 20 feet high rolling out of the Cherry Creek basin. 16 While initial rebuilds shifted to higher ground, the city quickly expanded back around the river and creek, implanting an aggressive lesson in the Denverite mind: nature must adapt to us, for we will not adapt to it. Construction of massive upstream dam works and flood control systems began, bending the seasonal rhythms of the watershed to urban demands.

Already five key themes were in place: (1) greed justified as a moral good and societal motivation; (2) white supremacist racism deployed as structural violence, often via official state tools; (3) exploitation, elimination, and exclusion of populations who present barriers to white greed; (4) an instrumentalist relationship to the land as “natural resource” for extraction and modification to anthropocentric demands (whether minerals and agricultural goods, or more abstractly via tourist consumption and inflated property values); and (5) the returns of accumulation distributed in compounding unevenness between an elite and everyone else. Each theme {34} forms a pillar in the deep logic of capitalism, reinforced theologically by white society, and held resilient even as the externalities of the economy shifted dramatically. While countervailing values and techniques clearly coexisted, the presence of these characteristics aborts capitalism’s capacity to shape a society that could approximate God’s vision of shalom.

Denver rapidly industrialized in the twentieth century, and centered production along the Platte. As Black families arrived from the South during the Great Migration, joining Latinx communities and other long-term residents of color in the region, racialized residential patterns ossified in conjunction with the land and labor demands of the factory-based economy. Denver’s Redline Map, published in 1938, cartographically produced and recorded the intertwined spatial relationships of the river, emplaced capitalist production, wealth and residential inequality, and racism. The Platte traces an “S” curve through the eastern third of the city. Immediately proximate to the river, the map is white with diagonal lines, designating industrial zones—as ecologically blind a planning decision as one can imagine. 17 Exclusively surrounding the industrial spaces are redlined neighborhoods (with one yellow exception for a white working-class neighborhood), including those communities referenced at the introduction of this paper as currently America’s most polluted.

Industrial capitalism exerted the dominant influence on urban politics in the mid-twentieth century, ensuring low property values (since land represents cost to their businesses) and the proximity of cheap labor. Residents of redlined districts supplied industrial workers but suffered severe disinvestment, bank credit embargoes, educational inequality, and hyper-policing (hence mass incarceration, another state-deployed, racially-motivated structural violence). Thanks to the placial coupling of industry with both the river and communities of color, the poisoning of the river proceeded hand-in-hand with the poisoning of Black and Brown bodies. 18 Environmental degradation is nearly always also environmental racism. 19

The conditions set in the Industrial Phase—low urban core land values, extreme environmental damage, segregated neighborhoods suffering capital flight—thus laid the foundation for the paradoxical operations of capitalism in the current phase of the real estate state: soaring new developments and capital investments, aggressive gentrification prompting the physical and cultural displacement of long-standing communities of color, alongside environmental and recreational-use restoration of the Platte river, general housing insecurity, and expanding homeless populations. The shift occurred with the so-called neoliberal turn. Off-shored industry no longer exerted influence, austerity demands forced public sector shrinkage and privatization, while the financial sector was turbocharged by deregulation and increasingly fused with real estate to set conditions {35} toward a shared goal: inflating property values and raising home costs. Samuel Stein masterfully describes how the evolution of cities from industrial economy to real estate state allowed for continuity in the logic of capitalism while dramatically transforming built environments and spatial distributions of communities on the basis of class and race. A dark catch-22 is built into urban dynamics such that, “in the real estate state, planners can create marvelous environments for rich people, but if they work to improve poor peoples’ space they risk sparking gentrification and displacement.” 20 The most vulnerable find themselves not only displaced from one neighborhood to another, but, in the wake of slashed social safety nets, move from housing to the streets where mental health degrades and bodies are exposed to high rates of violence. 21 As in previous phases, populations deemed unwanted or unnecessary to capitalist production are either excluded (gentrification displacement, homeless criminalization), eliminated (mass incarceration, police violence), or exploited (low-paying service sector work).

While today the restoration of the Platte’s water quality and ecology are better invested in, efforts are pursued within the same exclusionary and extractive capitalistic logic. Watershed restoration, coupled with recreational parkland and trail systems, is pursued as landscaping design to fabricate environments for high-end housing. These ostensibly welcome improvements are calculated to appreciate land-values. Communities of color are displaced from enjoying the uplift while the homeless, perceived as a dual threat to the river and property values, are swept from the area to present a scrubbed image. Since private capital (via the classic neoliberal tool of “public-private partnerships”) is the primary source of investment in river restoration, the more natural solidarity between the poor and environmentalists against a common oppressor is aborted in imaginations and movement alliances.

A faithfully Christian ecological movement cannot afford to be economically ignorant of these deep structural dynamics, kowtowing to the capitalist financial resources, when doing so forces us to scapegoat the poor and socially marginalized. In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis urged, “Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions.” 22 Indeed, it becomes clear that truly ending homelessness would, by the fact of their common origins, also end harm to the river. It is toward a theological imagination capable of integrating the social and ecological that we now turn. {36}

ATONEMENT OF RESISTANCE AND RESTORATION

The work of Christ enables us to imagine and inaugurate the rejoining of a creation torn apart by violence. Commenting on Act 25 and the disruptive power of the kingdom of God on the empire of Rome, Willie Jennings wrote that Rome’s pattern was for

people [to] merge at the site of conquest and oppression, violence and the desire for power. Paul represented an alternative vision of joining in which Jew and Gentile found each other at the resurrected body of Jesus. . . . The former means loss, but the latter means gain. The former destroys the voices and histories of people and imposes an alternative story that imparts to people a derogatory gaze of their own people and culture in light of the glory of the new conquering culture. The later invites peoples to share in each other’s ways of life and come to know each other through the Spirit, who imparts the desire to love and the desire to be together in the love of God made known in Jesus. 23

We can add that the former colonizes lands to plunder the bodies of creation and heap gifts at the concrete feet of Mammon, while the latter seeks humble communion with creation found in the local watershed. As Leonardo Boff heard so clearly in his native Brazil—echoing Saint Francis and Paul—the “cry of the earth” melds in the ears of God with the “cry of the poor.” 24 Our responsibly is to hear their lament together, harmonizing in common complaint, yearning for liberation unto shalom. Western imaginations have torn asunder things meant for wholeness, not only fracturing our capacity to see the world’s inherent wholeness, but hierarchializing dualities to set them in conflict with one another: body versus mind, science versus religion, spiritual versus secular, nature versus culture, man versus woman, white versus black.

While the work suggested in such a shift will be comprehensive and iterative, it must at least begin with a sense of the cosmic comprehensiveness of God’s restorative accomplishments in and through Jesus. Such consciousness finds its apotheosis in Colossians 1, where Paul doxologically celebrates the victories of Christ, in whom “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers,” and through whom “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:16, 20 NRSV). Paul poetically dissolves the boundaries of redemption, drawing the circle of God’s compassionate mission around all creation, gathered back through just-peace (eirene) into union with God’s self. Here even the duality between God and creation is mystically undone through Christ, who in the incarnation became one with the created. The explicit language of “thrones or dominions or rulers {37} or powers” draws the political economy of earthly empires under the reign of God and places their structures, too, within the scope of God’s transformative action. 25

Among many issues, contemporary “satisfaction” or “substitution” theories of atonement miss the “all-ness” of God’s reconciliatory mission found in Colossians, reducing the gospel to spiritualized absolution for individuals. Communities suffering oppression are dangled the shrunken hope that their souls can be saved, while creation is excluded entirely from the arch of redemption. Equally important, the beneficiaries of salvation in these atonement theologies are not naturally precipitated into ethical action. 26 Anabaptist theologians Perry B. Yoder and J. Denny Weaver charted trajectories that reintroduce the gospel as good news to exploited rivers and excluded river-bank dwellers by recognizing that the principles of shalom and nonviolence are, respectively, central to God’s mission and character as revealed in Jesus’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

“The cross,” Yoder writes, “illustrates the basic pattern of God’s salvation.” Namely “it aims to set things right.” 27 Yoder further claims that “Jesus’ work is a positive work rather than mainly a negative one aimed at appeasing God or the devil. The spiritual and the social, the individual and the corporate are not divided into two separate spheres. Both new people and new structures are needed to bring about a new order which reflects shalom justice and in which people can experience shalom.” If an economic system or any social structure fails to produce wellbeing and communion, then it is included in the agenda of God’s transformative justice. Individual behaviors and values will necessarily require transformation in cooperation with this liberative process to shape and support just systems.

For Weaver, the atoning work of Jesus specifically designates God’s struggle with, and defeat of, Imperial Powers manifested in unjust social structures that oppose the kingdom of God. While the order established under capitalism and white supremacy consistently deployed violence to achieve its goals—emblematic of all earthly empires—the victory accomplished through Jesus over the powers of evil was won through nonviolence and the rejection of the sword. Weaver calls his atonement theory “narrative Christus Victor,” underlining the historical embeddedness of the work of God to resist earthly empire and bring forth the lordship of God. Weaver depicts the structural, individual, and ethical integration of his theory:

In narrative Christus Victor, individuals as well as the world are saved, although we still await the culmination of that salvation in the eschaton. In the intermediate time, Christians participate in the salvation when they accept God’s call and are transformed from creatures aligned with evil to those who become co-laborers with Jesus in making God’s rule present and visible on earth. 28 {38}

Weaver therefore depicts the gospel as one that frees us from the imperial logics of violence and division, and draws us as sons and daughters into collaborative action with the God who is overturning social systems that harm creation and the oppressed.

Weaver’s aim is to expose the “centuries-long use of Christian theology to accommodate violence both systemic and direct.” 29 As we have seen in the case of Chivington and the Sand Creek Massacre, theology has regularly been used not simply to accommodate violence, but to justify and incite it, often in racialized forms. Anabaptists have long recognized that theology and ethics are inseparable. Thought about God is of one whole with action for a believer. Therefore, good theology cannot remain so abstractly disembodied and dis-emplaced—either by spiritualization or philosophizing—as to leave performative space open to injustice. Neither can Christians who do attend to this world settle for bifurcations between the human and more-than-human world, between the oppression of the poor and ecological degradation. By pivoting the focus of God’s atoning work away from the use of retributive violence to appease the violent nature of God, toward God’s victory over violence through love, and, in Jesus’s life and resurrection, inaugurating the whole cosmos into the Peaceable Kingdom, we are provided with clear-eyed vision to first see and reject the roots of ecological and social violence present in contemporary economic systems and, second, to formulate integrated ecclesial methodologies for participating in God’s restorative mission. Jesus’s lordship stands against Caesar’s culpability for both ecological degradation and social injustices. God draws the firmament toward the enjoyment of shalom in him. Recognizing the atoning work of Jesus as the apex of God’s mission to establish shalom “on earth as it is in heaven” liberates those who commit their allegiance to God into this communal, wholistic, nonviolent vocation.

Christian participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus thus comes to look like resistance to the all forces of violence and division—whether present in the heart, in group and institutional dynamics, in social ideology, in stock markets, or in public policy. Indeed, the work of the Spirit, inaugurated at Pentecost, empowers us to forge a resistance that includes but is not exhausted by oppositionalism. To be Christian and human is to reflect the divine image as creative beings, birthing alternative communities with upside-down ways of relating to the other, the enemy, and the neighbor. Through such relationships, we cultivate places of shalom in the here and now of watersheds and cities. Personally, culturally, and structurally, greed is replaced by the generosity of the God who gives his very life. Supremacy dissolves before the self-emptying perichoretic dance of the inclusive Trinity. Violence is studied no more as swords are beaten into plows. Private accumulation becomes common abundance. {39} Exclusionary walls crumble before the communion table. Exploitation ceases as the first rush to come in last. And creation’s groaning softly turns to songs of praise.

CONCLUSION

Four hundred feet from the South Platte River, across some tracks, nestled in the polluted working-class Globeville neighborhood, the Beloved Community Village is half-way through its third year of being home to a couple dozen people who recently came out of homelessness. Its twenty ecologically sustainable tiny homes and common house provide both privacy and connection, as the residents democratically take collective responsibility for the leadership of their community. Slowly, bonds are forming between the villagers and Globeville residents—two communities battling similar forces, who historically struggle to see their commonalities. But solidarity is emerging. Land is being reclaimed from the market. The village sits on publicly owned property (typically sold at discounts to developers). Meanwhile, Globeville (along with contiguous Elyria/Swansea) participates in the resident-founded and run GES Community Land Trust that preserves affordable homes to avert displacement, while building power for a cleaner and healthier community. As the people fight for ways of life that are healthier for themselves and their children, the river and the watershed heal in conjunction. In these movement spaces, as a beginning, the supremacy of financial markets, property values, and whiteness is subordinated to a larger vision. The door stands open for a church embedded through love in watershed webs of responsibility, mobilized by relationship with the poor and creation, transformed and energized from within by the atoning work of Jesus who defeats evil and establishes the conditions of shalom in hearts and political economies, to join in solidarity with the land and the landless for the common good.

NOTES

  1. Globeville and Elyria/Swansea earned the dubious rating thanks to their “number of Superfund sites, brownfield sites, active polluters and overall air quality.” See Aldo Svaldi, “Northeast Denver Neighborhood is Nation’s Most Polluted,” The Denver Post, February 16, 2017, https://www.denverpost.com/2017/02/16/denver-most-polluted-zip-code/.
  2. Michael Anderson et al., “Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness, and Policy Failures,” Western Regional Advocacy Project, 2010, https://wraphome.org//wp-content/uploads/2008/09/2010%20Update%20Without%20Housing.pdf.
  3. Tristia Bauman, “Housing Not Handcuffs: Ending the Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,” National Law Center on Homelessness & {40} Poverty, from https://nlchp.org//wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Housing-Not-Handcuffs.pdf.
  4. Randy Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012).
  5. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, 15th anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), xxiv.
  6. I have refrained from citing these still-publicly-accessible comments since the purpose of this article is not to demonize any person or organization but rather to draw out broad cultural and theological perceptions and point toward alternatives.
  7. Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2017).
  8. Dietrich Bonheoffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995).
  9. One common typologizing narrative of Denver’s development—and by proxy, of the west’s—is provided in Stephen Leonard’s and Thomas Noel’s, Denver: Mining Camp to Metropolis (Louisville, CO: University Press of Colorado, 1991).
  10. For a profound exploration of the theology and impacts of the theological justification of colonialism, see Mark Charles and Soong Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2019).
  11. Indigenous historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes the distorting greed in settler-colonist psychology: “Gold fever drove colonizing ventures, organizing at first in pursuit of the metal in its raw form . . . Thus was born an ideology: the belief in the inherent value of gold despite its relative uselessness in reality . . . The systems of colonization were modern and rational, but its ideological basis was madness.” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014), 137.
  12. Stephen Grace, It Happened in Denver (Guilford, CT: Morris Book Publishing, 2007), 32.
  13. Dunbar-Ortiz, Indigenous People’s History, 137.
  14. Roy T. Worthman, “Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot, 1880,” The Denver Magazine 42, n. 4 (1965), https://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/media/document/2018/ColoradoMagazine_v42n4_Fall1965.pdf.
  15. “Superfund Sites,” Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, accessed November 11, 2019, https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/superfund-sites. Among Colorado’s ten other active superfund sites, four were caused by military bases or nuclear test sites, with the remainder the result of smelter or wood treatment plants. Extractive industries or the military are therefore the cause of 100 percent of Colorado’s most environmentally damaged places.
  16. Grace, It Happened in Denver, 27. Note that the destruction of Denver by natural causes—precipitated by ecological disregard and ignoring the advice of native communities—occurred six months prior to the Sand Creek Massacre. With life particularly difficult, hurting people sought the cathartic scapegoating of blame and violence. {41}
  17. On the de jure segregation of American cities by federal, state, and local government through the twentieth century—including the use of redlining, neighborhood covenants, lending standards, and other zoning techniques—see Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: W.W. Norton, 2017).
  18. Between 1927 and 1946, Denver averaged 129 gallons of sewage discharged into the Platte per capita per day. C.T. Carnahan, “Project Effect on South Platte River Pollution,” Engineering Monographs, no. 4 (September 1949).
  19. Dorceta E. Taylor, Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (New York: New York University Press, 2014).
  20. Samuel Stein, Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State (New York: Verso Books, 2019), 40.
  21. Annie Leomporra and Megan Hustings, eds., “Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Bias-Motivated Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness in 2016-2017,” National Coalition for the Homeless (Washington, D.C., 2018), https://nationalhomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/hate-crimes-2016-17-final_for-web.pdf.
  22. Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, Encyclical Letter (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2015), 93.
  23. Willie James Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2017), 222.
  24. Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997).
  25. Jorge Rieger, Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2007).
  26. Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker, Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011).
  27. Perry B. Yoder, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House, 1987), 65.
  28. J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 322.
  29. Weaver, 322.
Nathan Davis Hunt holds an MA in Urban Ministry from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. Most recently, he served as Director of Economic Justice for the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. He now makes his home in Boston where he’s learning to be a family man and discover what faith and solidarity look like in the forested watersheds of New England.

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