In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Race War, Climate Crisis, Indigenous Witness and the Bible: The Word of Water
  • James W. Perkinson (bio)

Water in our time is ‘speaking.’ It is demanding a new hearing—in the ‘Shouting Voice’ of hurricanes and floods; in the ‘Withheld Voice’ of droughts and wildfires; and in the ‘Peoples Voice’ of a cry for access as shutoffs continue in Detroit, poisoning remains un-redressed in Flint, and war over such breaks out in Syria and elsewhere. Sobered by recent United Nations assessments that two-thirds of humankind will not have access to adequate water by 2025, this writing examines the way this gift of the Creator is articulating a prophetic demand that Christians deeply repent the history of White supremacy and settler colonialism, work to undo the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (that licensed theft of Native lands and waters) and re-examine the bible from the point of view of indigenous traditions in the Americas and back in Europe itself that knew how ‘to live in place’ without plundering others or destroying their own watersheds.

More precisely, this work seeks to develop a Christian spirituality of water, whose leitmotif and baseline invoke indigenous modes of reading spirit into— and out of—natural environments.1 The presupposition here is that Christianity in modern form is already the step-child of a process of Euro-Asian disenchantment of natural forces more than five-thousand years in the making and, most particularly, the offspring of White supremacist coloniality and modern industrial urbanity that have rendered this tradition so profoundly ‘docetic’ as to be nearly irredeemable in its late response to climate change blowback and environmental apocalypse. But ‘nearly’ is not the same as ‘completely.’

Given the long historical sweep of imperial anthropocentrism, ‘encysting’ elites of our species in ever-more totalizing envelopments of machinery—cities growing out of country sides in Mesopotamian antiquity, Roman re-engineering of nature in service of a new comprehensiveness of imperial infrastructure, modern industrial and digital innovations now pushing toward cyborg societies, etc.—the first step must be to ask what cultures do know something of nature and have codified its potencies in integral spiritualities? What can be learned from such and how might their insights and practices be reflected back inside a Christian tradition that has so often disparaged and devastated such lifeways? [End Page 208]

And of course, in elaborating an itinerary of “passing over (to indigenous wisdom) and coming back,”2 the immediate demand is for justice: the need to recognize, own, and halt the damage done to Native cultures around the globe, and indeed, the need to re-visit the suppression of ‘pagan’ and Euro-indigenous practices back in the ‘Old World,’ including the tradition of ‘wise women’ (murdered as ‘witches’). One of the major challenges of this approach has to do with what might be called a widespread indigenous valorization of bioregional enculturation that in effect insists: ‘all spirituality is local.’

In this writing, I offer an experimental articulation of this posture by tracing my own four-decade long journey into a viable spirituality of the “Strait” (“Détroit”), centered in the last five years of struggle against water shutoffs, as motive-force to explore new insights on the role and power of water in animating the social movements that became early Israel and later Christianity, and that pushes contemporary water activism to collate its politics with a deep ‘water spirituality.’


So I sit now in shelter, knowing COVID-19 is a message—as one colleague has said, conveying that the wild is “not well,” and “neither are we.”3 And no longer can we pretend to be well at the expense of everything else on the planet, clear-cutting forests, pouring plastic into oceans, belching toxins skyward, decapitating mountains, drying out wetlands, melting the ice. But COVID-19 is also revelator, disclosing that such an apocalyptic actor as ‘plague’ may indeed be thought an equal-opportunity disaster in the imagination of scripture (as in the Book of Revelation), but in reality, emerges as a natural agent ‘weaponized’ unequally along race and class lines today. At the Strait, where I dwell as settler colonist educator, the virus...