Can protection of the environment be both a spiritual mission and an act of peacemaking? Allison Weaver, a student at Bethel College and member of Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kansas, believes so.
She was named the winner in the 2021 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest for her speech, “Our opponents can’t fight back: Ending the environmental war.”
The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest, a binational and intercollegiate contest for students at Anabaptist colleges and universities, is administered by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Started in 1974, the contest commemorates the late C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor who worked at Goshen College and Bluffton University, and his deep interest in the Mennonite commitment to peace.
Weaver, a junior majoring in English and Communication Arts, delivered her speech virtually in February 2021 as part of the Bethel College campus-wide competition. Winning first place at that level moved her into the binational competition among students from U.S. and Canada-based Anabaptist colleges and universities.
In her speech, Weaver states that all people are engaged in a war against the environment through their “apathy, lack of action and their support of wasteful companies.”
But all are responsible for its care, she says. Christians can understand this responsibility through the Bible and its emphasis on the importance of nature throughout.
What can we do?
1. Take action within the sphere of influence
2. Make environmentally friendly consumer choices
3. Advocate for environmental legislation nationally
“Nature is God’s greatest gift to humankind,” Weaver says, “full of wonders, breathtaking majesty, and biological miracles.” Yet Weaver goes on to argue that these “miraculous ecosystems” are being destroyed “in the name of the almighty dollar.”
A further cause of destruction is humans’ underlying philosophy of “superiority over the environment and the world, giving us permission to mistreat anything that is different.” Weaver urges listeners to consider a new philosophy: “recognizing our arrogance, and developing compassion and respect for the intrinsic value of other species.”
Weaver proposes three solutions for protecting the planet ─ taking action within the sphere of influence that we do have, making environmentally friendly consumer choices and advocating for environmental legislation nationally.
Denisse Aguilar, a junior at Goshen College, won second place for her speech, “Living the American dream on borrowed time.” Olivia Tennefos, a recent graduate of Bluffton University, won third place. Her speech was entitled, “Turning profit into peace: The shalom of small business.”
All three winners will receive cash prizes and the opportunity to attend a peace conference of their choice.
The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest continues into its 48th year with its mission of promoting ongoing thought and discussion around peace issues.