Plastic Jesus Real Faith

household and in your life is plastic. And then start trying to reuse things instead of throwing them away, or finding alternatives. Glass storage containers, for example, instead of plastic ones. Cloth sandwich bags.


But trying to do things just as individuals lives into the American myth of individualism, that we can all just do our own thing and that’s enough. It’s like the people who were scattered from the tower of Babel—they were much less powerful when they stopped communicating and working together. As I said earlier, union busters like that kind of story.


Because the truth is, we’re stronger together.


Here’s the story of what several individuals have done, working together with others, to fight a company called Formosa Plastics. Formosa Plastics is an international plastics company based out of Taiwan but with plants in other countries. It makes little plastic pellets that can then be turned into pretty much anything. But it’s not a nice neighbor to have. In 2016, a Formosa Plastics complex in Vietnam discharged over 100 tons of toxic chemical waste into the ocean across more than 200 kilometers of the Vietnamese coastline. Dead fish started washing ashore along that whole stretch. At first, Formosa Plastics denied it was responsible, but scientists determined that in fact it was. One diver died, and some people ended up in the hospital with food poisoning. Millions of people were impacted: loss of food, loss of income, etc. Formosa Plastics ended up paying damages, not to the victims, but to the Vietnamese government. When people protested, the government beat them and imprisoned them. At least 23 are still in prison for speaking up. This morning, on behalf of Prospect, I signed a letter advocating that these people be freed. (From a UCC Earth Day Summit, April 20, 2024. For more information on the Formosa disaster victims, see


Formosa Plastics also has plants here in the US. Diane Wilson, a former fisherman, has spent 35 years pursuing the Formosa Plastics plant at Point Comfort, Texas, for its poor environmental practices. This plant sits on 2,500 acres, employs 300 workers, and makes 1 trillion plastic pellets per day. Diane Wilson started documenting the plant’s toxic discharges into the environment—in fields, but especially into the bay. Every day she and others who worked with her were out there collecting samples. There were plastic pellets everywhere in the water and on the beaches. This bay used to have more shrimp than just about anywhere else in the country. There were over 100 fishing boats working the bay. Now there are about five. Diane talked to fishermen, community members, and employees at the plant. A few of the employees were able to tell her the insider’s view of bad practices. And eventually, with all of her documentation and water samples, she was able to take Formosa Plastics to court. The court awarded $50 million settlement, which Diane gets to help decide how to distribute, and Formosa Plastics has had to clean up the bay. On some beaches they had to dig down three feet before they got to uncontaminated beach. Diane Wilson won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2023 for her work. She is 75 years old, and she is not to be messed with. [The Goldman Environmental Prize (]


Then there’s Sharon Lavigne in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Perhaps you’ve heard of Cancer Alley, an 85-mile stretch in Louisiana where petrochemical companies have so polluted the environment that the people living there, who are predominantly Black and poor, have highly elevated levels of cancer and other health issues. Sharon Lavigne is a classroom teacher in St. James Parish.


In 2018, Sharon found out that Formosa Plastics’s plan to develop a $9.4B plant in St James Parish was approved. St James Parish has a bunch of districts, but the many other chemical plants are centered in the 4th and 5th districts, where the population is predominantly poor People of Color. So Sharon formed Rise St. James, a faith-based advocacy organization. They held a town hall meeting. The speaker explained how the plant would devastate the community, raising environmental toxicity by 800%. Rise St. James also met with local officials, but they didn’t budge because they had already approved the permits. In January 2019 the plant was approved. In May 2019 Rise St. James put together its first march to the governor’s mansion. He wouldn’t come out to speak with them. Another march took place in Oct 2019 with others from Cancer Alley (which Sharon calls Death Alley). Rise St. James sued Formosa Plastics and a Louisiana judge ruled in their favor.  Formosa appealed, went back to court several times and is now going to the state supreme court. Rise St. James is trying to get ministers on board, but they don’t want to get into politics. Sharon says it’s not politics, it’s people’s lives.


Rise St. James has a petition asking Pres. Biden to stop Formosa Plastics. We can sign that petition after worship today. (


The Tower of Babel story is about people working together to supplant God. The golden calf story is about people creating their own human-made god to worship. As people of faith who care about our planet, we are stronger and have greater impact when we work with each other and with God to address the environmental messes that our species has made. Bill McKibben says, “The greatest advantage that people of faith have is the idea that if we do absolutely everything that we can, there is some force in the universe that will meet us halfway. It’s the opposite of saying, ‘God will take care of it; we don’t have to do anything.’” We have to do everything we can toward the healing and restoration of God’s creation, knowing that everything we do is not enough but that God will meet us in that work.


And remember to dance and celebrate, like our dancing Jesus, every time our efforts make a difference. Amen.


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