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Tim DeChristopher's activism

A Unitarian Universalist environmental activist writes from prison.
By Christopher L. Walton
Winter 2012 11.1.12

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Chris Walton (© Nancy Pierce/UUA)

UU World editor Christopher L. Walton. (Nancy Pierce)

It is not uncommon these days for Unitarian Universalists to engage in forms of civil disobedience calculated to draw the interest of the media and the public to an injustice. But these acts typically result in an arrest for a civil offense or misdemeanor and perhaps a few unpleasant hours in detention.

Tim DeChristopher took a much more consequential stand in 2008 when, as a 27-year-old college student, he bid $1.7 million in a controversial government auction of oil and gas leases on federal land in Utah, effectively bringing the auction to a halt. A Unitarian Universalist and climate change activist, DeChristopher was charged with a two-count felony, convicted, and sentenced to two years in federal prison. The newly elected Obama administration cancelled the leases after another court ruled that the environmental impact statement was inadequate, protecting the land for now, but the judge in DeChristopher’s trial ruled that he had still broken the law.

In this issue, DeChristopher writes from prison about the significance of the UU Principle to affirm and promote “the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” “Our connection to each other is both the reason why taking a principled stand against injustice is the right thing to do and the reason why it works,” he writes. A profile of DeChristopher reports that he will become director of social justice at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City upon his release from prison. As we were wrapping up this issue, we learned that DeChristopher’s release date [see update below] had been moved up to late October; by the time you read this, he should be back with the congregation that has rallied to him and to the cause of confronting climate change. I commend his story to you.

Update 11.12.12: In October, DeChristopher was moved to a halfway house in Salt Lake City for the remainder of his prison sentence. The Bureau of Prisons ruled that he cannot take the social justice job at First Unitarian Church while still in custody, according to his lawyer, “because it involved social justice and that was what part of what his crime was.”

You’ll find several articles in this issue by our editorial intern Allison Bennett, who grew up in the UU Church of Reading, Massa­chusetts, and who joined us in August. And we welcome a new administrative assistant, Joshua Craft, whom you’ll meet when you call to change your mailing address, place a classified ad, or ask a question about the magazine.

Corrections: Our profile of All Souls New London, Connecticut (“Souls Bold Enough to Experiment,” Fall 2012), mischaracterized the relationship between the Homeless Hospitality Center, which has shared space with the congregation since 2006, and the city of New London. The hospitality center grew out of a nonprofit day shelter that had never been part of the city’s social services department.

An essay about The Hunger Games (“Seeing Ourselves in ‘The Hunger Games’,” Fall 2012) included an inaccurate reference to one of the Greek myths that inspired the novel. It was Theseus, not Perseus, who battled the minotaur.

Due to an editing error, a letter from Ellen Lawrence Skagerberg (Fall 2012) said that the writer is a “30-year-old . . . UU,” when in fact she has been a UU for thirty years.

This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of UU World (page 3). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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