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Social Justice concerns grow through church involvement

Since coming to Moscow, Idaho, Pat Rathmann has become active at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse, helping set up several social justice task forces.

Pat Rathman

Pat Rathman’s volunteering takes her to social justice events.

Pat believes people of faith need to move from the pews to the streets and courts.

So she’s active in the two-year-old environmental justice task force, which hosted a meeting of the environmental groups in the region in 2013, drawing 80 people who met  for three hours. 

They formed the Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition that meets monthly, drawing educational programs that use the expertise of professors on climate change and global warming.

“I’m 75 and continue to be involved in the civil rights movements, as I was in the anti-Vietnam War movement, she said. 

“I’m active in my church because I believe the solutions to the majority of the world’s problems affecting people will happen only if the church is involved.  Churches were instrumental in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.  They held candlelight parades,” Pat said.

After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in psychology and math in 1959, she began her pilgrimage into the Unitarian Universalist Church. While walking to work at her first job in New York City, she saw All Souls Universalist Church. 

Growing up Presbyterian in Newcastle, Penna., Pat, who had been involved with civil rights, was impressed her first Sunday at All Souls.  They talked about the problems of people who lacked access to clean water. 

That coincided with her concern to be responsible about what people do on earth.  Her mother had nurtured her interest in nature.

In the 1960s, the Unitarian and Universalist churches merged and became a church concerned with the welfare and wellbeing of people around the world.

In New York, Pat worked at a bank and attended the New School of Social Research.  With each job and move—to New Jersey and Indiana—she found Unitarian Universalist churches.

She lived in upstate New York and Louisville, Ky., and Cincinnati, Ohio, during the school-bussing era. 

When her son began graduate work at the University of Idaho, she and her husband, Dan, decided to move to Moscow because they love the outdoors and wanted to explore national forests.

Five years ago, they purchased 40 acres at Deary.  Then they bought the house in Moscow that their son lived in during college.  They can walk and use the bus in town.

Since living in Moscow, Pat grew frustrated as she learned about development of the tar sands in Alberta through efforts of Wild Idaho Rising Tides (WIRT)to block megaloads of equipment going there. 

Last year she went with a WIRT group to Fort McMurray, Alberta, where most of the tar sands development is being done.  This year, she recruited people from her church to go there with her in July.

In 2012, indigenous people, the Athabasca Chipewajan Waterkeepers, welcomed her and asked her to go back and tell their story. 

Catholic bishops have written letters opposing the tar sands, Pat said, because of their effect on indigenous people, who cannot drink the water, eat the fish and experience more cancer because of the emissions.

“The tar sands coal and oil have the heaviest carbon emissions,” she said. 

On returning in 2012, Pat preached a sermon on her spiritual journey to the tar sands.

“It distresses me to see the effect of mining on people and the environment,” she said.  “The poor all over the world who will be most affected by global warming are not the ones responsible for creating it.

“I won’t be around when populated areas on the East and West Coasts are under water.  Millions of people will migrate.  There will be food security issues.  How will we produce wheat when it’s too hot?  How do we produce rice when there is not enough rain?

Pat is committed to energize people to act by educating them on climate change.  She is heartened that more and more people are understanding it.

She imagines positive possibilities for the future if “we take the funding we use to subsidize coal and oil and spend it on renewable energy—such as biomass—fuel from biological materials converted to energy by thermal, chemical or biochemical methods.

“People of faith need to stand up and do the right thing,” Pat said.  “If people understand what is going on, they will step up and say, ‘No, this cannot happen.’”

Pat also arranges for speakers on the influence of environmental disasters on people, wild life and the planet.

“We are collaborating with the Environmental Law Center at the University of Idaho to bring speakers on environmental issues to the campus,” she said.

The first speaker is at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 23, at the law school on mountain-top removal for coal mining in Kentucky and West Virginia.

For information, call 208-882-8262 or email          

Copyright © September 2013 - The Fig Tree