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When churches start becoming experts on pipelines and ecology, does that mean oil companies can become experts on theology? or on missions? or on church buildings?  or on ecclesiastical structures? on Sunday school teachers? Maybe we should reconsider Overture 3 of the last synod.      or on  Ma

The following is By: John Cotter, The Canadian Press (August 6, 2012) Augus 

Churches across Canada say they have a religious duty to speak out on the proposed Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline.

Next week, delegates at the United Church of Canada general council meeting in Ottawa are to debate a resolution that calls on the church to reject construction of the $6-billion Enbridge (TSX:ENB)project that would take diluted bitumen from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. The resolution was drafted in support of aboriginals in B.C., who worry a spill would poison the land and water, and directs the church to send the results of its vote to the federal, B.C. and Alberta governments and the media.

Mardi Tindal, moderator of the United Church, said care of the Earth is an important part of the faith and the church can't shy away from the pipeline just because it is controversial and politically divisive.

"People care so much about this. People understand that you cannot separate economic health from ecological health," she said from Toronto.

"The church has a responsibility to contribute to the conversations that make for the best public policy for the common good."

The United Church of Canada is not alone.

Earlier this year, the Anglican Bishops of British Columbia and Yukon issued a statement that questioned the integrity of the pipeline's environmental impact review.

The diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada has declared its outright opposition to Northern Gateway, and is looking at excluding Enbridge stock from the diocese's investment portfolio.

A group representing 28 Presbyterian churches in B.C.'s Lower Mainland has written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that accuses the government of weakening environmental reviews and demonizing people who oppose projects as radicals trying to sabotage Canada's economy.

.......There is so much buzz about the pipeline in religious circles that the ecumenical justice organization Kairos has written a primer on the Enbridge project entitled Ethical Reflections on the Northern Gateway Pipeline. It's meant to help churches make their own value judgments on the project.

....It says the focus on the anticipated wealth the pipeline would create threatens to obscure the magnitude of the profound challenges it would pose to the environment.

"In a very immediate way, Northern Gateway threatens the survival of the First Nations whose territory it would cross," the report says.

"A spill would devastate livelihoods, the land, food sources and the ability to pass on to future generations values, principles, languages and core aspects of how these people's cultures are practised."

Kairos member churches include the Anglican Church of Canada, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church of Canada.

Ed Bianchi, a Kairos spokesman, said the report is impartial on Northern Gateway.

"I don't think it is a political issue. I think it is an issue that is of concern to our society because it has so many potential impacts on so many people," he said.

Enbridge said it has no problem with churches weighing in with their opinions on Northern Gateway. But the Calgary-based corporation added it is concerned about whether people are basing their opinions on facts." 


In my opinion, there is a lot more going on in the churches' discussions on the Northern Gateway than simply being "experts on pipelines." The pipeline and what it has come to represent has implications for ecology, climate, economic expansion and resource development, solidarity with Indigenous peoples, appropriate democratic and environmental review process and so on. KAIROS (an ecumenical social justice coalition in Canada of which the CRC is part) has a history of working on resource extraction and Indigenous rights issues, and has done a substantial amount of work related to the Northern Gateway pipeline. I'm grateful that Mr. Cotter's article makes reference to this, as it is an important contribution to the ongoing public dialogue.

I disagree with the suggestion that by speaking publicly in favour of or against the Northern Gateway pipeline the church is necessarily acting as an 'expert' on pipelines. I think a better way of approaching it is that the church is applying its theology - its understanding of God and God's relationship to and sustaining work in all parts of God's creation - to real-world situations. If this application does not inspire - indeed require - action, then I am at a loss to describe of what importance faith in God is, especially a christian faith that claims to be reformed.

I also disagree with the suggestion that if church can be an experts in pipelines, then it leaves the door open for oil companies to be experts on theology. I do not think that this is a logical conclusion - there is no necessary reciprocity of 'expertise.' But the question did get me thinking... it may do us good as North American Christians and a North American Church to look at the ways in which we already permit, or the ways that we protect against, companies or 'the economy' to do our theology for us, or at least to shape the way we do theology. How does our current focus on the economy shape our understanding of God? Or, how does our understanding of God shape our current focus on the economy? What does our theology lead us to believe about this pipeline, and about what it represents, regardless of whether this is spoken by the individual Christian or the institutional church?

The Northern Gateway pipeline has become a divisive issue within the church as in broader civil society. I think this division is partly about the pipeline itself, but also about the pipeline as a symbol of economic progress and success in Canada, and other important issues of ecology, climate, Indigenous rights and so on. Perhaps the church can serve its members and society by facilitating robust public dialogue that has so far been muted, or out-shouted by polarized and polarizing rhetoric. In that spirit, I would be interested to hear how Mr. Zylstra and others approach and perhaps have arrived at a decision about this pipeline, and how it is guided by your Christian faith and the way that you see and understand God moving in this world.

Steve, I appreciate the attempt by Christians to apply Christian principles to all of life, to all activities we engage in.  Good motives. 

 But as Christians, we are as susceptible as anyone to simply following non-Christian agendas and cloaking it with Christian icing on the cake.  That is where we need to be discerning. 


In this case, you mentioned “ecology, climate, economic expansion and resource development, solidarity with Indigenous peoples, appropriate democratic and environmental review process” and kind of lumped them together as justification for churches being involved.  Then you suggest that speaking on these issues relative to the pipeline does not make you an expert.  You suggest that the church is merely applying theology to the real world.  And that if this does not inpsire action, then you suggest there is no value to faith in God, especially to a reformed faith. 


You have raised a lot of issues, and so I will respond only in brief to some of them.  First, the importance and value of our faith in God is much larger than our response to a pipeline.  Further, how do you distinguish the christian response, from the Sierra Club response?  Does the Sierra Club or greenpeace response thereby automatically make them Christians too? 


I have conversations with some aboriginals occasionally, and in the case of the pipelines it seems that there is a divergence of views with aboriginals.  In many cases, they get manipulated by extreme environmentalists, and have an eye on the possibility of compensation (we won’t call it bribes), as well as possible work.  Yes ecology is important to aboriginals as it is to all of us, but their primary concern is usually housing and food, and potential economic benefits. 


Aboriginals on reserves presently don’t pay income tax nor property tax while on the reserves, unless they work off the reserves.  They have a multitude of national and provincial benefits at no cost.  They feel they have a right to it, but it also takes them out of their ecology; this support from Canada means that they do not depend on the ecology for their living.  Nor do most aboriginals interact with their ecology as they did four hundred years ago, not even as two hundred years ago.  Most simply do not have the knowledge to survive in that environment.  For that reason, they also depend on industry, modern machines and modern processing and retail, and on government dollars, for their living. 


What makes Kairos or the united church or the crc church an expert on an appropriate environmental review process, as distinguished from unnecessary and costly duplication of regulations and inspections?  How can a review process be democratic; doesn’t that remove the science and objectivity from it?  


What does Kairos know about the quality of pipelines being built today, compared to pipelines built fifty years ago?  Does Kairos know there is already an oil pipeline to Vancouver, B.C.?  Does Kairos know there are already pipelines to the West Coast for natural gas? 


It seems to me that this issue is a political one, used as a pin-prick towards the larger issue of whether we should use fossil fuels at all for our daily life.   That larger issue will not be solved by fighting a pipeline or making a pipeline more costly. 


When Christians become overly involved in these issues under the banner of christianity and church, they run the risk of being manipulated by the opponents in the larger discussion.  They might be manipulated by the environmentalists who have the agenda of raising funds to fight the big corporations.  They might be manipulated or “used” by the environmentalists who are being used by certain oil refinery companies to delay or hinder the export of oil to China, and thus retain a captive supply and lower price for Canadian oil in the USA.  And christians also run the risk of having their main gospel neglected, both because of lack of focus, and because of the likelihood that they are wrong, or on the wrong side of an issue.  


I agree the economy is not the only important thing to us.  The environment, and the social aspect are also very important.  But is finding the balance between environment, economy, and social goals, in the expertise of the institutional church?  What happens when a church “speaks” for its members, and many members do not agree?  Is that democratic?  What if the church misleads its members due to its lack of balance and perspective and lack of expertise?    

Here is my perspective as a Christian on this pipeline.   A pipeline should be built as well as it can be so that it does not leak.  A pipeline is a better alternative, using less energy to transport oil, gas, or water, than transport by truck or train.  A pipeline thus produces less ghg in the long term.  This pipeline is using dramatically improved technology compared to pipelines built fifty years ago.  A pipeline should have a good monitoring, inspection, replacement, and emergency shutdown system.  It should have an excellent cleanup and remediation program associated with it. 

 As a Christian, I do not believe that the physical environment in which we live is somehow more significant than the fact that we live in it.  What that means is that I believe people have been given the right and responsibility to make changes to the environment, and that the environment does not have a soul.  It does not make independent decisions about itself, and it does not engage in introspection.  Thus our view of the environment is shaped by who we are, and by our education and our experiences. 

 The environment in which we live, requires us to adapt to conditions, since it is mostly either too cold, or too wet, or too hot or too dry, for us to live in it without producing food, building homes, travelling, trading food with others, irrigating, building boats, finding shade, or wearing warm clothes in winters.  Whether we use fossil fuels, or burn trees for heat, or feed oxen or fuel tractors for planting and harvesting, or whether we make concrete or lumber for homes, we will affect our environment in dramatic ways.  It is inevitable. 

We did not create the world, but we create or change our environment in many ways, through using umbrellas, forced air heating, air conditioning in cars, insulated winter boots, planting trees or building pools or seaside vacations.  Therefore the question is never whether a particular fossil fuel is good or bad by itself.  The question is what is the alternative, and will this alternative create poverty and suffering or will it provide an enhanced daily environment for the people in this world. 

 Fossil fuels allow us to print bibles, operate the internet, build computers, transport bibles to mission fields, bring food to the hungry, keep the poor warm, and keep the water in the baptismal fount from freezing.   Could we do this without fossil fuels?  And without making the poor in this world hungry?  If better alternatives come along, then I have no doubt we will use them.  We are looking intently for better alternatives already today.  But we should look for better alternatives without demonizing the blessings of what we have today.  

So, is Kairos position valid, or is it unbalanced?   Should the CRCNA really belong to an organization such as Kairos?  I suggest we dissassociate from it if it does not present a more balanced perspective.  According to the news article, it claims to be neutral on the pipeline, but that is clearly not the case when it comes down to the issues it talks about and how it discusses those issues. 

See todays lead Editorial in the National Post. I could not have said it better myself. The headlines surrounding the United Church are an embarrasment to the Christian Community.

John Zylstra on August 17, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The link to the national post editorial is here:  and I've included a small quote from this editorial.  If Kairos is thinking like this, then I'm not sure why we would want to be a member of it.   The United Church has lost about fifty percent of its members in the last 50 years;  it does not seem to be a good example to follow. 


"....As was widely expected, the council has chosen to put politics ahead of matters of faith. Indeed, it is getting harder to tell where the church ends and a budding left-wing political party begins.

On Tuesday, the church voted to “categorically oppose” the Northern Gateway pipeline. That hardly seems like a religious matter. Nor do other resolutions to be voted on, including the church’s position of raising the eligibility for Old Age Security or Canadian mining operations in Asia.

But nowhere is this truer than with regard to the United Church’s stance on Israel...." 

An article in the Halifax Herald points out the hypocrisy of the United Church of Canada in its stand against Israel and its settlements, and its call for a boycotte   With all the other bad situations in the middle east, the United Church, and Kairos, often choose to focus solely on Israel.   Why?  because they are so bad?  no, but because they are perhaps vulnerable to western opinions.  In the meantime....

"....Palestinians in Jordan face serious repression, including having their citizenships revoked by authorities. It’s worse still in Lebanon, where Palestinians have faced apartheid conditions for decades, expressly denied economic, social and political equal rights. Palestinians in other Arab countries also face injustices.

Meanwhile, Christian Copts in Egypt have been under assault by Muslim fundamentalists for years. Thousands have reportedly fled the country in fear for their lives. In Syria, a brutal regime has massacred its own citizens for daring to ask for political rights that members of the United Church of Canada take for granted."

Hello? Will the United Church of Canada now work up reports calling for boycotts of products from those countries?

Don’t hold your breath.

I’ve heard the boycott against Israeli settlement goods defended on the grounds that Israel is a democracy and so should be held to a higher standard. In other words, I guess, you shouldn’t “expect” better from places like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. If you’re suffering injustice in those places, too bad, so sad, but if it’ll make you feel better, I’m boycotting Israeli settlement wine, don’t you know.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics released data last month showing the number of Palestinians employed within Israeli settlements climbed to 15,000 from 13,000 in the second quarter. I guess the United Church of Canada wants to put those Palestinians out of work.

I don’t mean to smear church-going, rank-and-file members of the United Church of Canada, by the way. This boycott was approved by the church’s general council, despite a recent survey showing 76 per cent of their own membership thought they should stay out of or remain neutral about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sixty-five per cent blamed both sides — Israelis and Palestinians — equally for the dispute....."  (by schneidereit) 

Kairos and United Church stand on pipelines is also very selective.  And as lacking in perspective. 

"The church has a responsibility to contribute to the conversations that make for the best public policy for the common good."

We can chew on the technical details of pipelines, but the starting point is found in the UCC quote found earlier.

Dale Poel, I don't think you have made your point very well.   Why is the church obligated to formulate a position on public policy?   How is the role of the church related to the common good?   Whose "common good"?   Is the church's role to speak to the tragedy of the commons?  based on what rationale?   Is the church's role to promote "common grace"?   or is it to use "common grace" to highlight the love and mercy of God? 

The problem with things like pipelines, is that they become political footballs of the environmentalists and those who hope to profit from them, including governments, landowners, aboriginals, and industry shareholders.   By getting overly involved with these things as an institutional church, we are deluded into thinking we are going to "save" the world.   We won't you know.  And even if we did, we fall into the trap of saving the world and losing our souls.  

So yes, as Christians, we must be honest and responsible and careful of God's creation, but the simplistic answers often provided make demons out of honest effort and ignore the real demons that divert us from our relationship to God. 

I am still trying to come to grips with what Synod's decision means.

Do we need to have a purge of pastors who do not assent to Synod's position on global warming? Do we need to add a phrase to the Covenent with Office Bearers? Do we need to ask office bearers to resign or not to allow their names to be put in nomination if they are not believers in global warming? Do we need to question our Sunday School teachers and small group leaders to be sure they are in line? Do we need to warn or discipline those parents who keep their kids out of Sunday School because they do not want them taught about global warming? Do we want to restrict our evangelism efforts to those who are true believers - in global warming? Do we want to deny membership to converts or transfers from other churches who do not subscribe? Do we want to suggest to current members that they no longer have a place in our fellowship because they are not believers in global warming?

If the answer to any of these is no, then, I am afraid that Synod has marginalized its role and authority.

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