Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 1, 2009
Church leaders tackle oilsands controversy
Religious leaders and interest groups seek information to develop effective advocacy strategy
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON – Canadian Church leaders are preparing to bring the voice of Christian faith to bear on controversies surrounding the Alberta oilsands.
A delegation of 17 Church leaders and others, organized by the ecumenical social justice coalition KAIROS, came to northern Alberta May 21 to 24 to hear from the people and interested groups with an eye to developing “a testimony or statement.”
“We need a strategy to shape change,” Mary Corkery, KAIROS’ executive director, said in an interview following a May 21 evening dialogue at The King’s University College.
Corkery said while the delegation is coming with concerns about oilsands development, it wants to be in solidarity with those whose lives are affected by the development.
“Knowing facts is different than knowing people.”
More than 100 people took part in the three-hour session at King’s College, held after the Church leaders had met with representatives from the Pembina Institute, Parkland Institute, Sierra Club and Greenpeace, as well as representatives of the international environmental and human rights group Oil Watch.
Following that, the delegation travelled to Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan with Corkery saying they were going to meet with representatives of labour, oil industry, government, Church and indigenous groups.
The delegation needs to reflect on what churches can do together, Corkery said.
“There is unity in action that we have when we work prayerfully and thoughtfully on issues.”
WHOLENESS OF LIFE
In a talk to the meeting, John Hiemstra, dean of social sciences at King’s, challenged the notion that religion should be kept out of the debate over the oilsands.
“The churches know there is no disconnect between political-economic life and spirituality and morality,” Hiemstra said. “They are bound together in the integral wholeness of life.”
“The Christian churches are in the business of asking the bigger questions,” he said. They are well placed to challenge the idolatries “that drive our society to obsess over materialism, wasteful living and unlimited growth.”
The debate over oilsands development should not “run simply on a secular rational basis,” he said. To do so would be to accept “the assumptions of the ideology of secularism.”
“We will end up adding and subtracting and balancing costs and benefits without challenging the direction and thrust of the system itself, or of our larger society.”
Catholics among the 10 Church leaders in the delegation are Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Ursuline Sister Anne Lewans, vice-president of the Canadian Religious Conference.
The Anglican representative is Bishop Thomas Morgan, retired bishop of Saskatoon.
Morgan told the WCR of the “almost insidiously dark” effect that rapid development of the oilsands in 2006 through 2008 had on Saskatoon.
The flipping of houses, raising of house prices and doubling of rents had a destructive effect on the city, driving some people into despair, he said.
“Instead of the city burgeoning, it was falling into something very unhealthy.”
ADVOCATE FOR GOOD
The Rev. Bruce Adema of the Christian Reformed Church told the meeting that he hopes the delegation will be able to “enthusiastically advocate for that which is good.”
“We can make decisions that will help our grandchildren live here and to love living here,” Adema said.
Corkery said she did not know if the Church leaders would be able to issue a statement that they all agree upon.
But in any event, the four-day delegation would provide the foundation for future advocacy work by KAIROS on justice and sustainable energy, she said.