In Canada, Christians Take Climate Justice on Tour

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Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton of CCC, Rev. Dr. Willard Metzger of Mennonite Church Canada, and Rev. Dr. Susan Johnson of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada at the Justice Tour event in Ottawa

There is a growing movement among Christian groups, both big and small, to link their duty to care for “the least of these” with their duty to care for creation. And now, in Canada, that movement is getting a louder voice.

For the past two months, Citizens for Public Justice (CJP) and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) have traveled Canada to raise awareness about what faith communities are doing about climate change and poverty. The event, called the “Justice Tour,” couldn’t have come at a more critical time. With the upcoming Canadian election in the fall and four United Nations conferences this year on poverty, developmental goals, and climate, a louder call for action from Christian and faith groups might actually get governments to act.

I spoke with Joe Gunn, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Justice, who helped organize the Justice Tour and attended every one of the eight talks. The tour came about, he said, from the Commission on Justice and Peace. The CJP is a committee within the Canadian Council of Churches. Gunn cites the 1970s “Ten Days for World Development” campaign for ecumenical education on international development as the inspiration. Such a tour had not been replicated since, and it was more than time to have another tour.

Tereasa Maillie (TM): What were the goals of the Justice Tour?

Joe Gunn – photo by Marie Weeren. CPJ.

Joe Gunn (JG): To share information about poverty in Canada and climate justice, to listen to reflections on regional realities that inform action plans for local engagement and advocacy, and present the opportunity for a church leaders’ pastoral statement to be developed through this process.

The response to the Justice Tour has been excellent. In all eight cities, we were glad to see a wide-range of participants including people who had been involved in these conversations for a long time and those just joining it. We had large turnouts across the country (over 100 people in Ottawa and close to that in Halifax and Edmonton). The tour was widely covered by Christian media, kick-starting a conversation about how Canadian people of faith approach political life in this all-important election year.

TM: Simple living was proposed as a way to help the environment. How did the panelists define simple living? Is it just a lack of consumerism or is there a deeper meaning?

JG: In Winnipeg, the Justice Tour participants heard from Mark Burch of the Simplicity Institute on two occasions. Although the final report of the Tour is yet to be released, the leaders clearly heard that the issues are inter-related: those suffering the consequences of climate change are mostly those who did not cause it, and are the most economically vulnerable. And in Canada there is an overlay of aboriginal rights on both these issues.

They heard that reducing consumption could overall solve most environmental issues, but were made aware that because some will not voluntarily change over-consumptive lifestyles, Christians must also engage in public policy so that our governments and businesses respond to the common good and not merely individual gain.

TM: What is the Justice Tour’s definition of Christ’s model of living simply?

JG: Jesus had no place to lay his head; at one point he had to borrow a coin to make a point. He recommended reducing baggage, mutual trust, and attention to nature in his parables. And in the story of loaves and fishes, he pointed out how little it takes to have a good life.

I think the speakers who raised the need for faith communities to divest from fossil fuel companies and re-invest in local communities and renewable energy options, made a wonderful link between simplicity and advocacy on public policy. It became obvious that we need both personal integrity, integrity of our institutional life, and public engagement.

TM: CPJ and the Tour both mention moving away from the idea that humans are the lords of the Earth. Also CPJ recently changed its mission statement, replacing “stewardship” with “the flourishing of creation.” Can you expand on what that means to you and CPJ?

JG: Psalm 24:1 says, “The Earth is the Lord’s all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” CPJ’s conception of creation care is rooted in the idea that our world belongs to God. While humans are caretakers, history has shown that most of our interaction and intervention with the world has been destructive. For some, stewardship connotes a domineering-but-benevolent role for humans. “Flourishing of creation” more accurately reflects a range of ways humans can interact with creation, including decreasing our impact.

TM: What are the next steps for the Justice Tour?

JG: The next step for the Justice Tour is to develop a church leaders’ pastoral statement on climate change and poverty in Canada. This will be shared across Canada for study and response from church constituencies, candidates for political office, and the public. We’ll also have a range of locally-led engagement activities that will take place in even more communities. This will include meetings with candidates, reflections, prayers, hymns, and liturgical activities.

Finally, Canadian church leaders will aim to participate in UN meetings on climate change and poverty in September and November/December 2015, including development of reflections upon their return from engagement with international faith-based partners at these encounters. And an ecumenical guide to election issues has been prepared, which we hope will achieve broad use in faith communities.

For more on Justice Tour click here.

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About the Author

Tereasa Maillie is a writer and researcher. She also has a very un-secret life as a producer and playwright. Her work has appeared in various poetry and short story anthologies. Her previous work includes the history of oil and gas in Alberta, Chinese medicine, First Nations and Métis history. You can find her on Twitter+, Google +, and her blog HistoryMinion.