by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
On Sunday afternoon, the CBC posted an article on a fact finding mission to the Alberta Oil Sands. It’s a short piece, doesn’t say much, except that a delegation will be headed to Fort Mac from May 21-27th.
It mentions that the delegation is organised by Kairos, a group that according to their own website “deliberates on issues of common concern, advocates for social change and joins with people of faith and goodwill in action for social transformation.”
In short, the news article – in no condescending way points out that members of the church are going to check it out for themselves. And this simple fact has lit the news post’s comments afire.
Reading through the pages of comments, I was both shocked, and not. The majority of responses, as ill-informed as they were, basically said “get lost, go away, this is none of your business…something about separation of church and state…oh and keep your priests away from my kid.”
The fact finding mission, according to campaigns coordinator Sarah Stratton, is entirely relevant to the life of the church, and such facts (whatever they may be) should inform her approach to them:
When you look at something as large as the oilsands…there are going to be people [in any one of our churches] who work in the industry as labour, who work in the industry as management, and [some] who very clearly oppose the industry.
I think it’s important that this mission is taking place, and that they are consulting widely with stakeholders involved. Inasmuch as the oil sands bring up serious justice issues, they also bring up important pastoral concerns for those whose livelihood is somehow tied to the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, very few of us are able to make outright condemnations, seeing as our rather privileged lifestyle is wholly dependent upon cheap oil.
I’ve written about this stuff before in a series of posts on the church and her dependence on cheap oil here.
I don’t really know the demographic of folks commenting on this news story – it seems to me it brought out some of the lunatics. Maybe they’re just average Canadians. Whatever the case, I think it says something both powerful and clear about public perception of the church.
Hordes of commenters tell the church to go and focus on managing their own problems and issues, insinuating that concern with dirty oil has nothing to do with religious belief. No matter how hard we try to battle back against Lynn White Jr., there’s still a lot of work to be done.
But today I’m not writing to defend the church. I’m writing to suggest that the church has painted herself into a corner.
Sure there are fantastic organisations like Kairos and CPJ who are engaging in justice and policy issues. There are individual Christians, churches and denominations who run social services, care for the poor, who are seeking to lead the way in environmental stewardship. There’s all kinds of good stuff.
And yet, somehow this caricature of Christians is still out there. My suspicion is that part of the problem is that Christians with a social conscience are not nearly as visible as those who are concerned simply with saving souls and blowing up the earth so Jesus can come back sooner.
I’m not suggesting the development of a media arm for the socially conscious parts of the church. Rather, I’m suggesting that those old mainline liberals simply need to recover some of the evangelicalism they long ago abandoned.
Some readers may have just started to choke.
To clarify – what I’m suggesting is that those folks in the mainline need to share the good news of a more fulsome gospel, rather than shuddering in a corner, waiting for the death blow to their dwindling congregations.
Because seriously, God is at work in all corners of the church, God is practicing resurrection throughout the world, and we all need to testify to this transformative work that is taking place throughout our world. It will do us no good to hide it under a bushel, or whatever…
The answer to reductionistic evangelism is not no evangelism. It’s about sharing the good news in as full a manner as we humans possibly can. I suppose I get the fear of those who might rather consider themselves post-evangelical, amongst other things. The PR campaign is a slow slog and an uphill battle. But it’s not just about PR. It’s about embodying the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.
My suspicion is that if more socially conscious Christians actually lived this social engagement out in the midst of their communities – if our churches actually connected with the people and institutions around them – some of these comments would, over time change. If you’ve never met a socially conscious Christian, you’re more likely to caricature and stereotype.
But if you’ve met one in the flesh, it becomes harder to do so. So I guess what I’m saying on this Victoria Day Monday is that I simply wish that more Christians would get off their hands to both live and tell the story of Jesus, proclaiming as full a gospel as humanly possible. Not just to counteract the ignorance of posters to the CBC website (altho perhaps CBC would be grateful) but also to just get on with what we’re supposed to be up to.
You know, things like a long afternoon drive in the country, or throwing pound after pound of factory farmed meat on the gas-fueled grill. Happy Victoria Day, Canada!