Bringing in the ‘peaceable kingdom’

August 15, 2012 | Editorial | Number 16
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

There may be good reason why we, the Mennonites, are not joining the United Church of Canada, the Anglican bishops and 28 Presbyterian churches in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland in a protest against the Northern Gateway oil-sands pipeline.

Could it be that this is too close to home for us to enter the fray, a fear that we might be too complicit with the economic/political forces that are determined to construct the pipeline despite its threat to the environment and to the survival of the first nations whose territory it would cross? Yes, we are working with indigenous people, through Mennonite Central Committee eco-justice efforts, in far flung places like Central America, but British Columbia?

Not so sure.

It is far more safe to highlight, through video clips, than to bring the issue of environmental injustice too dramatically into the neighbourhoods where we live, worship, vote and relate to our middle-class neighbours, isn’t it?

In our major feature “Care for creation and environmental justice,” p. 4, Randolph Haluza-DeLay, from Edmonton, Alberta, calls us to account in our witness, asking us (again) to be counter-cultural by extending our belief in peace and non-violence to non-violence in our environment. In an age when security and economic development issues increasingly drive political decisions, we as a faith community with core beliefs in the “peaceable kingdom” find ourselves in a major dilemma.

Will we cling to the conviction of the “unimpeded right to pursue wealth in Western industrial culture,” as Walter Klassen posits in an essay in “Creation and the Environment,” Calvin Redekop, ed “regarding the earth with its treasure as existing solely for the enrichment and power of those who can take it?”

Or will we, as good stewards of God’s creation and participants in “the peaceful reign of God” described in Isaiah 11, Romans 8, and Revelation 21 and 22, “be God’s own caretakers in the small places where we live, becoming channels for the water of life flowing from beneath God’s throne, welling up within us and flowing out from us to water the trees of life, whose leaves are there for the healing of the nations?”

We have a choice. We can become so immobilized with complicity in our consumer culture that we lose our prophetic voice and our sensitivity to the wholesale degradation of the environment, or we can, despite our enmeshment, begin to make personal choices that break the never-ending cycle of production and consumption.

As both Haluza-DeLay and Klassen point out, our commitment to creation care should be both personal and corporate. “Unless we can begin to act as the revealed children of God at home, we will have no resources of soul for public action guided by our biblical vision,” insists Klassen. “We are not private individuals; we are part of the whole.”

There is hardly a consensus on this. One of my table-mates at the recent Assembly 2012 in Vancouver expressed displeasure with Canadian Mennonite’s recent edition focusing on Creation Care, dismissing any need to make this a part of our Christian commitment with “God will take care of all of this; we don’t need to concern ourselves with it.”

While hoping this is a minority view, we must note that there has been much energy spent on being part of the “peaceable kingdom.” MCC has been helping indigenous people develop water sources, increase crop production and forming retail outlets through Ten Thousand Villages for national arts and crafts. Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) is providing micro-financing for the poor and disadvantaged. Christian Peacemaker Teams are living in dangerous places around the globe as partners with nationals in challenging oppressive regimes.

Most of our colleges now have courses and degrees in environment science, international culture and conflict transformation. Many of our businesses have worked at environmental issues, such as Palliser Furniture in Winnipeg, and the D.W. Friesen book publishing business of Altona.

MCC, according to Michael L. Yoder (Creation and the Environment), pioneered the first “blue box” collection and recycling program in Kitchener in the mid-1970s, which has now spread to many cities across Canada and the US.

While these are encouraging corporate efforts at being the “peaceable kingdom,” our calling is to make this a personal mission as well.

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Hope our stalwart editor Dick Benner survives this gentle examination of our focus on the motes in the eyes of distant lands but not on the beam in our own eyes - here in Canada.

Are we becoming all video and cheques and no guts and speaking up?

Reminds me of the MCC backed Project Plowshares that sent an emissary to soft sell the "good war" on Muslim Afghanistan and its refusal to overtly back a Department of Peace.

Indeed, as the editorial quotes Walter Klassen: We are not private individuals, we are part of the whole."

Shouldn't we stand and be counted on tar sands, Northern Gateway Pipeline, divestiture and boycott of the Israeli squatterment enterprise - as the United Church has recently done?

Isn't conviction standing and speaking up when everyone knows your name; and what you stand for? Or will we let the pro-oil, pro-war franchisers speak for us in our sad acceptance of 'rendering unto politicians those things that are theirs' - such as our environment, war making, unjust taxation, poverty as as a pro-business policy...?

John Ish Ishmael, Brampton ON

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