Thursday, December 6, 2012

Missed Opportunity

I am feeling a little defeated. Waves of regret lap up against me like the rising sea. It isn’t guilt that I am wrestling with. It is feelings of disappointment.

Last year at this time I was at COPS17, the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa. The hope then was to increase the number of Canadian Church Leaders who would attend COPS18 this year in Doha, Qatar. But to my embarrassment not one church leader from Canada has been able to attend. We asked the church representative from El Salvador to carry our voice of concern.

I feel like we have allowed good intentions to erode into lost opportunity.  I can still hear the pleas from last year. ”We have no more time,” expressed a delegate from Nigeria. “If we cannot agree on a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, let us lay it aside and prepare ourselves to die.”

The task remains. We still need to find solutions to decreasing our negative impact on creation. Church and civic leaders must give voice in asking governments for real change to our corporate systems of consumption. I applaud the recommendation issued this week:

Recommendation of African Leaders on the occasion of the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate:

We can not continue with the same models of development , economics and amoral conduct in the global system of governance  and multilateralism.  Not only must we address the evident causes of climate instability, its impacts, and support those most vulnerable - we fundamentally need a model of living which is anchored in good faith, compassion, respect for nature, an adherence to the scriptural guidance of our role as stewards and custodians, not of consumers of the Earth's beauty and abundance.... Success in  the climate negotiations must speak directly to the well- being and sustainability of the least developed countries.

- South African Council of Churches

I am grateful that the church is still actively present at the negotiations in Doha. I am grateful that El Salvador agreed to carry our voice. But I can’t shake the feeling that we have requested others to do what we should be doing.

I’d love to hear your responses, your thoughts, your comments and observations of how churches should engage this pressing matter.


  1. Dear Willard, just want to add a few of my thoughts to the dilemma you face. I speak as an outsider with a life time of experience watching various churches and denominations. The thing that stands out to me is that this topic has been seen to be more of a political one by churches and if that is true most church denominations are not willing to engage in this. Ideas of division of church and state seem to still permeate throughout and what results is the lack of support for fear of going into either unwanted or uncharted territory. But this is more than that. It is a justice issue. It is also a Creator issue. I believe that materialism and individuality has also made its way into mainline denominations whereby they are bent more on self preservation of the ABC's of church life which are: attendance, buildings and cash. The easy solutions would be to make it a paid part of their roles as pastors or leadership within their constituency. Somehow we need to remove the excuses just as we do in working with our Indigenous neighbors. So i feel your frustration and disappointment. Another idea would be to make part of the framework nationally as a Mennonite denomination and not something attached to the fringes. That it becomes part of your national mandate and identity. So far i see your structure not conducive to these kinds of issues. Once again i site the Indigenous example as akin to this one of Creation care. These can no longer be part of the stuff on the margins for Mennonites if they tout Service, Peace and Justice issues. Creation care should be part of the Mennonite DNA structure. Lastly, i feel Mennonites are wary to get involved in these kinds of social political issues and would rather support outside agencies or governments to do this work. As i shared earlier the separation of church and state is something that still bogs involvement down. What you are wishing for is a paradigm shift across the board. With this Indigenous Relations Coordinator position MCBC found out they had a horse that escaped out of the barn. They then had to figure out what was a barn, what was a horse and which direction it was travelling and if they need to reign it in. Then they finally found out that the horse was setting the direction for the MCBC leadership and conference. By hiring a staff position like this for Creation care you could showcase movement, accountability and direction. Momenentum could then occur. I do not know if such staff positions occur at your head offices nationally or within each local conference but i have to tell you it sure raises awareness when other leadership see this on the table and part of conference agenda knowing its a paid position. It certainly carries more weight that a voluntary committee representation. Hope that might be an idea worth considering. Bear

  2. We need another summit in Ottawa, jointly organized by the Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (there is a core of churches that bridge both groups).
    Since Mardi Tindal (the other Cdn church leader at Durban) is no longer United Church of Canada Moderator, the CCC should appoint another leader to join you in a meeting with Peter Kent (I believe that Kent indicated openness) to debrief Doha (as well as other party Environment critics) and state again the concerns of the churches. Reference: CCC letter to the Environ Minister: (also Catholic Register: ). That being said, my gut feeling is that our concerns for creation care are lost on federal gov't. Much can still be done however at the provincial and municipal levels, and our witness may be more effective there at this time.

  3. I wish the urgency of these issues would attach itself to our hearts. I am struck by the voice from Nigeria - a country suffering the ill-effects of a global energy economy focused only on short-term growth. Because I'm heading there in a few weeks, I'm more concerned that we take on the job of listening to, and acting upon, the concerns of our brothers and sisters from places and peoples living on the edges and feeling the effects of CC. For another example on the other side of the world: Typhoon Pablo - which ripped through a part of the Philippines in the last couple of days - a region not usually affected by out-of-season storms like this - a place most of us have not heard of.

  4. I love these ideas. Very thoughtful and helpful. Thanks

  5. Sorry I'm a month late in responding to this.
    I think there are three reasons why churches are having a hard time grasping this.
    1) The scope of climate change is hard for us to grasp. It's too big. And any changes that we can make are so small that they are almost insignificant. As much as we want to believe that every small action counts, it's hard to "fight the good fight" when, if every light bulb in the US was a CFL, it would replace 2 coal power power plants; the same plants being built around the world at the rate of one a week.
    2) We are loathe to push any policies that would result in the loss of job opportunities. While I agree that we need creativity and a new green economy and sustainable industries, an increase in joblessness is hard to stomach when are working to eliminate poverty. It's easy for us to say the long term effects of global warming are worse than the short term effects of unemployment, but very few of us would be willing to lose our jobs now for people to be born in 100 years.
    3) And I think this one quite relevant to the MCCanada crowd. We don't like legalism. We don't want to be judged, and we don't want to judge others. And most of us who come to church don't like being told, week after week, to simply go home and try harder. That refrain gets quite tiresome quite quickly.
    So these aren't solutions at all, but perhaps rather reasons as to why creation care sometimes has a hard time getting traction.
    Much courage to you as you continue your good work.

  6. I appreciate your comments and helpful insights. I think it is important to understand what people are feeling and thinking. This is very helpful.