Canadian church endorses eco-justice statements

Ever since he became involved in eco-justice work more than a year ago, Rev. Ken Gray has been looking at his world differently. Now, current events and news headlines involving issues like Kyoto and wide-spread droughts take on fresh significance for him.

So when the chance came his way to head to South Africa with other like-minded Anglicans to discuss and learn more about sustainable development and the environment, he jumped at it.

Mr. Gray, incumbent of St. Stephen, Summerland, B.C., was the Canadian representative at the Global Anglican Congress on the Stewardship of Creation in the Johannesburg area. The congress was initiated by the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, who invited each province of the Anglican Communion to send one representative to the gathering.

The congress met for the first time in August, but it was only at the recent meeting of the Canadian church’s governing body, the Council of General Synod, that the Canadian church endorsed the statements of the congress. The council also asked the national church’s eco-justice committee to take “appropriate action.”

Part of that appropriate action “is to send these statements out to our wider church, where they will help to inform our members about the critical environmental/ecological issues facing us at this time in history,” said Ellie Johnson, director of the national church’s partnerships department, the division that oversees the work of the eco-justice committee. 

Mr. Gray, a member of that committee’s environment and ecology working group, said the congress was well-balanced and representative of the Anglican Communion, a mix of academics, activists, laity, clergy, men, women, north and south, affluent and poor. Also there from Canada was Rev. Eric Beresford, the Anglican Communion’s co-ordinator for ethics, who also serves as consultant for ethics and interfaith relations of the Canadian church.

For his part, Mr. Gray said he brought to the congress his own knowledge and experience of the “consumption patterns of North Americans”, and “an awareness that many of our own economic ties with the global south are exploitive in nature.”
There was initially some suspicion among southern partners at the gathering that members of more affluent provinces would push an agenda concentrating on issues affecting the global North, said Mr. Gray, but “it didn’t happen,” he said. “It became a model for effective visioning.”

The purpose of the gathering was to bring concerned Anglicans together to make recommendations on the environment to the rest of the Communion. It also provided orientation to about half the participants for the following week’s United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, which also met in Johannesburg directly after the Anglican meeting.
The congress issued two statements: one to the Anglican Communion and a second addressed to the delegates of the UN summit.

Mr. Gray says the statement aimed at the Communion, now given the stamp of approval by the church at home, is a challenge to Anglicans to increase their awareness of environmental issues, from climate change to water quality and quantity, from the cars they drive to how they heat their houses and church buildings.

Among other recommendations, the congress asked that each body within the Anglican Communion undertake an “environmental audit” and commit itself to energy conservation and sustainable energy resources. The statement reads, in part:

“People must be willing to face change and participate actively in the decisions before us all. Unjust economic structures have taken from people and the land without giving in return, putting at risk all life that is sustained by the planet. Greed and over-consumption, which have dictated so much of economic development in the past, must be transformed into generosity and compassion. Transformation is, at its heart, a spiritual matter; it includes every aspect of our lives. As members of the Anglican Communion, at all levels of its life, we must play our part in bringing about this transformation toward a just, sustainable future. Now is the time for prayerful action based on the foundation of our faith.”

The second statement was delivered to all delegates at the UN summit. (The Anglican Communion has input at the UN through its office of Anglican Observer at the United Nations.)

“Our message to them was that sustainable development is as much a moral issue as it is an economic one,” said Mr. Gray. “Many people segment the moral from the economic and we don’t believe that for a second.”

The statement directed at summit delegates notes that “Land, sea and air belong first and foremost to God. At most they are entrusted to human beings who are expected, in turn, to respond with gratitude and to hand them on faithfully and intact to generations to come. As stewards of the environment human beings are required by God to act faithfully and responsibly.”

It goes on to recommend that governments of all nations refuse “to subordinate the good of all for the good of some” and that they reject “the destructiveness of the culture of militarism.” It also urges all governments to recognize that “environmental degradation constitutes a violation of the universal declaration of human rights.”


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