In a 1988 letter from the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Philipines entitled, “What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?” the Bishops called on all Christians and people of good will to notice and take action regarding the growing ecological devastation that was spreading across their islands and around the world. After outlining the problem and providing some theological reflections, the bishops offered a series of practical recommendations for individuals, churches, and governments. While we in Canada have become accustomed to these kinds of practical recommendations being around issues of consumption, “You should recycle more, eat less meat, stop flying, reduce your driving, add more insulation,” etc., the calls that these Filipino bishops made were for individuals to build solidarity through community groups and direct action on the land.
The emphasis on solidarity with communities and the land, and I would add, all living creatures, is an important element of what Christian social teaching has come to call “integral ecology”, an approach to thinking about environmental issues that focuses on showing how “the environment” is not just one of a number of political issues but is in fact integrally connected to all sorts of issues. In our Manitoba context, we might think about the hog industry as an example of a sector that provides all sorts of intersecting opportunities to build solidarity across different vectors. The industry employs a lot of temporary foreign workers at multiple levels, so there are opportunities to build solidarity around immigration and labour rights. There are questions of animal welfare that can help us build solidarity between eaters, producers, and the wellbeing of pigs. Finally, there is the issue of how feed is procured and how waste is treated that creates opportunities for building practices of solidarity with the soil and the waterways affected.
As Wendell Berry reminds us, when we eat ““we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.“ But what does it mean to break the body and shed the blood of creation “knowingly, lovingly, skillfully,” or “reverently”? At this point, many might think about local solutions, investing in local food production, or tackling neighbourhood issues. However, the critical feminist, Val Plumwood has given a really important warning about focusing on the local too exclusively. According to Plumwood, for every local place or food system, there are countless shadow places. Shadow places are the places that take our pollution, waste, exhaust their soil fertility, and have their labour exploited. These can be quite near us, or far away, but every system of production and consumption inevitably creates these places. One of the challenges that we are confronted in building solidarity in the face of climate change is that all of our local efforts always have implications for these shadow-places, and we should take care to build our coalitions in such a way that does not forget this.
This June, St. Margaret’s Anglican Church and A Rocha Manitoba are joining forces to host a joint conference on climate change and creation care. This is the first in an annual conference series by A Rocha called “Consider the Lilies” and the St. Margaret’s contribution for this inaugural event is entitled “Be Not Afraid.” There will be a variety of speakers and workshop facilitators that will help lead Christians in theological reflection on the challenge that the climate crisis and care for our common home present to all people. There will be lectures and presentations from world-leading international ecotheologians like Norman Wirzba and Anupama Ranawana, as well as contributions from more local leaders like Trevor Herriot and staff from A Rocha Manitoba and St. Margarets. The challenge before the church and the world is large, but there have been faithful voices from around the world, like the Filipino Bishops I mentioned above, who have been faithfully thinking, working, and responding to the issues of creation care for generations. We are not in this moment alone, and you are all invited to join us as we listen, learn, and take steps to respond this June.
For more details about the full schedule for the conference and to register, please visit: arocha.ca/consider