Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nothing Blasphemous About Theological Environmentalism

Michael Coren off-base with criticism of United Church

Writing in the Sudbury Star, Bill Steadman takes umbrage with recent remarks by Michael Coren about recent focus by the United Church of Canada on environmental issues.

Coren wrote that "hundreds of thousands have left for evangelical churches where Jesus, rather than the Smart car, is worshipped each Sunday."

In his Toronto Sun column, Coren more specifically takes issue with Mardi Tindal, the Church's new environmentally-minded moderator.

"Do Mardi and her friends not realize just how dated and daft they sound?" Coren asks. "They toss around all of the old cliches like 'new paradigm,' 'participate relationally' and 'safe place' and then wonder why worshippers have abandoned their church quicker than a liberal Christian in a shoe store that has run out of Birkenstocks!"

"While lazy journalists continue to say that the United Church is, 'the largest Protestant denomination in Canada' the truth is that while the church boasts 545,000 adherents, these are mostly paper members and perhaps a third of them actually attend the United Church."

The rest, Coren contends, have abandoned the Church for demoninations that haven't shifted their focus to matters other than singing hymns and passing the collection plate.

"If people want environmental lectures, distorted history about evil Europeans oppressing natives, radical feminism and anti-homophobia workshops they only have to turn on the television," Coren writes. "They go to church to praise God and learn about salvation."

The argument that Coren seems to raise is that commentary on social matters -- and especially left-wing commentary -- are out of place within a Christian church, and that they are somehow polluting the spiritual environment of the Church. That they are, in this particular sense, effectively blasphemous.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

If Coren truly feels threatened by the presence of an environmental message in his Church, some high profile Canadian Christians wouldn't agree with him.

Preston Manning -- a known evangelical Christian -- has long advocated in favour of theocratic environmentalism, a breed of environmentalism born out of a belief in creation care.

At the heart of this idea, which one of Canada's predominant evangelical Christians has taken very deeply to heart, is the idea that mankind has a responsibility to care for God's creation. It's a very compelling reason for many Christians to support environmental conservation and reclaimation.

Manning could never have reached this conclusion about a holy mandate for environmental conservation without being influenced by his religious beliefs. In fact, Manning has made it clear throughout his political career that his religious beliefs were the foundation of his political beliefs and actions.

Bill Streadman's objections to Coren's comments stems from the very same Christian principles of which Manning would remind the arch-conservative scribe -- that being a Christian has as it's fundamental basis a social relationship with the rest of teh world: one wherein Christians are obligated to treat their fellow humanity with generosity, kindness and compassion.

This includes generously helping to ensure that everyone can enjoy a high quality of life, replete with a clean and healthy environment to habitate.

Streadman also notes that, as it regards accusations that politics undermines the religiosity of the United Church's message, the Church would not be alone.

"The truth is, being a follower of Jesus (at least as I read the Bible) has a lot to do with how one treats people, understands human needs and addresses social concerns," Streadman writes. "Jesus himself was accused of being a nonreligious individual for allowing tax collectors, prostitutes, even mothers with young children to be part of his entourage of followers. Heaven forbid."

Coren's concern is legitimate if the United Church begins to promote left-wing political beliefs to the exclusion of any others.

But even then any believers concerned about the influx of left-wing politics in their Church do have two very good options of their own: either make their own political beliefs heard within the Church, or find another.

If many adherents of the United Church choose the latter over the former, that's their choice. And it's the choice of the United Church -- not of Michael Coren -- regarding whether or not they'll worry about it.

For his own part, Bill Steadman doesn't seem to.

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