Page 19 - Presbyterian Connection
P. 19
FALL 2021
Nuclear weapons and climate change are the urgent twin threats that threat- en the very existence of Canada and all of creation as we know it. The Doomsday Clock now counts the 100 seconds to midnight using both nuclear risk, climate change and dis- ruptive technologies.
Project Ploughshares—the peace research institute of the Council— plays a leading role in Canadian and global nuclear disarmament efforts, along with focused work on the weap- onization of space, killer robot cam- paigns (lethal autonomous weapons systems), and arms control. Plough- shares has suppor ted Canadian churches in calling for Canada to sign and ratify the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Canadian churches have been long and frequent advocates for nuclear disarmament where the Council en- joys deep consensus. Unfortunately, the government is not so interested.
Climate Justice is a high priority for many Canadian churches who are advocating for policy changes and investments, along with driving in- ternal change through green church networks. For the Love of Creation is the platform for public policy ad- vocacy and education effor ts in faith communities. As one of the leading producers of dirty energy, Canada has a long way to go to migrate to- wards cleaner energy sources. The economic disruption of employment and industry, particularly in Western Canada, is significant. Pipelines are a continuing flashpoint where free prior and informed consent, consultation with Indigenous peoples and leader- ship, corporate investment and gov- ernment subsidies and investments frequently lead to local conflict, pro- tests and court battles.
The Canadian North experiences the effects of climate change more than many other regions on Earth. The effects of warming temperatures and warming oceans are magnified and are bulldozing the way of life and future of the Inuit and other peoples of the North—“a melting future,” as the young people have described it. Despair, suicide and feelings of powerlessness are concrete conse- quences of climate change—climate change that is caused by high rates of energy consumption in the Cana- dian South, yet felt and experienced by the people and the environment in the Canadian North.
Healing or ending pover ty remains a primary focus of churches in Canada ecumenically. Ecumenical efforts have focused on policy responses to social determinants of poverty and advocat- ing for a Canadian Pover ty Reduction Strategy. More recently they have
added in the lens of relationality, shift- ing the perspective from scarcity to abundance, from vulnerability to resil- ience and from fear to trust.
Public figures frequently paint a pic- ture of a trade-off between jobs, ad- dressing pover ty and tackling climate change. Churches have described the current situation as a spiritual and moral crisis that requires a spiritual solution. They have instead tied to- gether ending poverty and promoting climate justice along with advocating for Indigenous rights as an expression of faith and a sustainable economy.
The pandemic has exposed the level of Canada’s dependence on recent immigrants and migrant work- ers, especially in agriculture, health and work. Most migrant workers receive low wages and few benefits, while poor working conditions have made them especially vulnerable to Covid. KAIROS has done significant work on migrant justice before and during the pandemic.
The pandemic hit long-term care homes for the elderly the earliest and the hardest, and made immedi- ately visible the poor conditions in long-term care homes. Early in the pandemic Canada had the highest proportion of deaths occurring in long-term care compared to other OECD Countries, and long-term care residents accounted for 81% of all re- ported COVID-19 deaths in Canada, compared with an average of 38% in other OECD countries.
The Council has advocated for uni- versal access to palliative care, par- tially in response to new legislation on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). While there has been no church or faith community consensus on how to respond to the recent MAiD legislation, many churches and faith communi- ties have been focused on opposing or limiting the legislation and its ef- fects, especially the new extensions of the legislation into cases of mental illness and the removal or limiting the criteria of reasonable foreseeability of death. Many faith communities and medical practitioners are advocating for conscience protections, so that they are not obligated to refer patients to a doctor who may provide medical assistance in dying.
Life Sciences
The Council benefits from long-term engagement of member churches on issues of biotechnology. If the consumption of fossil fuels and the manipulation of natural resources at a macro level can result in massive climate change, on a micro level the developments in synthetic biology, CRISPR technologies and artificial intelligence can result in massive hereditable changes to life forms
public spaces and for public officials. Judges, teachers, health-care work- ers, police officers and other public figures are banned from wearing re- ligious head coverings, religious sym- bols in jewelry, or from carrying reli- gious objects. Muslim women who are teachers and typically wear scarves are now forced to decide whether they can continue in their vocation as a teacher. Jewish judges or doctors, for example, are not allowed to wear a religious head covering when carrying out their duties. The legislation runs counter to both the Quebec Charter of
and ecologies, including the human genome. Powerful life- and genome- altering technologies are available publicly at inexpensive rates for do- it-yourself laboratories in your home or garage. The Faith and Life Sci- ences Reference Group at the Coun- cil continues to reflect on the prom- ises and perils of biotechnologies, including their effects on the human person, and is increasingly focused on learning and the advocacy related to Canadian and global regulation of life-altering technologies and food systems.
together. As the pandemic has carried on, it seems to have become easier for politicians to hurl epithets and criti- cism at one another through their Zoom screen rather than work for the com- mon good around a committee table.
I am struck by the power of the new life-altering technologies. Attendance at recent events that discuss the phenomenon has been extraordinar- ily high. CRISPR and its applications, including human hereditable tech- nologies, are an area that demand more attention from faith communi- ties before we struggle with the un- intended or off-target consequences, in the way that we are now struggling with climate change. Venture capital and competition for research grant dollars with unbridled medical- and ecology-altering applications guided by volunteer self-regulation could spell another global threat.
Coming out of the pandemic, there have been extensive conversations about a just transition, or principles for a just recovery: put people’s health and well-being first, no exceptions; strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people; prior- itize the needs of workers and com- munities; build resilience to prevent future crises; build solidarity and eq- uity across communities, generations and borders; and uphold Indigenous rights and work in par tnership with Indigenous peoples. Will the inequi- ties the pandemic made more visible deepen or will we address them? Will vulnerable populations, especially those in long-term care homes, con- tinue to suffer from neglect and low standards of care? Will a transition to a greener economy be hurried along by lower rates of energy consump- tion or will unfettered energy con- sumption return with a vengeance?
This essay is in no way complete or comprehensive. It offers a par- tial snapshot of some ecumenical and interfaith trends and initiatives in Canadian society and Canadian churches today. No doubt, communal discernment on the signs of the times together will prove more fruitful for our analysis and shared work and prayer.
The pandemic has sparked a move- ment towards greater inter-religious solidarity and co-operation. Municipal, provincial and federal governments have long ignored and kept their dis- tance from religious communities but, when the pandemic hit, governments found that religious communities were impor tant par tners in compliance with physical distancing, stopping the spread of the virus and in public health effor ts. Several new provin- cial interfaith roundtables have been formed as a result. In an historic initia- tive, at the start of the pandemic more than 80 religious leaders signed Hope, Gratitude and Solidarity: A Message to Canadians from Religious Leaders in Canada in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Later in the year, in another historic event, the Council cohosted—with interfaith partners—a virtual conver- sation between religious leaders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the role of faith communities in a time of pandemic. And early this year the Council co-promoted—with interfaith partners—a public health session on the vaccine and immunization cam- paign with Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer.Duringthispandemicthescale of interfaith co-operation and the level of religious leaders’ engagement with the Federal Government is higher than it has been in many decades, if ever.
Many Canadians and especially people of faith continue to wrestle with Quebec’s decision to adopt a secular char ter that bans religious symbols in
Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Char ter of Rights and Free- doms, so the Quebec government has invoked the “not withstanding clause” to circumvent human rights laws. While the discrimination is felt by all religious communities, many analysts conclude that the target of the legisla- tion is Islamaphobic and is intended mainly to ban Muslim women from wearing head coverings.
Signs of the Times
Racism, systemic racism, white privilege, white supremacy, decolo- nization, hate crimes and online hate are near the centre of the Canadian conversation and are mirrored in the interests of member churches of the Council. During a recent priority-set- ting process, nearly every table of the Council named anti-racism work as a top or single priority for the coming 2021–24 triennium.
The most frequently demanded re- sources from the Council are on the topics of intercultural leadership, anti- racism and white identity. The Council is beginning an impor tant conversa- tion on what we mean by intercultur- ality and a theology of interculturality: what a just, intercultural communi- ty—the beloved community—looks like, feels like and sounds like.
At the same time, the signs of in- creasing polarization are also every- where present, particularly on social media but also in daily encounters. At first, during the pandemic Canadian politicians put aside partisan interests to focus on public health measures

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