Political Activism and one Anglican bishop

peoplesmarch2014Originally published by the Canberra Timres. For full article visit  http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/political-activism-not-yet-on-life-support-20140924-10l7h4.html

Political activism, in the sense of community activism rather than insider political lobbying, is somewhat out of favour at the moment. There is a sense in which many of the political causes dear to the hearts of such activists are neglected or opposed by governments in Australia. That certainly applies to action on climate change because the federal government has taken government policy in a completely different direction.

That is why the People’s Climate March held last Sunday was so notable.  It was held before the world leaders climate summit at the United Nations in New York. It was a worldwide event, reportedly featuring 2700 coordinated rallies and marches in 160 countries, including Australia. The biggest Australian rallies were held in Sydney and Melbourne, where 30,000 people gathered. In Canberra 1000 people attended a rally at the Australian National University.

Speakers did include some politicians, including Greens Leader Christine Milne in Melbourne, but also many non-politicians, including, in Canberra, leading ACT Brumbiesplayer David Pocock and the former Anglican Bishop of Canberra, George Browning.

All this has been reported in the media, but what has not been commented on enough is the extraordinary resilience and long-term persistence of some of these activists in a currently unpopular cause. I have long admired the persistence of the long-distance campaigner, whatever the cause. And while many such campaigners are on the left of politics, quite a few are on the right and many would not want to be categorised at all in such simplistic terms.

Persistence is not always recognised as a virtue but derided as stubbornness or ignorance or even worse. Activists can be dismissed as fanatics who redouble their efforts when the hope of success evaporates. They can be labelled innocent fools who are being misled by behind-the-scenes manipulators.

Sometimes there is strength in numbers in convoys or rallies but often campaigning in an unpopular cause is a lonely affair, whether it is selling a radical newspaper on a street corner or saying prayers outside the ACT Department of Health.

Not all community activists stay the course but fall by the wayside. That’s understandable. In all types of political activity, whether movements or organisations, churn is a major factor. Churn means that at any time up to a third of participants drop out of their commitment from year to year.

But many do persevere. Some of those who do are sustained by a fully worked-out personal theory of citizenship. Browning, a long-term environmental activist, is one of those and I was struck by his article in last weekend’s Sunday Canberra Times which explained his position.

Browning combines a commitment to a cause, in this case moving away from fossil fuels, with a belief that “ordinary citizens must reclaim the public space and the national narrative”. This leads him to a determination to “take a public and proactive stand against powerful self-interest”.

More controversially he is concerned that our democracy is suffering because “our votes are far less influential on public policy than the lobbying of sectional interests”. For this reason he may be willing, if necessary, to engage in civil disobedience in defence of democracy and the common good.

His citizenship is global rather than parochial and he calls on the long-held beliefs of the Anglican Church that, if the two citizenships ever collide, it is the citizenship of all humanity that must trump national citizenship. Whether you agree or disagree with Browning, either on fossil fuels or global citizenship, he has expounded a comprehensive position.

Democracy needs people like George Browning and his friend, the former Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra, Pat Power. But they and their fellow activists are in a minority. Surveys demonstrate that the majority of citizens are not activists but passive members of the political community. Activism is not only not for everyone, it is not even for the majority.

Just what the right mix is between active and passive citizens can be disputed. Ultimately in democratic elections the ballot box does not discriminate between the two. One vote one value means that activists are not valued more than passivists.

I come down firmly on the side of the beneficial contribution to society of the lifelong activist. Nevertheless there are three circumstances under which community activism can go wrong.

The first is when it succumbs to the temptation to bypass majoritarian democracy rather than to work within it. For all its widely recognised flaws our system has democratic processes, primarily elections but also constitutional provisions and parliamentary procedures, which must unequivocally come first.

The second is when it becomes so single-minded that it leads to intolerance of other points of view. Activism at its best engages with other points of view even if those on the other side don’t want to engage. Activism should also engage civilly and reject extreme language even if its opponents are uncivil.

The third is when activism is stuck in a rut about the way to engage with the wider community. Mass rallies, demonstrations and convoys can be effective because they attract the media and also because they build solidarity among those who participate. But they should never be the only way. Smaller gatherings, including workshops and dining-room table discussions, are a necessary complement to the bigger events. So is participation in other community organisations, including political parties and churches.

What I’ve read about the People’s Climate March suggests that it was a good mix between the local and the global, smaller groups (including church services and secular gatherings) and mass events, and that it was conducted in a fashion that was respectful of democratic values.

John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University



A Pastoral Message on Climate Change

A Pastoral Message on Climate Change

The following Pastoral Message on Climate Change has been issued by Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori with the heads for the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the  Evangelical

September 19, 2014

We are united as Christian leaders in our concern for the well-being of our neighbors and of God’s good creation that provides life and livelihood for all God’s creatures. Daily we see and hear the evidence of a rapidly changing climate. Glaciers are disappearing, the polar ice cap is melting, and sea levels are rising. Incidents of pollution created dead zones in seas and the ocean and toxic algae growth in water supplies are occurring with greater frequency. Most disturbingly, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising at an unprecedented rate. At the same time we also witness in too many instances how the earth’s natural beauty, a sign of God’s wonderful creativity, has been defiled by pollutants and waste.

Many have reacted to these changes with grief and anger. In their outrage some have understandably focused on the neglect and carelessness, both in private industry and in government regulation, that have contributed to these changes. However, an honest accounting requires a recognition that we all participate both as consumers and investors in economies that make intensive and insistent demands for energy. In addition, as citizens we have chosen to support or acquiesce in policies that shift the burdens of climate change to communities that are most vulnerable to its effects. People who are already challenged by poverty and by dislocation resulting from civil war or famine have limited resources for adapting to climate change’s effects.

While an accounting of climate change that has credibility and integrity must include our own repentance, we find our hope in the promise of God’s own faithfulness to the creation and humankind and in the liberation that comes from God’s promise.

God, who made the creation and made it good, has not abandoned it. Daily the Spirit continues to renew the face of the earth. All who care for the earth and work for the restoration of its vitality can be confident that they are not pursuing a lost cause. We serve in concert with God’s own creative and renewing power.

Moreover, we need not surrender to political ideologies and other modern mythologies that would divide us into partisan factions — deserving and undeserving, powerless victims and godless oppressors. In Christ we have the promise of a life where God has reconciled the human community. In Christ God sets us free from the captivity of blaming and shaming. God liberates us for shared endeavors where we find each other at our best.

While the challenge may seem daunting, the Spirit’s abundant gifts for service empower us to find common cause with people who exercise countless insights and skills, embodied in hundreds of occupations and trades. We have good reason to hope in all the ways God’s grace is at work among us. We can commend ourselves to the work before us with confidence in God’s mercy.

Opportunities to act imaginatively and courageously abound in all our individual callings. The Holy Spirit’s work in us leads us as faithful consumers and investors in a global economy to make responsible choices to reduce energy use, carbon emissions, and the wasteful consumption of water and other natural resources. As citizens, we have voices to use in educating children about the climate and in shaping public and corporate policies that affect the environment. The Spirit has also given us our voices to contribute our witness to public discussion of just and responsible use of natural resources.

We also have the resources and responsibility to act together for the common good, especially for those most vulnerable to the effect of climate change in the spirit of the seventh Millennium Development Goal, “to ensure environmental stability”. World leaders will meet this month in New York for a Climate Summit, and in December in Lima, Peru, to discuss global cooperation on climate change. Working under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), participants in the UNFCCC’s negotiations hope for an agreement in 2015 that will move toward reduction of carbon emissions, development of low carbon technologies, and assistance to populations most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.

We encourage you to take the initiative to engage decision-makers in this godly work in all arenas of public life — in government and business, in schools and civic organizations, in social media and also in our church life.

We are not powerless to act and we are not alone. “We have the power of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Spirit of Christ to give us hope and courage.”i

The present moment is a critical one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as faithful individuals and churches in solidarity with God’s good creation.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church


Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Presiding Bishop

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz


Anglican Church of Canada


Bishop Susan Johnson

National Bishop

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

New York, New York – See you in September (wherever you are)

The information below is taken from a letter sent to all Anglican parishes in the Diocese of New York. Written by Dr. Jeff Golliher, chair of the diocesan environmental task pcm-id-1b-400-x-400-300x300force, it explains the actions taking place this coming September in New York City around a United Nations Summit and the Peoples’ march organized by Bill McKibbon and the secular group 350.org.

There is so much happening that it is confusing to know who is doing what and why. Concerning the latter, the situation is urgent. Earth’s climate and energy and resource management are going in a very dangerous direction. Dr. Golliher explains the details and reasons for the various actions very clearly. This is worth a careful read.

Also please consider how you can initiate local actions where you live and send your intentions to grayintheforest@shaw.ca so we at the ACEn can track and promote your local activities. This is a time for gathering, for reclection for advocacy and for prayer.

Modified text of diocesan letter now follows:

July 5, 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

If you haven’t heard already, the People’s Climate March will take place in Manhattan, Sunday afternoon, September 21. This will be a hugely important and monumental event. I’m writing to encourage you, members of your congregation, and other friends to participate and/or to be involved in whatever way is appropriate and possible – and know that I’m writing with the support and blessing of our Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche. In addition, a culminating interfaith service of worship, after the Climate March, will be held at 6:00 pm at our Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Below are a few web links that provide all the practical information you need. Plus, you can sign up to endorse the event, even if you can’t be there.

More details are available online at http://peoplesclimate.org/march/
The Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/pages/People-of-Faith-the-Peoples-Climate-March/1462490230660137?ref=profile
Questions may be sent to info@peoplesclimate.org

It is worth taking a moment to underscore why the People’s Climate March is so important. Obviously, the Climate March is not really about the event. It’s about the dire, urgent situation we face as a result of the climate change/climate justice crisis. The Climate March and other related events on the weekend of Sept. 20 and 21 (organized by the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, Union Seminary, women’s groups, labor groups, and many others) are being held in connection with a one-day United Nations’ Summit (September 23), convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

One purpose of the UN Summit (like the People’s March) is to bring even more attention to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The whole point, to be blunt, is that we don’t have much time to do what needs to be done in order to avert the worst of a catastrophic environmental crisis that has already begun.

This message needs to be heard especially in the United States, where political action and leadership is needed on every level of government, in our financial centers, in our places of worship, and in our places of work. But not only in the United States: the Anglican Alliance has launched an Anglican Communion-wide campaign, called “Oceans of Justice,” to move the Australian government to put climate change on the global G20 agenda for November of this year. By going to this website — http://anglicanalliance.org/pages/8505 — and adding your name, you (and we) can show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Pacific too.

We also want to call your attention to the ecumenical, youth-oriented activities of the Franciscan Action Network and the Franciscan Youth Corps who are organizing events for the Climate March. Check their website periodically in the weeks ahead for updates about that:

If you can be in Manhattan for the Climate March, take your parish banner (or make one). We’re already involved, but it’s also a good idea to let people know who we are.

If you can’t be in Manhattan, you can still participate in your congregation on that day (Sunday, September 21) through reflection, discussion, and prayer. After all, prayer is a powerful form of action too. As our Anglican brother, Archbishop Winston of Tuvalu in the Pacific says, “We need to pray. We need to say very, very clearly to the church that we need to pray because this is something way beyond us. We need to pray that we will be empowered to speak clearly to our elected agents in government who make decisions about climate change.”

End of modified text.