By Muaz Nasir
(February 22, 2011) – Members from Toronto’s faith groups gathered this past Sunday to discuss a common theme affecting their congregations: What can we do to make a difference in the environment?
The event entitled “Translating our Faith into Action: Making a Difference for the Environment” was organized by OIKOS in conjunction with the University of Calgary with the goal of equipping faith communities with the necessary resources to translate their spiritual teachings into effective public action.
Keynote speakers included Bishop Linda Nicholls from the Anglican Church of Canada, Shaikh Habeeb Alli from the Canadian Council of Imams and Rabbi Rav Roy from the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School.
All three panelists shared their experiences on the ethical and spiritual responsibilities all faiths have as stewards over the environment and brought to light several commonalities their traditions share including a communal responsibility over the earth and mutual respect for all creation.
Also contributing to the dialogue was Keith Stewart from Greenpeace Canada, who is also a member of the Green Budget Coalition.
This alliance of environmental organizations provides annual recommendations in advance of the federal budget and has a history of working with all levels of government to achieve long-term environmental sustainability, a key theme that carried throughout the event.
Among his insights on the green movement in Canada, Keith outlined several components faith groups can adopt to incorporate environmental advocacy into their spiritual teachings and how together this can be used as a learning tool to educate their congregations about the importance of the natural world.
Three avenues were presented where faith groups can utilize resources already present within their respective communities to increase their exposure to environmental issues:
1) Ability to draw strength from their religious convictions: Faith groups can encourage an alternate perspective on environmental advocacy which resonate with politicians as they generally speak the language of society and represent a set of common shared values.
2) Ability to raise issues that are unpopular or inconvenient: Issues that are politically sensitive can be discussed from a spiritual perspective, such as environmental implications on future generations, which generates dialogue in a non-confrontational setting.
3) Faith groups have powerful resources within their congregations: Members encompass a diverse range of individuals who wield power within the public and private sector. They also bring together a wide range of skills and ideas on approaching and resolving different issues.
For more information about OIKOS and links to future retreats, please visit http://www.ucalgary.ca/oikos/Retreat/
* Muaz Nasir holds a Masters degree in Environmental Studies specializing in Business and Environmental Relations from York University and the Schulich School of Business; he aims to raise the profile of environmental issues within the Canadian Muslim community.