Opinion: The 'moral cry' against the TransCanada XL pipeline
Written by Jim Deming
November 11, 2011

"To the faith leaders that raised a moral cry..."

The words above are words of thanks from Bill McKibben, prominent environmental leader, author of countless books on climate change, founder of 350.org, and teacher of students. His gratitude comes from the decision by President Obama to delay the approval of the TransCanada XL pipeline which would have carried dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf coast for export to the world oil market.

Six months ago, the pipeline was a slam-dunk, business-as-usual, to-hell-with-the-planet project. There was no accounting of the huge damage to water and air in the Native lands and boreal forests of western Canada. There was no recognition of the danger of crossing the breadbasket of the U.S. with a trust-us-we-can-clean-it-up oil pipeline. There was very little acknowledgement of the direction it would take the U.S. towards more fossil fuel dependence and climate change. Now, it faces additional scrutiny and a delay that could make it cost-prohibitive.

By some accounts, the decision by President Obama is seen as a purely political move, putting off the decision until after the 2012 election and thereby not openly alienating two groups of supporters – environmentalists who want clean energy and labor unions who want jobs. That reasoning could be true, and it would satisfy those who see politics only as a cynical exercise in self-interest and electability.

But the political/cynical atmosphere has changed in the last 6 months. Folks who ordinarily would sit still – including many in our UCC congregations – have been writing letters and taking to the streets, questioning the moral authority of those in power.

We see it in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that highlight the gross imbalance of access to the "American Dream," and we see it in the pipeline protests. On Nov. 6, over 12,000 "ordinary citizens" came to Washington to circle the White House in a demonstration against the pipeline. It was politically savvy, it was effective, and it may just be the biggest outcry yet of what we might now call a New Moral Majority.

And this New Moral Majority has a new set of questions for our public policy leaders:

  • Do we sacrifice the health of our children and planet for short-term comfort, power, and financial gain? Is it just about the money?
  • Do we believe there is a moral component in public-policy decisions, and how do we determine that? And can we talk about it openly?
  • Do you - as elected officials - really believe in hearing the voice of all people, even the least powerful among us?

And these are questions that challenge people of faith as well – every one of us, every day.

Today is a good day to click our heels together and celebrate the results of good and moral work. We celebrate the leadership of folks like the Rev. Jim Antal, the Conference Minister from Massachusetts, who has brought so much awareness of the dangers of climate change to our national congregational discourse. We thank our UCC national office advocates and media colleagues who kept us informed through our media channels. But most of all, we highlight the many UCC members who joined in the letter-writing and demonstrating because they saw this as a moral issue that needed a voice from the faith community.

And where do people of faith get the moral authority that Bill McKibben lifts up in grattitude? First, from our scriptural roots and values. In the story from Genesis of the Garden of Eden, the text tells us "for God knows that when you eat of it [the fruit of the tree of life] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Yes, we know the difference between right and wrong, the abuse of power by the few over the welfare of the many, and we know we cannot claim ignorance before our Creator.

Secondly, we acknowledge that our values are not our values unless we act on them. We cannot claim to love God, love God's Creation, and love God's people unless we become active advocates for all. We cannot just talk a good game. We have to get off the bench and get involved to the best of our ability.

So, click your heels and leap for joy today, but know that we are firmly planted in the soil of God's good green, blue and brown earth and the job is not finished. We still have miles to go before we sleep, but for now the journey is unimpeded by a nasty pipeline. Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Jim Deming is the UCC's minister for environmental justice.