The protestors are clearly operating out of deep conviction, but breaking the law is serious business – especially in Canada, where the tradition of civil disobedience is not as well-established as it is south of the border. There, the Civil Rights movement and opposition both to nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War established as a legitimate form of last resort protest. Sometimes Christians even led and blessed those movements (remember Martin Luther King).
The modern model for passive resistance as a form of political action is Mahatma Gandhi, in his leadership of the Indian independence movement. And he made it clear that the ultimate model for innocent people who choose to suffer in a righteous cause was Jesus.
More recently, Anabaptist theologian John Yoder, especially in The Politics of Jesus has made a strong case that the highest form of Christian behaviour in a corrupt system is to live as righteously as one can and let the system show its poverty by the way it treats such inconvenient righteousness.
But is the system which is (apparently) bringing so much prosperity to Canadians through extraction of Alberta’s oil a corrupt system? Is there anything unrighteous about our participation in that system when we fill up at the pump? Is there anything contrary to the kingdom of God in the attempt to get that oil to markets and refineries?
Apparently not – especially if you survey the abundant and elaborate cases made by those promoting the pipelines. (If you need convincing, just google Kinder Morgan Pipeline, Northern Gateway Pipeline or Keystone Pipeline.)
My own brush with civil disobedience was 20 years ago, when my wife, Mary Ruth, and our daughter and I were among the 800 or so people arrested in the protests about logging in the Clayoquot Sound area on Vancouver Island. I still feel that was the right thing to do. I’ve written extensively about it elsewhere (see below for one article published in Radix).
I must say that if those protests and arrests were appropriate then, in attempting to change BC logging practices (and in that they were partially successful), such action is far more appropriate now, and the issues even more important.
This whole topic is way too big and complicated to talk about in a few paragraphs, but let me make a few points which might help us all as we think and talk about the Kinder Morgan protests, the pipelines, Canada’s increasing importance as an oil producer, the health of the planet and the relevance to all of this to our frequent prayer: that God’s kingdom will come ‘on earth’ as in heaven. Perhaps these points will give us a framework for thinking more wisely about how we live – and whether we should protest the protestors, support them or join them.