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The Christian Reformed Church’s Canadian Ministries Director, Rev. Bruce Adema, joined leaders from other churches for a recent tour of the Athabasca oil sands and nearby communities in northern Alberta. The Alberta tour was organized by KAIROS, a church-based social justice movement of which the CRC is a member.

Alberta has large numbers of oil sands deposits, the development of which has made Canada the largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. But there is concern, according to KAIROS, that the growing number of local cases of rare illnesses and cancer might be related to the oil industry’s practices.

After the tour, the KAIROS delegation released a statement noting that local churches and communities in Alberta are deeply engaged in the oil sands and see great benefits from these projects. “They don’t want to lose jobs, and they are also concerned about the environment,” the statement said. First Nations people also see economic benefit of the oil sands.

But the statement expressed concern at “[the industry’s] determination to keep up the pace of development” and says that individual consumers, industry, and government must create solutions. KAIROS called on the Alberta and Canadian governments to protect the common good through better regulation.

Adema said CRC members should be aware of the issues and offer a wise word to government about creation stewardship and help for the marginalized.

John Hiemstra, a professor of political studies at The King’s University College and a member of Inglewood CRC, said that real change will require serious dialogue. “The churches are wise to focus on the oil sands. They profoundly crystalize . . . the major trends and problems that the churches have already been addressing, globally and ecumenically, for decades,” he said.

Rev. John Van Sloten, pastor of New Hope CRC in Calgary, points out that “our world belongs to God,” including oil and its industries. Instead of taking a “standing against” or “slowing down” position, he said, we should celebrate God’s good gifts within industry. “And then drill your way out from there,” he said.

Dennis Vroom, a member of Evergreen CRC, works in the oil industry in Fort McMurray and is concerned about the impact the KAIROS statement will have on the churches there. “It is easy to point out the negative impacts of the oil sands,” he said. He’s frustrated that people dwell on the negative. “We should respond with an open, realistic mind and be prepared to listen,” he said.

“Don’t be afraid to question the facts, from both sides. Pray for guidance . . . for all of the people who are involved in making these tough decisions regarding the oil sands,” he said.

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