On Campus

Christian environmentalists surprise

Students at religious universities seen as conservative

Kory deGroot sometimes meets people who are surprised he’s green. Not because he’s in Alberta where the oil and gas industry is king, but because he’s a student at a Christian university.

And in many people’s minds, Christian equals conservative. “Personally for me, I am a Christian. So I believe that God created the world and that it is part of his will for my life and part of our purpose in life is to be stewards of God’s creation,” explained Mr. deGroot, a fourth-year environmental studies major at the King’s University College in Edmonton. “Religion is seen as this old thing and the green movement is seen as new. So I think, unfortunately, people do see them as different things, but for me it’s just part of my religion.”

Mr. DeGroot, who comes from Emo, Ont., is a leader with an environmental club at his university called the King’s Keepers. It functions much the same way as environmental groups on other university campuses in that members show films to encourage buying local food, and it asks fellow students to keep diaries of their water usage to encourage conservation.

There is a difference, though, in their motivation for being green. “My motivations might be a little bit different in that I believe that God has called us to care for the Earth,” explains Teresa Looy, a member of King’s Keepers who is entering her second year of environmental studies at the university. Ms. Looy, who comes from Edmonton, says there’s also a difference in the way they promote their organization when talking to fellow students. Protecting the environment is called “creation care,” and she admits there are some Christians who believe that since the Earth is temporary, it isn’t important to take care of it.

“We are aware there are many Christians out there, and I assume some at King’s as well, that have a belief this Earth will go away so it doesn’t really matter. So there’s been a lot of dialogue on campus trying to bring out the notion of creation care and stewardship and I think there’s a lot of commitment to that,” Ms. Looy said.

The King’s students in Alberta aren’t alone. Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ont., also has an active environment club. And over the Labour Day weekend, Mr. deGroot planned to attend the Renewal student leadership retreat in Indiana. The Renewal organization was formed in 2008 to promote environmentalism among Christian students.

Some non-Christian environmental organizations find it unusual to have Christians in their midst. Edmonton Bicycle Commuters, a volunteer-run organization that promotes bicycle riding, is one place where mixing occurs. The organization’s president, Chris Chan, points out that while he doesn’t consider the environment to be a left-wing or right-wing issue, he admits many of the people who use the group’s bike repair facilities fall to the left. “I was a little surprised the first time,” Mr. Chan says when Christian environmentalists first started appearing. “I was quite pleased. It was a pleasant surprise.”

Mr. Chan says he considers himself left and that it’s sometimes strange that he finds himself agreeing with the Christians on things like the environment. But he says it happened before when he found himself walking beside church groups during Iraq war protests back in 2003. Other issues are different. On some days, the Edmonton Bicycle Commuter facilities are open only to women and people who identify themselves as transgendered.

Mr. DeGroot says religious issues tend not to cause conflict when he’s with non-Christian environmentalists because the discussion focuses on the environment. God doesn’t tend to come up when your hands are greasy from cleaning a dirty bicycle chain. “I think it’s better to find that common ground,” he says.

The Canadian Press

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