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July 2010

Water, democracy spiritual issues says Christchurch dean

By Paul Titus

The Dean of Christchurch’s Anglican Cathedral says the Bible’s charge to choose life over death means Christians should be engaged in their communities.

Last month Dean Peter Beck put this into action by being involved in two events, one at the Cathedral and one in Cathedral Square, aimed at raising public awareness around critical social issues.

The largest of these was a public demonstration on June 13th to voice environmental and political concerns about Canterbury’s water. Earlier in the week the Cathedral also hosted a seminar on alcohol misuse and NZ’s drinking culture.

Intensive agriculture is degrading Canterbury’s waterways and groundwater. When the central government dismissed the elected regional council in April, many Cantabrians saw it as a move to eliminate obstacles to more irrigation and large scale water storage projects.


Dean Peter Beck addresses the demonstrators gathered to Demonstrators built a cairn that they want to remain
express their concern about the state of Canterbury's rivers. in Cathedral Square until a democratically elected
regional council takes office.

The protest in Cathedral Square attracted several thousand people. Peter was among those who addressed the group. Other speakers included poet Brian Turner, the first woman to climb Mt Everest without oxygen Lydia Bradey, and fifth generation farmer Brian Deans.

After the speeches Bishop of Christchurch Victoria Matthews blessed a cylindrical metal frame that was then filled with stones from the Waimakariri River to create a cairn. Peter says that those involved in organising the cairn would like it to remain until Canterbury once again has a democratically elected regional council.

“In Deuteronomy God gives humanity the choice of life and death and urges us to choose life so that we and our children can live. St Paul rephrases this as a choice between the way of the flesh and the way of the spirit,” Peter says.

“The way of the flesh seeks material comfort and possessions, and this has never been as seductive as in our time. We have become a consumerist, individualist society.

“This has led us to treat the planet as a resource to be exploited rather than one with which we have relationships of interdependence and stewardship. The breakdown of interconnectedness affects other aspects of our lives – for example, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the recession caused by the greed of global financial institutions, and the heavy drinking culture encouraged by the alcohol industry.

“Jesus said love one another like I have loved you. This means championing community values that build relationships of mutuality and love. Jesus wasn’t crucified because he said God loves us. He was crucified because he showed what love means in practice, and the principalities and powers did not like it.”

For Peter this means the Church cannot but be involved in politics. It should not be involved in party politics or tell people how to vote. Rather it should engage people to question how political decisions are made and whether they fit with Gospel values.

He says he is not an expert on water issues but he is concerned about the state of Canterbury’s water and that it appeared to be necessary to suspend the democratic process.

“We look forward to the return of a democratically elected council. We pray for the commission appointed in its place. They have a huge job to do. But we will hold them to account. We expect them to be open and transparent with us, and we ask that their decisions be based on such values that we as Christians aspire to.

“We know that 28 of our Canterbury rivers are totally polluted and the water supply at Dunsandel is contaminated with E. coli. We all want to create an economy that sustains the well-being and health of people and of the environment. The challenge to the commission is how far it is possible to marry this vision with the intensive agriculture, including dairying that is developing in Canterbury.

Peter says he has received some feedback from people in farming communities who were upset that he had been part of the demonstration. He also received a huge positive response from others.

He says in the mountains of the South Island people build cairns to mark the path ahead. He hopes the cairn in front of the cathedral serves as a marker on the path to restoring both the purity of Canterbury’s water and democratic government.