Lessons from an Environmentalist

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  May 24, 2014

            A well-known Canadian environmentalist was producing a documentary film on the logging industry in Western Canada. When he and his camera crew arrived on scene at a British Columbia logging camp, many of the lumberjacks immediately recognized him and came out ready for blood. It was then that David Suzuki learned a valuable lesson—a lesson that Christians would also do well to heed!
            The anger and outright hatred directed at him by these lumberjacks was not unexpected. He had been branded the enemy of the logging industry in Canada for many years and he knew that he had few, if any, friends in that trade. Admittedly, he also had little love for the industry he truly believed was determined to destroy itself and the world from sheer greed. Undaunted, however, Suzuki was resolute in completing his documentary on sustainable logging in North America.
            As the angry crowd of lumberjacks shouted out and called him names that simply cannot be printed in this column, he listened fervently to the verbal assault and prepared his rebuttal. Growing up as a man of Japanese descent in Canada throughout the 40’s and 50’s, Suzuki was no stranger to hostility and hatred, yet this was different. Instead of simple hated for who he was, this was a case where Suzuki was being hated for what he was trying to accomplish—trying to save the lumber industry for future generations.
            Once able to speak, he pleaded with the men to understand that the environmental movement was not opposed to logging and that no environmentalist he knew would ever call for a complete eradication of that industry as they alleged. Environmentalists use paper, live in houses built from lumber, enjoy furniture made of wood, and recognize the vital importance of the lumber industry. He told them that no environmentalist would never dream of abandoning all lumber products for ever. What he was calling for—and the whole purpose of the documentary he was filming at the time—was to advocate for sustainable logging so that there would be viable forests to log in the future and logging jobs for the next generation and beyond.
            At this point one of the lumberjacks yelled out at him that his naive optimism was ridiculous because, at the rate they were logging, they all knew there would be no logging jobs for their children. They only wanted enough jobs to raise them before it was too late.
            At that moment, Suzuki recalls, he realized that the two factions were not speaking the same language, describing the same reality, or even living in the same world. Because of the vast differences in approach and understanding, they had both categorized the other as the enemy. Fueled in fearful assumptions, misunderstandings of the truth, and outright false information about the other, they could not adequately communicate. Furthermore, these angry men were not trying to destroy the forest out of greed. They were just trying to make sure they could feed their families and pay their modest mortgages.
            In so many ways, Christians are not any different. Quite often, as Christians become enraged—even repulsed or disgusted—by the beliefs, actions, or rituals of other Christians the response is to declare the opposing side as the enemy of Christ and hold only contempt. Yet, if we—all of us who are Christian—would take a step back, let the grace, mercy, and love of Christ rule in our hearts rather than fear of that which we do not understand, we would find that our genuine goals and ambitions are not that different at all. What binds us together is Christ. What draws apart is our own human sinfulness.