Manning preaches three-cornered gospel

WINNIPEG, MB–Preston Manning hasn't always been an environmentalist. The founder of both the Reform and Alliance parties is known by Canadian Christians as a defender of evangelical values.

Is it strange that this champion of conservatism is now preaching conservation? The words come from the same root, he's quick to point out.

Speaking at a private dessert evening hosted by A Rocha–an international Christian environmentalist organization–Manning addressed an invited group of Christian business owners. His message centred on a three-cornered gospel that cries for humanity's reconciliation, not only with God and with each other, but also with the created world.

Manning speaks as though he's always been an ambassador for the environment, but to hear how he got that way you have to ask the politician's wife, Sandra.

"Has creation care always been part of your gospel?"

Sandra shakes her head emphatically. "Growing up through the whole Christian system–never a word," she says, seriously. Only much later, working on a degree at Regent College, did she discover creation care in the Bible. "It's as if we've taken scissors to the Bible and cut out the passages on creation," she says.

What sparked the change of heart? Our children, naturally, she says. Their oldest, Nathan, started reading Wendell Berry, pursued a degree in comparative literature and the environment, dreamed of raising organic cattle on a patch of prairie.

It was the Mannings' children who brought home talk of Canada depleting its resources, of being poor custodians of creation. "It was remarkable," says Sandra.

Three years ago Nathan sat down with his parents–by then retired from their hectic political itinerary–and said he was ready to walk the talk. He wanted to become "a steward of the land," says Sandra. He wanted to raise certified organic, grass-fed cattle. His parents agreed to back the venture.

These days Preston and Sandra spend their summers roughing it in a white canvas trapper's tent, getting up with the sun, helping their son manage a herd of shaggy-haired Galloway cattle on piece of Alberta grassland that's never felt the tooth of a plough.

"I think this is the best thing that has ever happened to us," says Sandra. "What it has produced in us is a great desire to be stewards of God's creation."

When he's not a green cowboy, Preston Manning spends time in Ottawa trying to convince Conservative politicians that the environment isn't just for Liberals. He hasn't made much headway. They get cagey whenever the environment comes up, he says. But Manning doesn't think conservative politics needs to clash with environmental responsibility.

"The heart of fiscal conservatism is living within your means; surely that can be extended to balancing the ecological budget," he once told David Suzuki. Manning is convinced market forces of supply and demand can be harnessed to bring an environmental conscience to Alberta's oil industry. He believes its going to take a combination of government regulation and market forces driven by a population that's increasingly aware of consequences of mistreating creation.

Too bad Ottawa is in this "defensive mode," he says.

Christians have a special role, as well, he says. Caring for the earth isn't just about politics: it's about faith. Not only is a right relationship with the earth the third corner of a holistic gospel, it intersects with Jesus' values of spiritual wealth over physical wealth. It has to come down to actions, says Manning. "How can we reduce the demands we're putting on the environment in absolute terms?"

The answer is going to come from ethics, and ethics are rooted in faith, he says.

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