By: Karla Hovde
On Aug. 25, about 2,000 Minnesotans—including some United Methodists—held signs and peacefully descended on the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul to protest the construction of the Line 3 pipeline replacement, which Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge will use to transport crude oil across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. The 340-mile path cuts across the Fond du Lac reservation, treaty lands of several other bands of Ojibwe, and the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
But while some people of faith oppose the pipeline over environmental concerns, others have offered their support, thus illustrating how faithful United Methodists live out their beliefs in a variety of ways.
Enbridge, Inc., the company operating the pipeline, says the new Line 3, built partly along a new route, will be safer than the current, corroding pipeline that can only operate at half-capacity and will restore the full flow of oil. But pipeline opponents—including indigenous groups—say it will expose new regions of lakes, rivers, and wild rice waters to oil-spill degradation and exacerbate climate change. Construction has continued amid the concerns and the pipeline is close to being completed.
Here’s a look at the perspectives of eight Minnesota United Methodists who feel strongly about this issue. All are committed to following Jesus’ call to heal a broken world, and they share how their faith has informed their thinking and actions around the pipeline project that’s garnered national attention:
Meinholz, who attends New City Church in Minneapolis and was a recent ELI Project intern, is now seeking to become a pastor. But he paused his seminary studies for the past three years to dedicate his time to stopping the Line 3 pipeline, which has fundamentally changed his faith journey.
“As someone who wants to be a rural pastor, I feel deeply the real division Enbridge has sown in Minnesota communities, and I want a thriving future for rural communities who are stuck with economies of extraction and few other options,” he said. “But what I've learned from indigenous communities opposing Line 3 is that we are addicted to oil, and like any addiction, we need a path to recovery together. Part of that recovery is stopping the harm, and that is why I stand against Line 3.”
Meinholz is among more than 800 people who have been arrested in northern Minnesota for protesting Line 3.
“We want a livable future and clean water for our children,” he said. “I broke a man-made law in order to follow God’s law to care for creation.”
Rev. Dawn Houser
Houser is the pastor of Aitkin UMC and is part Native American. She sees multi-layered issues around Line 3. On one hand, the old pipeline is at risk of an oil spill that would contaminate the earth and water. On the other hand, the land that the new pipeline is built on was included in treaties between the U.S. government and bands of Ojibwe.
She has spent time listening to opponents of Line 3 and can see their point of view. But “in my discerning process, it is better for me to address the root cause [of fossil fuel addiction] than to try to combat the symptom of the problem,” she said. “Line 3 is a symptom of our addiction to fossil fuels.”
Houser has seen the benefits of financial resources that have come to struggling communities in her area from Enbridge’s taxes and local businesses that have been revitalized.
“By supporting the workers on Line 3, and supporting the replacement of Line 3, we are saying to our neighbors, ‘you matter, your financial well-being matters,’” she said. “How can I possibly share the good news with my neighbors if they are struggling to make ends meet and I am standing in their way by supporting the discontinuance of Line 3?”
Cindy Saufferer and Rev. Susan Mullin
Saufferer is the president of the Minnesota Conference United Methodist Women (UMW) and a farmer in southern Minnesota. Mullin is a deacon and recently retired from her role as director of faith community organizing for Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL).
The Minnesota UMW recently received a grant to collaborate with MNIPL to educate people about climate justice within Minnesota and to raise awareness about Line 3. The two have been working closely on this project.
“As a farmer, I live and work in the midst of creation,” said Saufferer, who attends Blooming Grove UMC in Medford. “It is within this relationship of the land that I have become very aware and sensitive to how we, as God’s children—our wholeness is inextricably bound to the wholeness of all creation.”
Mullin echoed that sentiment. “As a Christian, I am called to love God and neighbor,” she said. “My love of God cannot be separated from my love of the world God created and called good. And my love of neighbor includes those who are on the frontlines of climate change, including indigenous communities around the world… and future generations who must live with the climate we are setting in motion.”
Rev. John Scheuer
Scheuer is the pastor of Hill City UMC, a small church located just miles from the Line 3 pipeline.
At first glance, it would appear that rejecting Line 3 is the correct and just course of action in order to protect creation and acknowledge the treaty rights of native people, he said. “But I do not believe that profound concern for the environment, and thus for God’s creation, necessarily means outright rejection of the pipeline.”
He believes that not replacing the existing, faulty pipeline will do more damage to the environment than replacing it with a more technologically advanced, safer line.
“As a pastor, what troubles me deeply is how so much of the discourse from various groups, both pro and con, fails to recognize and respect the humanity in those with whom they disagree,” he said.
Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud
Victorin-Vangerud, a newly retired elder in the Minnesota Conference, is glad to be part of a denomination that has denounced the Doctrine of Discovery and initiated acts of repentance. She sees participating in the Stop Line 3 rally as an act of ongoing repentance and of centering voices of native people—in this case Dakota and Anishinaabe—who are speaking against the new pipeline.
To her, John’s Wesley’s call to “do no harm” means we must not wait many more years to finally begin to shift away from fossil fuels.
“This commitment to living in right relationship with the earth and with one another has to start now,” she said.
Kingsley is a member and chairman of the administrative board of Hill City UMC, and a retired member of a union of heavy equipment operators.
He sees the new pipeline as helping his neighbors, who would have been impacted by maintenance issues and oil spills from the old Line 3 if the new pipeline not been approved for relocation and replacement.
He shares in the concern about climate change and the world we are leaving for our future generations, but he says cleaner sources of energy have not developed fast enough to replace the need for fossil fuels, especially when it comes to agriculture and transportation needs in rural areas.
Rev. Dana Neuhauser
Baptism is what drew Neuhauser, minister of public witness for New City Church in Minneapolis, to attend the Stop Line 3 rally. Since water is used to baptize, “we want to do everything as people of faith to protect the waters,” she said. “And there are the promises we make at baptism to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Since Line 3 goes against the will of indigenous people and goes against scientific recommendations around the impact on climate change, we need to be standing up as people of faith to say that another world is possible.”
Neuhauser, who also serves as racial justice organizer for the Minnesota Conference, recognizes that some people’s support of Line 3 is around job creation and the economy. But she asked: “Is the economic benefit of a short-term fossil fuel infrastructure construction project worth the future costs to the environment when we could invest in a sustainable infrastructure project with that money, which could have an equal number of jobs?”
As Minnesota United Methodists continue to hold faithful perspectives that disagree on this and future issues, Scheuer said: “My prayer is that the United Methodist Church, in its charism of pluralism and inclusion, can be fertile ground for new ideas, not limited only to the thoughts of those on one particular side. I pray the new path will burst forth from our common concern and within diversity of thought, focusing on how together we can be good stewards of God’s creation.”
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church