Renowned theologian and social activist dies

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A renowned Anglican theologian, Dr. Christopher Lind was passionate about the “intersection of Christian faith and economic justice.” Photo: Contributed
A renowned Anglican theologian, Dr. Christopher Lind was passionate about the “intersection of Christian faith and economic justice.” Photo: Contributed

Dr. Christopher Lind, a renowned Anglican theologian, ethicist, educator, passionate social activist and most recently, executive director of the Sorrento Centre in British Columbia, died July 11 after a brief illness. He was 61.

Tributes flowed on social media and via emails when Lind’s death was announced by his family, with most remembering him as a brilliant but down-to-earth thinker who had a great capacity for compassion and friendship. Shortly after news of his death was announced, Sorrento Centre staff and visitors, including Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, gathered at a eucharist for Lind. The flag on the centre grounds was lowered in his honour.

A senior fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto, Lind also served from 2003 to 2006 as director of the Toronto School of Theology, one of the biggest and most diverse ecumenical theological co-operatives in North America.

“You will hear about his intense commitment to the ministry of the baptized. He was a lay person, a theologian, a theological educator, an advocate for justice on a broad global scale, but also in the nitty-gritty details of things like the situation of hotel workers in the city of Toronto,” said Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada. “He was very tuned in to the sense of God’s justice and compassion.”

Thompson, who first met Lind in the 1980s, when the latter was a tutor at Trinity College, described him as a “determinedly lay person” who undoubtedly had a lot of invitations to become an ordained leader but chose to excel in lay ministry. “It wasn’t that he didn’t respect ordained ministry-it was that he knew there was more than ordained ministry in the life of the church.”

Lind’s other major contribution was “to constantly hold God’s demand for justice in front of the church and constantly remind us that the God who creates us is a God who calls us into partnership in caring for the world.” Thompson recalled a workshop that Lind conducted on “justice for the earth and the earth’s peoples.” Lind energized many participants with his idea that “care for the earth and for the peoples of the earth is really a seamless reflection of God’s care,” said Thompson.

Lind was a diplomatic rabble-rouser. He exemplified what the former primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, used to describe as having a commitment to do the right thing by being committed to “the endless vistas of bother,” said Thompson. “The church listened to Christopher because we needed to be bothered by him, but it wasn’t always comfortable.” But while Lind was forceful in his arguments, “[he] was never unkind,” said Thompson. “He had a good critical mind; he could disagree with someone, but there was none of that sharp negativity about him. I think he pushed the envelope, but he did it in a way that meant when he knocked on your door, you’d open it again.” He dazzled people with his intellect, but he didn’t have “brusqueness or disdain for people who hadn’t journeyed where he had journeyed,” said Thompson. “He was wonderfully patient…he wasn’t a megaphone justice man. He was a teacher and a worker who understood the issues.”

Peers recalled that Lind, then a young graduate student, had visited him when Peers was bishop of the Regina-based diocese of Qu’Appelle 30 years ago. “I thought, ‘Well, this is a very bright guy.’ ”

Like Thompson, Peers noted that while Lind was qualified for ordination, he didn’t choose that route. “It was partly because he thought that a proficiently educated lay person needed to make a mark in the church on his own bat without ordination.”

Peers had also appointed Lind to the Primate’s Theological Commission, which had been created by General Synod in 1995. “I thought that Chris would be one of the top people and the bishops thought so, too,” he said. As a theologian in the liberal tradition, he was “capable of stirring up discussion” in the commission, but he also helped focus the discussion, “sometimes not in favour of what he was in favour of, but that didn’t matter.” One of Lind’s greatest contributions in the life of the church was that he pushed for clarity and honesty in theological statements, said Peers. “He wasn’t for mushy theology-that’s why I enjoyed his company and valued his contributions.”

(Ret.) Bishop Terry Brown, who worked on a book project with Lind (Justice as Mission), described him as a theologian who was interested “in the intersection of Christian faith and economic justice.” This interest found expression in a monthly column, Moral Economy, which he wrote for The Western Producer, Canada’s largest farm newspaper, and in numerous books and publications. Lind authored or co-edited five books in the fields of ecumenical social ethics, globalization and agriculture, and mission and theology.

“I have had many jobs in my life. Taken together, they have formed an academic career. However, a vocation is different from a career. It is reflected in a career but runs much deeper in one’s soul,” Lind wrote on his blog. “As I reflect on what moves me, excites me and commands my attention, I see that I am passionate about transformation. I am constantly engaged in forming, reforming and transforming my self, and my relationships with the world around me. I take delight in responding to the call to bring others along to this extraordinary journey.”

Lind’s influence extended beyond the Anglican Church of Canada, said Brown. As a theological educator, Lind made sure that the clergy he trained “had a deep commitment to social and economic justice,” said Brown. “As a lay Anglican who worked in the United Church and ecumenical institutions, he was also interested in ecumenical theology, moving beyond denominational stereotypes.” Lind also had a great interest in the Social Gospel tradition, particularly in the prairies, where he worked as a teacher and later as president at the amalgamated St. Andrew’s College and St. Stephen’s College in Saskatoon, added Brown.

Lind’s career and ministry trajectory came full circle when he headed Sorrento Centre, a retreat and conference centre, just as it was about to celebrate its 50th year, said Thompson. At Sorrento, Lind began working for its renewal as a centre of growth and learning. There he was again, in the community of the baptized, working at Christian formation,said Thompson.

Peers noted that Lind had brought his “considerable vision” to Sorrento and “one of the tragedies of his dying when he did was that he was bringing life to the centre” and he was at the forefront of its capital campaign. “That was one of the skills he had-he knew how to raise money. He was a very practical person; he wasn’t an abstract theologian.”

Lind’s work at Sorrento “re-energized the community with a vision of a holy place of transformation, learning, healing and belonging,” noted Dean Peter Elliott, dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver. Elliott, who is also Lind’s brother-in-law, said that throughout his illness, Lind and his family were “overwhelmed by the outpouring of messages of love and respect from his former students and colleagues across the country and around the world.”

On a personal level, Brown said Lind was “a very fine person, treating students and friends with the greatest of respect, [and] a good listener.”

On Facebook, Lind’s friend Barbara Ruttan wrote: “Your passion for seeking understanding of the deep mysteries of your journey touched and inspired a whole community as you ‘crowd-sourced’ Christianity from your bed.”

Thompson and Peers recalled Lind’s playful side. Peers said Lind was great fun to be with. He was also an aspiring composer-he wrote, “Confession,” a hymn honouring the 1993 apology offered by Peers to indigenous people for the role that the Anglican Church of Canada played in the Indian residential schools system.

“Last summer at Sorrento, I saw the side of Chris that could almost be corny,” said Thompson, who said that Lind had taken part in a skit. “[He was] really very comfortable with his ordinariness, [and] for someone as extraordinary as Chris to be comfortable with being one of us, being ordinary was quite lovely.”

Lind graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and political science from York University, a master of divinity degree from Trinity College and a PhD in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College, specializing in ethics and economics.

Lind is survived by his wife, Anne, and children, Emily and Aaron, who were by his side throughout his stay in the hospital and hospice. A memorial service is scheduled at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver on Sat., July 26, at 3 p.m. Lind’s ashes will be interred in the Memorial Garden at Sorrento Centre, with celebrations of his life to be held later in Saskatoon and Toronto.

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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