By Bishop Susan Johnson
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Justice Tour 2015, which brought together people to share their concerns about poverty in Canada and climate change.
I wish everyone could have had the opportunity to visit those eight cities, participate in the 15 events, and meet with the hundreds of Christians and people of goodwill that came out to these events. I wish you all could have heard the creative ministry and passionate advocacy that is being done all across the country.
My favourite passage of scripture is Micah 6:8: “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This passage serves as an excellent framework to reflect on my experiences from the Justice Tour.
People are calling on the churches for moral leadership in the areas of poverty and climate change. We are being urged to move beyond charity to look at the systemic causes of both these issues. We are also being urged to see how much the concerns of Indigenous peoples overlap with both poverty and climate change.
These are huge issues and sometimes the enormity of the challenge can lead to paralysis. We need to help each other get beyond our fears and risk taking action. To do this, we need to work together, ecumenically, interreligiously, and with civil society.
We need to adopt simpler lifestyles and give up our addiction to oil. In Kitchener, Laura Hamilton, from Divest Waterloo, told us we need to act decisively now to choose life. Climate change is a complicated, slow motion crisis. Inertia and wishful thinking stops us from action. But there is hope. As Randolph Haluza-DeLay, a sociology professor from The King’s University reminded us in Edmonton, “lowering our standard of life may not lower our quality of life.”
Doing justice also means taking our duties as citizens seriously by being politically active. We need to vote and encourage everyone we know to vote. We need to boldly hold governments on all levels accountable. As Mayor Mike Savage told us in Halifax, “not our jurisdiction” is the biggest enemy of progress in Canada. We need to demand that all levels of government work together to provide workable, sustainable solutions to poverty, climate change, and Indigenous rights.
We must make use of the platforms we have, including our pulpits. Throughout the Justice Tour we were challenged to preach a call to justice in a more powerful way. By gathering for prayer and study, we can help each other find the courage to act boldly.
Even as we do justice, we continue our charitable work. On the Justice Tour, we were reminded that poverty in Canada has many faces – Indigenous people, the working poor, refugees and newcomers to Canada, Temporary Foreign Workers, the mentally ill, and the list goes on and on. We were challenged to work to destigmatize those who live in poverty.
One of the ways we do this is by listening to the voices of those with a lived experience of poverty, sometimes referred to as those with “first voice.” In Halifax, Valerie Getson reminded us that “statistics are human beings with their tears dried off.” She asked us, “When we say the poor, do we think of individuals?” In Ottawa, Tony Clarke told us “the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor are the voice of God in our time.” Are we listening?
Jesus certainly preached a lot about the poor. He also modeled for us what loving kindness means. He cared about the individuals he encountered as well as the many whose needs he only knew of. We need to balance our work for justice with the ongoing compassion of charity.
Walk humbly with your God
When asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). To walk humbly with God, we must also walk humbly with our neighbour and with creation.
Susan Johnson is the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada