Are church communities the best places to go if you want to engage in social and ecological justice? Is the prophetic desire for justice encouraged to burn in the hearts of church-goers today? Do our ecclesial structures promote animation and action towards public justice?
A new book by Citizens for Public Justice, Journeys to Justice: Reflections on Canadian Christian Activism, answers these questions head on. By recounting stories in ten interviews, church activists detail in their own words where Christians made positive impacts on the Canadian social and political landscape. Working together to align supportive organizations and create public engagement, Christians from varied backgrounds had success in helping to end apartheid, were first to admit refugees from Chile and Indochina, defended Indigenous peoples’ rights, achieved cancelation of debts of countries of the Global South—and more.
Earlier generations of CPJ members recall with admiration how their organization won a lasting victory as part of the movement that stopped the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. Known then as the Committee for Justice and Liberty, CPJ’s predecessor proposed a moratorium in 1976 and won a crucial case at the Supreme Court of Canada. This derailed the National Energy Board’s plans to approve a gas pipeline that lacked support of the Indigenous peoples of the region. In Journeys to Justice, John Olthuis describes his efforts as “a liberation struggle” and “an example of what can be done when folks set out in good faith to make gospel-based change.”
In another chapter, Peter Noteboom describes how the churches worked together to first create, and then mobilize to defend, the Medicare system in Canada. A former United Church Moderator, Bill Phipps, and a former staff member for the Catholic bishops, Tony Clarke, depict how churches ran into strident controversy when they challenged the prevailing economic system. Moira Hutchinson describes how the churches created the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility and pushed Canada’s largest banks and corporations to end their investments in South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Perhaps the most important section of the book is towards the end. Lutheran pastor David Pfrimmer reflects theologically on the roots of public ecumenical justice work, challenging it to mobilize a future of “public multifaithism” beyond Christianity. And two Millennial activists, Christine Boyle and Leah Watkiss, consider that while their current work in the churches can benefit from knowledge of the successes of the past, the enthusiasm and devotion of new generations must be harnessed in new ways.
Today, it is entirely possible for a younger generation of Canadians to never hear a sermon about the social justice endeavours in which their national church participates. Some young people attend various denominational schools, rarely learning of the Christian advocacy of justice activists. This book could help change that.
But as George Bernard Shaw once said, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” These narratives should also be read as challenges— how can we become capable of inspiring new and deeper efforts to advance public justice today?
Order your copy of Journeys to Justice today!