Building Public Justice Together

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of the Catalyst.

Last month our church dedicated a Sunday offering to the local food bank. It was a pleasure to think and act locally, without losing a perspective of what needs to change globally. The very next day the same food bank’s director was on radio explaining the challenges the organization is facing. Clients’ needs for services have gone up substantially. Complicated by other demands of “competing” organizations in the community, donations of both cash and food were down. The commitment to serving people had to come first, he said. If funds didn’t arrive shortly, services would need to be cut further. They were doing everything possible to meet the needs of the voiceless poor.

That is a common story of other support agencies in Canada and the US. Where is the voice of the poor? Who is ensuring that society, its citizens, churches, and governments can see and hear the most vulnerable among us? And for any of us to remain silent implies a callousness and insensitivity to suffering around us: an act inconsistent with the gospel’s repeated call to remember the poor.

The story of this food bank is not an anomaly. The overall atmosphere in Canada today for charities is not promising; many are facing similar financial stress, and planning for the future is often impossible given the struggles to stay open today. Statistics Canada has recently verified that average annual donations fell from $457 in 2007 to $446 in 2010. And when adjusted for inflation, this decline becomes more significant.

And that is one reason I am a member of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ): to be one of those who speaks for the poor and the marginalized. Fifty years ago a group of deeply committed Christians founded this organization. This year we celebrate our 50th anniversary – an important moment in the life of any person, or any organization – honouring CPJ’s achievements over the past half century. The board, staff, and volunteers are responsibly planning how we can sustain this important and successful ministry. Stewardship of resources and future financial planning are all part of that.

In late 2012 we completed a feasibility study and determined that CPJ needs a future-focused campaign to financially support our work, in light of current financial challenges. This study was undertaken with the capable assistance of Janet deVries, a professional with Christian Stewardship Services. Her effort received much-appreciated input from some of our key donors. The board has now adopted a plan that will focus on supporting our strategic objectives, including ecological justice and poverty elimination; expanding our very successful youth internship program; and purchasing property as a way to give CPJ’s public justice work greater presence and better assurance of a more certain financial future.

These are exciting challenges for Christians committed to social justice. We want to move forward enabled by and honouring our story of advocacy in our current democratic context. An adopted statement of one of the Christian communities involved in founding and supporting CPJ states: “We call on government to do public justice and to protect the freedoms and rights of individuals, groups, and institutions; so that each may freely do the tasks God gives. We urge governments to ensure the well-being of all citizens…”

For the important work of social justice to take place in the name of Christ we need the continued support and commitment of those compelled by faith to do this ministry. Some are still the “originals” and others have joined us along the way.  CPJ’s support base, however, is aging. We need to engage younger supporters to do justice: “telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” (Ps. 78:4). CPJ is committed to advocating for justice now but is also currently undertaking a renewal campaign of our mission.  We cannot allow this commitment to wane, we must “Speak up for the rights of all who are destitute” (Prov. 31:8).

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