Faith and Public Life
Faith commitments – each person’s deepest commitments, whether formally religious in nature or not – shape how each person interacts with our neighbours, our institutions, and our environment. CPJ is convinced that Canada needs to engage in serious reflection on core values and faith perspectives and their implications for our public life together – the common good. Without such a debate, the public sphere will continue to be a place for individuals or groups to advance only their own particular interests rather than come to meaningful consensus on how to address important public issues.
One of the key components of a person’s and a community’s identity is the deepest convictions they hold which shape their private, but also their public life. Faith shapes the most basic questions of identity: Who am I? How did I get here? What is wrong in the world? How can it be fixed? The faith perspectives of Canadians, whether Aboriginal, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Humanist, shape how they participate as citizens in building and shaping a cohesive and inclusive Canadian society.
Some have argued that people must deny their religion, ethnicity, and culture to participate fully in Canadian life. Some have a deep distrust of religion and a tendency to regard public life as distinctly secular – having no room for faith perspectives. CPJ believes that differing faith convictions should be acknowledged as key elements of how individuals and communities can best contribute to the common good. Learning how to do that in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society is crucial to the common good.
CPJ’s uniqueness is characterized by its ability to play a vital role in the debate around the fundamental direction of our society. Our contribution includes not simply developing and promoting policy alternatives, but more specifically doing so in the context of the core values and principles which shape society and public policy. This unique approach enables us to speak to, and dialogue with, a broad cross-section of Canadian society.
CPJ is convinced that Canada needs to engage in serious reflection on core values and their implications for our public life together – the common good. There must be a recognition that all sectors of society – private, public and voluntary – share a responsibility for the common good. However, the public space for alternative voices advocating other goals and policies has shrunk in recent years. CPJ seeks to open up that space and give voice to those alternatives.
Without a debate about core values and the common good, the public sphere will continue to be a place for groups to advance their particular interests rather than come to meaningful consensus on how to address important public issues.
Given the current political and social climate, we believe more strongly than ever that Citizens for Public Justice has a vital role to play in the debate around the direction of our society. Our contribution includes both the development and advocacy of specific policy alternatives, and the promotion of core values and principles for public policy. In our experience, many Canadians, including key decision-makers, appreciate the unique perspective which CPJ brings to policy debates. We believe that one of our major strengths is the fact that we speak to, and dialogue with, a broad cross-section of Canadian society – and that, by and large, we are met with respect and with a real interest in the core values perspective we bring.
CPJ’s work is focussed on the point of intersection of public policies and core values. We combine practical expertise in public policy research and development with a profound understanding of the importance of spiritual and religious frameworks and core values. We are one of the few social justice organizations in Canada that combines policy analysis, development, and advocacy with an ongoing critique of these value frameworks and the active advocacy of alternative core values. In fact, CPJ’s Guidelines for Public Justice have been used, adopted, and built upon by a variety of groups and coalitions.
Our commitment to this basic framework enables CPJ to avoid the traps of partisanship, fashionable ideology, and the endless polarizations of left and right, religious and secular, Christian and non-Christian, evangelical and mainline Christian. Instead, we can forge new, creative ways ahead that contribute to the common good.
The public recognition that different people(s) have different beliefs and have the legal right to live in different ways.
From Let Justice Flow (CJL Foundation, 1994)
This approach also gives CPJ a unique role to play in coalitions. In our coalition work with non-religious organizations, CPJ is frequently called upon to inject a broader critique of values, and to propose alternative values that all participants can support. When working with faith communities, CPJ’s policy development expertise is especially appreciated, as well as our ability to articulate core values that unite rather than divide.
Having a carefully worked out and well articulated framework of core values also enables CPJ to move beyond critique and protest, to active advocacy of original proposals based on those core values.
Interaction with Faith communities
CPJ plays an important national role in linking faith and public policy issues. This occurs in a variety of ways. CPJ draws support, insight and values from faith communities, and in turn provides public education to faith communities. At the same time, CPJ functions as a catalyst for faith communities to become involved in the public policy process. CPJ is one of the only national, faith-based social justice organizations that are independent from any organized religious body.
CPJ arose out of and has been shaped by the ecumenical Christian tradition. Our public policy work is informed by the biblical values of love, justice and respect for the Creation. CPJ’s carefully articulated core values perspective allows us to speak to contentious and controversial issues without being swept away by partisanship or ideology.
In addition, our inclusive, pluralistic vision of society discourages parochialism, and enables us to work closely with a variety of faith traditions. Over the years, CPJ has developed strong working relationships across the whole range of Christian denominations, from conservative evangelical through mainline to the Catholic Left. We have also developed mutually beneficial, active partnership relationships with members of other faith communities, including Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim. CPJ today enjoys wide recognition, co-operation and support from Canada’s faith communities.
The religious aspect of CPJ’s work is becoming more important than ever. Today, many national mainline Christian churches are cutting back on staffing and resources for speaking to public policy. These churches’ voices, historically an important force for social justice, are being silenced. At the same time newer religious voices are being raised. Some, however, are more parochial. There is growing uncertainty today about the appropriate role of faith communities and their leaders.
With over 40 years’ experience in faith-based public policy work, CPJ is well positioned to play a key role in this situation. Independent, ecumenical and inclusive, CPJ can help fill the growing gap. CPJ has already begun to explore new opportunities for partnerships with churches and other faith communities.