On the evening of May 22, a group of people gathered in a small community meeting room in the People’s Place Library in Antigonish, Nova Scotia to celebrate the launch of Journeys to Justice, a new book from CPJ. We gathered to hear reflections from Joe Gunn and several folks in Antigonish who, for many years, have committed their lives to a pursuit of social justice, carrying with them spiritual and faith understandings of what a better world can look like. The evening was full of conversation and rich with stories of success and struggle within Canadian Christian activism.
As we neared the end of the evening, the conversation turned to questions of the future and the particular involvement of youth in this activism. But in my discernment of this world and my place in it, I don’t wonder how a church might adjust to better accommodate me, but rather how I might find places in my life that will allow me to contribute to the change that the world needs now. How do the ways we go about this change shape the outcomes that are possible? What is the bigger why that connects us in pursuits of justice?
I believe that to explore these questions deeply in community provides an opportunity for great transformation and meaningful activism. If we want to do this exploration in ways that unseat our own prejudices and commitments to unjust ideals, these communities must be committed to a life path of love.
What can this mean in reality? A community grounded in unconditional love speaks the language of deep and radical recognition. It goes beyond a language of tolerance to a language of understanding, of truly seeing, and out of this, acting in solidarity. It acts out of love because of gratitude for all the expressions and complexities of a person, not despite them.
In this language there is ever-diminishing space for defining truth by the so-called norm. There is less and less room to both implicitly and explicitly maintain that the fullest love is reserved only for those who hold power and privilege or who express their identity in narrowly defined ways. In this language, there is ever-diminishing space to ignore that so often dogmatic views and positions are tethered to the very same systems that cause deep pain and damage to individuals and communities.
A community that lives out of this language is one that pursues social justice with a commitment to understanding and transforming the systems that reserve dignity for a privileged few. It is one that seeks justice for both people and Mother Earth, recognizing that relationship with the world around us is woven into the very fabric of the human experience.
A community rooted in right relationship recognizes the deep need for open listening, a commitment to doing the inner work in order to be a reflection of love in the world. It is a community that seeks to change and do what is needed to continue to live in right relationship when new understandings are formed—even when these changes might shake the very foundation of how the community has seen the world.
This sort of commitment requires of us honesty, integrity, and humility—hearing with the ears and the heart. And so, when it comes to understanding and reconciling past and continuing profound wrongdoings, it requires the community to go forth with a great openness. It means finding ways to do things that those in positions of power maintain are not possible. This is a commitment that leaves no space for activism that harms, denies human rights, or maintains a position of complicity.
As I think about the beautiful possibilities that these types of communities hold for our future, I arrive at the question: can churches and communities of faith be places where these commitments flourish? Can the churches’ social justice work be centered in transformations of the heart?
When the answer to these questions is yes, I believe the future of social justice in the churches is one of great possibility.