May 25th, 2019

Christians working on global issues can be a thankless job

By Mabell, Dave on January 11, 2019.

Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, holds his book Journeys to Justice - Reflections on Canadian Christian Activism, as he speaks during the weekly meeting of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

Finding pathways to truth and reconciliation has become the latest focus for Christian activists in Canada.

The nation’s churches and church members have been active on social justice issues over many decades, a Lethbridge audience was reminded Thursday. But Joe Gunn outlined how they’ve been quietly working across denominational lines – though a younger generation of Canadians knows little about their positive impact.

Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, said evangelical Christians – 11 or 12 per cent of the population, he noted – are often in the headlines for their opposition to abortion, updates to sex education or LGBTQ rights. But positive Christian initiatives go unreported.

Since the Second World War, he said church groups have organized to assist refugees – Hungarians and Czechs at first, later Vietnamese “boat people” and most recently Syrians. They’ve proved highly effective in mobilizing Canadian legislators on issues like apartheid in South Africa. They’ve put the spotlight on global economic issues through initiatives like 10 Days for World Development.

But younger people – including his own university-educated son – “did not know that history.”

In response Gunn recently released a book, “Journeys to Justice,” in tribute to many Christian leaders who have helped make Canada the nation it has become.

“There is a broader story, things we can celebrate,” he told the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.

Today the Citizens for Public Justice group focuses on poverty in Canada, on refugee rights and on the environment and climate change, he pointed out.

But Gunn said an allied cross-denominational group, Kairos, is leading the way on another crucial faith and justice challenge: the Truth and Reconcilation Commission’s recommendations.

Kairos’ experiential Blanket Exercise depiction of Canada’s treatment of First Nations people is being used by congregations right across the nation, Gunn said – and by government departments as well.

“There is great work going on,” by Kairos and other justice groups. “You work where the energy is.”

But Gunn, who worked with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for 10 years, reported Catholic leaders have cancelled their support of Kairos. Its Blanket Exercise describes how several churches were involved in the infamous residential schools.

“To me, that’s catastrophic,” he said. “A lot of our church leadership may need adult supervision.”

But the work continues at the grassroots level, he reported, with many Catholic supporters still involved.

And members of many churches want to press on. After reflecting on the Blanket Exercise, they’re asking “what’s next” to be learned and understood.

“Our people are ready for this,” Gunn said, and leaders from all faith backgrounds should respond.

When 10 years from now, someone like his son asks who led the Truth and Reconcilation work to bring all Canadians to a better place, Gunn said he hopes citizens can point to their justice-seeking churches.

“It’s a wonderful dream and a challenge for all of us.”

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