What is social justice?
Just as the term criminal justice refers to the norms, rules, structures, and institutions of a criminal system, social justice refers to the norms, rules, structures, and institutions of a social system. As with the criminal system, a social system is considered just when it is based on principles of dignity and human rights, moral rightness and fairness.  In a socially just society, everyone has access to the things they need to survive and thrive in their life.

Theologically, social justice refers to the pursuit of building the Kingdom of God here on Earth.

What is advocacy?
To advocate is to argue in favour of something. In the context of social justice work, it means making a case for creating the changes needed to our social structure to create a just society. An example of advocacy is having a meeting with a local politician or submitting a petition to government asking for an increase in social assistance rates so that everyone has enough money to afford food and housing costs.

I donate to local charities already. Isn’t that enough?
No. Although it has a role to play in our society, charity is not enough. Charity perpetuates systems of dependency and inequality. Justice, on the other hand, works to change the underlying problems that are creating the demand for the charitable services in the first place.

Take the problem of hunger, for example. Donating to your local food bank provides food for those who are in poverty. However, it does nothing to address the reasons that people are in poverty. It fails to address the inequality problems that have led to the need for food banks, and it keeps people dependent on food banks. Moreover, the food given out by food banks is insufficient to meet the health needs of their recipients. Therefore, advocating for policy changes that will reduce hunger is a vital part of addressing hunger needs.

Does advocacy work actually accomplish anything?
Absolutely! And here’s proof: St. Matthias, Bellwoods, rents its former rectory at a very low rate to Bellwoods House, a home for older women who have experienced abuse. When the City of Toronto, under Mayor Rob Ford, proposed early in 2012 that Bellwoods House be closed, parishioners swung into action. They joined hands in prayer and solidarity. A group was formed to organize resistance. They petitioned city councillors with phone calls and email, and spoke to city council.

One by one, the group won over the City Councillors, convincing them that programs to protect women’s lives were not something to cut back on. In the end, the women were allowed to keep their home for another year. That battle will continue next year, but with one victory under their belts, the parishioners are optimistic of another success.

How can I get involved?
There are many ways to get involved in social justice and advocacy work of the Diocese. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about events happening across the Diocese that you can attend. Join your parish’s outreach committee or, if there’s no committee yet, start one yourself! There are lots of tips and ideas for starting and invigorating your parish’s committee in our Social Justice and Advocacy Parish Outreach Guide.

You can also contact the Social Justice & Advocacy Consultant, Elin Goulden, to find out what work is already going on in your area or find out if we need members for one of our social justice committees.  You can reach Elin at egoulden@toronto.anglican.ca or by phone at 416-363-6021 (1-800-668-8932), extension 240.

Who should get involved in social justice and advocacy work?
Everyone! Social justice and advocacy work is going on all across our Diocese: urban, suburban, and rural; lay and clergy; young and old. Everybody has their unique voice and gifts that can be added to our work.

Does the church leadership support this work?
Absolutely. Many of the bishops not only support us but take an active role in our campaigns and events. For example, Bishop Linda Nicholls attended Shalom Justice Camp hosted by our diocese in Peterborough in the summer of 2012; Bishop Philip Poole participated in our last round of MPP advocacy meetings in 2012; and Archbishop Colin Johnson wrote a letter to the City of Toronto’s mayor and councillors during a round of budget cuts in 2012.