Social Justice and Advocacy: Why we do it

Because God calls us to both compassion and justice:

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”                – Matthew 25:35-6, 40

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” – 1 John 3:17-18

“…cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” – Isaiah 1:16-17

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.  Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9

Because it is part of our baptismal covenant…

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?” “I will, with God’s help.”

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” “I will, with God’s help.”

“Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth?” “I will, with God’s help.

– Holy Baptism, Book of Alternative Services

… and the mission of our Church:

The Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Social justice and advocacy is also a key part of how we “engage faithfully with the world” as expressed in our Diocesan Mission statement.

Because it does have an impact:

The advocacy of Christians and others has had enormous impact both historically and in the present day.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, Christians like William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect were instrumental in ending slavery in the British Empire.  In the late 20th century, Archbishop Desmond Tutu raised international awareness of the injustice of apartheid in South Africa and helped pave the way for its transition to a democratic state with emancipation for all citizens.

In Canada, Christian advocacy efforts have led to the creation of the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, helped bring about economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa, and supported the interests of Indigenous people in northern Canada with regard to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. More recently, the advocacy of Christians and others has been effective in getting provincial and municipal governments to adopt Poverty Reduction Strategies, as well as prompting the federal government to release a National Housing Strategy and a National Poverty Reduction Strategy; has led to a private Member’s Bill on adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples getting through all three readings in the House of Commons; and helped keep a casino out of Toronto’s downtown. Small scale efforts have also borne fruit: in 2012, parishioners at St. Matthias, Bellwoods were successful in advocating with Toronto City Council against the proposed closure of Bellwoods House, a home for vulnerable senior women based in the former rectory.

While governments come and go, and an advocacy success may be overturned or undermined by later events, Christian advocates for social justice play an important role in raising issues of injustice in the public arena, standing in solidarity with the most vulnerable, speaking to the moral dimensions of public policies and bearing witness to the ultimate love and justice of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Christian advocacy requires a spiritual foundation if we are to sustain it over the long haul.

Read the reflection paper The Spirituality of Social Justice and Advocacy, by Elin Goulden, Social Justice & Advocacy Consultant, Diocese of Toronto