Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 2004
Citizens for Justice celebrates influence
CPJ has spent 40 years looking at public issues with eyes of faith
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Over its 40 years, Citizens for Public Justice has made a contribution to Canadian society that far exceeds its small membership, says a philosophy professor at the University of Alberta.
"CPJ has always been swimming against the current as we insist that faith-based, political advocacy and analysis is both legitimate and contributes to the common good," said Janet Wesselius.
Citizens for Public Justice is a non-partisan organization of Canadians from many Christian traditions and many political leanings who share a desire for public justice. The environment, world peace and government accountability are major concerns of CPJ, which works closely with its sister organization, the Public Justice Resource Centre, to draw together diverse religious communities and bring its faith perspective to the public debate.
It is celebrating its 40th anniversary with panel discussions in several centres across Canada. About 60 people attended a session May 29 at Inglewood Christian Reformed Church.
One of those in attendance was Senator Douglas Roche.
"I cannot resist the opportunity to pay my respects to the Citizens for Public Justice, that I have had tremendous respect for, for so many years," Roche said.
"There has hardly been a moment in our history when the work of the CPJ is needed more than now. Not only because there is an election going on, but also because we are at a turning point in our country's history when we have to decide the values of Canada and whether we are going to stand up for those values," he said.
Wesselius said, "I am grateful to the people who founded the Citizens for Public Justice and to those who have supported it over the last 40 years.
"CPJ has been enormously influential for me as I struggled with what it means to be a Christian citizen. To me, one of the most important aspects of CPJ, both in its past and in its future, is its commitment to respond to God's call to all people, for justice for everyone."
For Christians, she continued, it means to take responsibility for working together for the common good of all and not just the common good of any particular community.
Wesselius said two trends in Canadian society the past 40 years have concerned CPJ from its onset. One is the decline of the public role of religion. Religion has become increasingly privatized, she said. The belief is that religious commitments and values are fine for individuals, but they must be kept out of the public sphere because they are divisive.
The other trend is the decline of the notion of citizenship. Instead of being citizens, we are consumers who want to get our tax money's worth out of the government.
"I think those two trends together can explain why we so often hear about the lack of enthusiasm of the younger generation for political work," Wesselius said. "If you have to privatize your deepest, most fundamental commitments and your only identity is as a consumer, that will not generate a lot of enthusiasm."
Religion can't be privatized, she said. All human beings put their trust in something. All human beings have faith commitments. It is from our faith commitments that our vision of common good arise.
Moreover, these commitments also feed our motivation to do things in public. They give us energy and a reason for accomplishing things. They make our political actions meaningful.
How does this belief show up in CPJ's work? What does this mean in politics?
"The replacement of an identity of a citizen with an identity of a taxpayer, or a consumer of government services, is impoverished. It doesn't take into account what we human beings really are in our wholeness. We are so much more than buyers and sellers," Wesselius said.
"There is a real emphasis on security. But we can't talk about the issue deeply without addressing the underlying reasons why some groups of people have so little security and nothing left to lose, that they are willing to turn to terrorism which ultimately threatens the security of all of us."
If people were to talk about the culture of peace in depth, then they would also discuss refugee issues. They need to talk about poverty, about environmental degradation or lack of access to environmental resources. They need to talk about religious freedom, tolerance and respect. And people need to discuss the condition of indigenous people.
"If we let this world have a conversation about issues of security without acknowledging the complex inter-relations of reality, we are not going to bring about lasting peace," Wesselius said. "We need an integrated world view."