Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 14, 2007
Make justice your concern, activist tells churches
Tell the story of why so many need food banks – Vandergrift
- WCR photo by
"Church groups remain stuck in the mode of charity."
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Churches must get out of the charity mode and talk more about rights, including children's rights, says an Ottawa-based justice activist.
"The churches have pretty much stayed in the charity mode and have not been strong in the justice mode and that's why we still have food banks expanding," Kathy Vandergrift told the WCR.
"We respond to need, and we should, but we also need to address the issue about why there are so many people who need to go to a food bank."
Vandergrift, chair of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children and member of the board of the Citizens for Public Justice, was a keynote speaker at the Social Justice Institute May 3-5 at Newman Theological College.
About 135 people took part in the three-day event, which was put on by several Christian churches and organizations.
Loving neighbour is certainly at the core of Christian doctrine but "the foot of justice rarely hits the ground as Church groups remain stuck in the mode of charity," noted Vandergrift.
"We need a more robust approach towards rights and responsibilities in our social justice work."
The language of rights, including social and economic rights has a long history in Christian teaching and Christians should incorporate it into their language, especially now when human rights have taken a back seat to security, she said.
"The human rights agenda needs more attention in our social justice work."
Vandergrift's main focus is the rights of children under 18. She noted the Senate report on children said Canada is not fulfilling its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"This week our national government is focusing on crime, youth crime. But if you look at the facts in this country, young people are more victims of violence than they are perpetrators.
"That's not what we hear. We hear that youth are the threat and that they should get longer prison terms."
Why? "Because youth have no voice in this country and so it is convenient to use this for electoral purposes."
Canada must protect children's rights, she said, and it should find avenues to teach children about these rights.
"Children are some of the most honourable people in every society and we can protect them," Vandergrift said in an interview. "That was the message of Scripture when Jesus put a child in the middle of the disciples.
"It wasn't just about teaching them humility. He was trying to tell them that if society protects children it would protect everyone."
'Big fat zero'
In Canada we have made progress on identity rights, women's equality, racial discrimination and sexual orientation but on social and economic rights "a big fat zero," Vandergrift lamented.
If the churches want to make a difference, they must start talking about rights, the activist said. "We must begin using the rights and responsibilities theme in Scripture to give us a more robust basis for our justice work," Vandergrift said.
"The bottom line to me is that every person has dignity and value.
"If we are to be (God's) faithful agents we have to respect the right of all to be participants, including young people.
"If we don't start to include them, then we can't be so surprised when they choose sometimes unproductive ways."
Letter to the Editor - 05/28/07