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Opinion Faith, Hope And Social Justice

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Faith, hope and social justice

November 27, 2011

Dow Marmur - The Toronto Star

It’s always easier for clergy ministering to middle- or upper-class religious institutions to preach about social justice in faraway places than to point to the poverty on the doorstep of the temple, church, chapel or synagogue. Those listening to the homilies are likely to be uncomfortable with calls for change. They expect anti-establishment references in Scripture to be “reinterpreted.”

Though many women and men of God — especially if they regard themselves as liberal exponents of their faith — are among the champions of the underdog, most of their flock tend to be conservative elitists who favour the status quo. Worshipping congregations want to show compassion, even charity, to the less fortunate as long as it doesn’t cost too much or affect them personally. Seeking to alleviate poverty in Africa thus becomes more palatable than advocating higher taxes at home.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and St. James Cathedral in Toronto offer apt illustrations. Leaders of both these venerable institutions have expressed general support for the Occupy protesters when they camped outside their churches, yet they found it difficult to oppose efforts in both cities to clear the area, not only to provide easy access but also to protect inconvenienced worshippers, neighbours and local businesses.

Religious institutions survive by fundraising, especially when it comes to putting up buildings and securing programs. Many of the donors belong to the 1 per cent who are said to amass most of the country’s wealth. One of the slogans of the protesters is, “We are the 99 per cent.” It’s very difficult for religious leaders to side with the majority and thus risk loss of financial support for the institutions for which they’re responsible.

Those who regularly attend places of worship in established churches and synagogues are usually people who are likely to look up to the rich and look down on the poor. They want their religious leaders to face in the same direction.

Mercifully, most exponents of religious teachings remain true to their commitment to justice and their responsibility for the disadvantaged. They find overwhelming support for it in Scripture. Therefore, they not only canvass for aid in distant lands but also help to open churches, temples and synagogues to those in need at home. Toronto’s Out of the Cold program is a case in point. Every winter sacred spaces across religious divides are deployed to house and feed hundreds of homeless people.

But the protesters outside the cathedrals and elsewhere want more than handouts and are prepared to stay out in the cold for it. Though critics deem their demands problematic and their organization diffuse, the overall aim of the demonstrators is clear to most of us: they want to diminish the yawning gap between rich and poor. Their stress on justice rather than charity is erroneously perceived by many, including those who sit in the pews, as a dangerous threat to the existing order.

According to Paul Rogers of Britain’s Bradford University, the fear is that “free-market capitalism simply is not working.” The ominous increase in the socio-economic divide has given rise to the Occupy movement. Its driving force, writes Rogers, is “the demographic bulge of educated and knowledgeable young people with few prospects.” Many of the well-schooled unemployed have been sleeping in the tents outside the cathedrals to give vent to their frustrations.

There are many indications that even when the tents have been removed, the protesters won’t go away. Religious leaders will find much support for such perseverance in their respective traditions. Their challenge will be to persuade worshipping congregations that those outside are God’s children trying to testify to God’s truth.

Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple. His column appears every other week.

source:[/B] http://www.thestar.com/opinion/edit...1092950--marmur-faith-hope-and-social-justice


Nov 7, 2010
One cant condemn the vicars for their sympathy, but seldom is mentioned about half of London schools having to cancel their trips to St Pauls because of the aggression and intimidation of the protesters.

I am sure that social justice is lacking, but to hijack a public place by all sorts and anarchists looking for confrontation .. especially outside St Pauls .... is politically astute and morally wrong.
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