Che Guevara joins the Virgin Mary on the altar at the Agricultural Workers Alliance office in Leamington, Ontario

The world would be a happier place if those of us who live in wealthier countries in the global “North” would recognize that having more toys at our end of the boat does not protect us any more than the simpler lives of the much larger group of people at the “South” end of the boat protects them. North, South, babord, tribord: it’s all the same boat. And climate change, driven by over-use of fossil fuels, may yet sink us all.

We should also recognize that the economic system as it currently exists will throw us overboard when owners see their short-term interests threatened. Together with the hundreds of thousands of newly-homeless people in the United States, we should be able to see that the system does not protect the middle classes of the North.

How then shall we live? This question was posed by Paulette Brown (Director of the Flemingdon Gateway Mission in Toronto) during the series of meetings that I attended last week in Santo Domingo.

Whether your motivation to work for change is ecological—save life on the planet—or political—“things would work better if…”—or religious—“my faith requires me ‘to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God’” (Micah 6:8)—we need to figure out how to live differently, and soon. Hundred-mile diets, fair-trade coffee and carbon trades are modest first steps.

Alternatives for the Americas

Our motives may differ, but we can build coalitions with others to work towards similar goals.

Across the Americas in the 1990s, social and ecological movements began to meet together and to propose “Alternatives for the Americas.”

The original 1998 documents and subsequent work in 2002 are online. Further work has gone on in Spanish and Portuguese.

Covenants for Justice

For people of faith, some useful responses to Paulette’s question can be found in the work of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and its proposals for Covenants for Justice.

In a similar vein, the United Church of Canada’s Covenanting for Life process is a call to live faithfully in the midst of empire. “It is a commitment to put faith into action regarding the many forms of empire that are obstacles to God’s purposes of justice, equality, and reconciliation between people and nations within creation.”

It seems to me that without the individual acts of mercy and generosity toward those who are hungry, thirsty, outsiders and imprisoned that are cited in Matthew 25:34-40, there would be no human community, no church, no civilization. This is the antithesis to Margaret Thatcher’s view: that there is no such thing as “society,” only individuals.

In this passage you find out why Christians have led movements for public health care, universal free education, legal systems that prevent arbitrary imprisonment, political systems that guarantee peace, order, good government and well-being for all—and why we must again defend those achievements today.

 

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