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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

Love and Justice, part 1

I hate conflict. This makes me a bad social justice advocate. But it doesn't let me off the hook. If you hurt someone I love, you're going to hear from me.

Photo Credit: Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Here are the problems I have with justice work:

  • for things to change, someone has to get hurt;

  • you have to dehumanize the enemy, in order to hurt them;

  • blunt instruments and broad swaths hurt the innocent too.

A number of years ago, shortly after I'd moved to Calgary to become the minister of a progressive Anglican church, the United Church of Canada, from its General Assembly in Ottawa, passed a number of motions damning oil and gas practices in Alberta and preaching financial divestment from the industry.

I knew the arguments and agreed there was a problem, a host of problems, with Alberta's oil and gas industry, not the least of which was environmental degradation. But as the United Church sought to shame, vilify, and even demonize the oil and gas corporations, the people who worked in those corporations sat in my pews. They were good people. Some had the difficult task of holding the industry to its environmental commitments. Some were working with the local communities impacted by natural resource extraction. The industry may have needed a "Come to Jesus" accounting, but not the people I knew. They were already on the side of the angels.

It seemed too easy to take those pot shots from that great distance. You put the players in a room together, talking around a board table or, better, in a kitchen, baking bread together (as one theologian used to say should happen at seminaries), and you might accomplish something. But shouting across the rooftops never brought warring factions together. I felt torn. On the one hand, things had to change; on the other, we were dealing with real people, not faceless corporations.

My own experience growing up helped me see through to a third option. Confront the bad guys themselves, not their hapless employees. I grew up hating bullies. Not only for the shaming I'd received at their hands, but also for the ways they victimized people I cared about, shaming them too. Amnesty International provided me a creative outlet for my antipathy for bullies. I became a letter writer.

I'd receive a fax concerning a citizen in a foreign country who'd gone missing, presumably a victim of state interference. Knowing the first forty-eight to seventy-two hours in captivity were the most dangerous for the victim, I joined a small army of writers who faxed and mailed letters to the head of state, along with their cronies, respectfully but firmly demanding the citizen's release, while also letting them know the world was watching.

The spiritual journey may be a lonesome journey. We must each find our own way. At the same time, we're all in this together. Unless I'm willing to join you in your fight for justice, my personal journey is little more than a convenient escape. I need a bridge from my journey to yours. Building that bridge is called love.

Next Week: Love and Justice, part 2

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May 03, 2021

When I used to do community engagement work in the homeless-serving sector, I was often confronted with angry faces and voices who would state, often vehemently, they did not want 'those people' amongst 'us' in our community. Vilifying those who objected to affordable housing in their community was never a great place to find common ground. The only way to achieve that was to build that bridge of which you write so that 'us versus them' became all of us sharing the common ground, and good, of our humanity. It is not easy work -- it is vital. I so admire you for your letter writing compassion and fortitude Brian.

 Brian E Pearson
Brian E Pearson
May 03, 2021
Replying to

Yes, you would have encountered resistance in that work. Overcoming “us and them” is really one of the great challenges of our time, isnt it. We are not many tribes. We are one. Thanks, Louise.

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