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It's going to be a busy year for justice-seeking churches

By Muriel Duncan

Around us swirls a storm of New Year's predictions and resolutions mixed up with election promises: the bizarre, the encouraging, the dangerous. Through this blizzard of possibilities, we try to read the signs

If the past year is a good indicator, 2006 will see a strengthening of church justice activity in the wider world. Certainly, religion and faith issues are receiving more attention in the media. Newspapers and television have organized religion on their radar in a new way. Could be due to world conflicts, or because of the political power of the religious right in the United States.

And having fewer members with less voting power has not deterred churches from taking on governments, locally and globally. Perhaps because we are smaller and feel somewhat outside society, we are more prepared to critique. Maybe deteriorating world conditions have brought out a stronger sense of call to live out our faith.

Whatever the reason, churches are prepared to stand up and speak up. Three concerns for the United Church are poverty, the environment and peace.

For example, in this election, many church people are asking candidates to pledge to support the Make Poverty History goals: to spend 0.7 percent of Gross National Income for international aid by 2015, to end child poverty in Canada, to cancel all the debt owed Canada by the world's poorest countries, and to demand global trade deals that contribute to ending poverty worldwide.

A second example. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal last month, the World Council of Churches presented a strong statement, saying "What we suffer from is not simply a technological or economic or ecological crisis, but a spiritual crisis." It warned that the world's climate is in a dangerous situation because political power, the market and technology-based economic competition is deciding how the atmosphere is used instead of the community values of justice, equality and sustainability.

And a third sign for 2006 has to do with what it may it mean to follow Christ. The work of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has upped the ante for everyone. The world is meeting people who are willing to risk their lives for the peace of others. It has been hard for many to comprehend. Over the last few years, CPT members have been working in places like Colombia, the Middle East and Iraq where they can get in the way of war, where they support local citizens who have been caught up in other people's battles.

The work is dangerous, as the Iraq hostage-taking demonstrated; but for volunteer Alan Slater, a United Church member of CPT and a farmer from southwestern Ontario, the danger is only what Iraqis have to live with every day. He appreciates the outpouring of support for the hostages, especially the quick public response from Iraqi and Palestinian Muslims.

Slater will return to Iraq in January if friends on the scene request it. "My life is moving in ways completely beyond my control. Surprise, surprise I feel comfortable with that," he writes in an e-mail to supporters.

It is likely 2006 will bring the church both sorrow and elation, as usual, and we will continue to find plenty of work to do in the world.

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