This article first appeared in the September issue of the Anglican Journal.
Those working in public relations often refer to the adage, “Today’s news wraps tomorrow’s fish.” Whenever a client, be it a company or an individual, becomes the leading news story and negative reports affect its image-and profits-its PR firm will note that the public has a very short memory span and will comfort its client with the information that another front-page story will quickly replace the current one. More and more, it seems that we fail to consider important news seriously and to delve into issues with more than a fleeting notice.
A similar pattern may be seen when it comes to electing politicians-in this country and especially in our neighbours’ to the south. Significant subjects are reduced to short and striking sound bites, and no one seems prepared to listen to substantive speeches and to debate profoundly important issues.
I believe there is an important role for the church to play in not allowing issues simply to disappear into the ether. When politicians and society at large are not willing to stand up for the poor and disenfranchised, the church must step into the breach and both speak and act. Historically the church was the conscience of society, and helped determine and shape its morals and ethics. I fully realize that one can point, far too many times, to instances when the church misused and abused this role. Those sins of the past, as dreadful as they were, cannot be the excuse in our time to do nothing. My hope is that the church can learn from the past and address critical matters with vigour, determination and a sense of faith in its ability to make a difference.
On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza collapsed on garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. More than a thousand people were killed; an overwhelming number of the victims were young women. Non-governmental organizations have since begun to work with some, but not all, large retailers, who will be required to pay for mandatory fire and building safety improvements, as well as implement inspections by independent auditors, whose findings will be made public. Another important step in this process will see workers and unions lead training and health and safety committees. These actions are critical in recognizing that workers rights are human rights.
The church needs to be at the forefront, monitoring these changes, addressing questions of boycotting products produced by desperately poor people in unsafe conditions and ensuring that workers are involved in the development of safe working environments everywhere.
On the cover of this edition of the Anglican Journal is a story the Journal was the first to report-13 years ago-concerning the use of aboriginal children as subjects for medical and dental experiments. The Government of Canada has not addressed this abhorrent situation; for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt to say that what happened was included in a former apology is an unacceptable level of hypocrisy. The church has a gospel imperative to seek justice on this matter-to stare into the face of those who are responsible and to rally Canadians, both inside and outside of the church, to respond to this inhumane treatment.
Across Canada, we all watched in disbelief as explosions destroyed Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July. Some 47 Canadians are dead, and no one seems to be able to say why or how this happened. The greater effort seems directed at blaming someone else and worrying about who will pay. How will the church help in the long-term redevelopment of survivors’ lives?
The church needs to ensure that the issues of today are not simply fish wrap for tomorrow. It must be a moral compass that seeks, pursues and demands justice where none exists. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks God in Genesis. Undoubtedly, the answer is yes.
ARCHDEACON A. PAUL FEHELEY is interim managing editor of the Anglican Journal.
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