Learner lobbyists let loose on Canberra


voices for justice canberra, Flickr image by made2serveSometimes divine providence works with a sense of irony and of synchronicity. So it determined that the latest Catholic Bishops' social justice statement, 'And you will be my witnesses: young people and justice' should be launched as just over 260 Christians, mainly young people, had spent four days in Canberra.

They were being trained then let loose to lobby our politicians, to ask that Australia keep its Millennium Development Goal commitments and not allow them to fall away into that vague space known as 'aspirations'.

These young Christians, mainly from evangelical churches, were part of the fourth 'Voices for Justice' event organised by Micah Challenge. This organisation is endorsed by a number of Australian Christian overseas aid bodies such as World Vision, Tear Australia, Baptist World Aid and Caritas Australia.

Micah Challenge has been mobilising Christian churches to take up the challenge of the Old Testament book of Micah (chapter 6 verse 8), 'to act with justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God'. It focuses on the alleviation of world poverty and the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals.

Launched in 2004, Micah Challenge is said to have made conservative evangelical churches more attuned to justice issues. This shift has affected the ballot boxes and political life of Australia.

In a video viewed during the training sessions Labor senator Bob McMullen described his own disappointment when the Hawke-Keating Labor Government cut back funding for overseas aid. At the time he said to himself, 'The churches will speak out'. But to his bitter disappointment the churches said nothing.

Directly crediting Micah Challenge, he said that now the churches are speaking out. Through the advocacy of the churches and their agencies the Rudd Government is raising the level of Australian overseas aid from 0.3 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) under the Howard government to 0.5 per cent.

Though laudable in itself this increase falls short of the 0.7 per cent of GNI to which the developed world has committed itself for over 40 years. Australia's commitment to the 0.7 per cent goal fell away under the Hawke and Howard Governments and has now been identified as an 'aspirational' goal by the Rudd Government.

In a parody of the 'Kevin 07' campaign of the last election a number of those attending the 'Voices for Justice' event wore T-shirts emblazoned with 'Kevin 0.7'. One of the key 'asks' of those lobbying their politicians focused on the level of aid and its proper targeting.

The other key 'ask' concerned the impact of climate change on the poor. This is the first time that Micah Challenge has raised the issue of climate change in its lobbying. In doing so it has been criticised for 'jumping on the climate change bandwagon'.

Yet the evidence from its endorsing agencies is that climate change is already affecting the poor nations of the world. Sea level rises are affecting Pacific nations. Seasons are shifting in Bangladesh with longer dry seasons and more fierce monsoonal rains. Malaria is emerging in new areas of Africa as temperatures rise.

Aid agencies are deeply concerned that climate change will undo all that has been achieved in alleviating poverty over the past decade. They are supported by that most radical of organisations, the World Bank. It has called on wealthy nations to pay their fair share of the cost that climate change is having on the poor, arguing that they have caused the problem in the first place.

Are there points of contact between the work of Micah Challenge and the Bishops' Social Justice Statement? Certainly the text of Micah 6:8 was read at the mass that accompanied the launch, and Cardinal Pell referred to it in his homily. The Cardinal also identified the importance of advocacy for the poor and encouraged the school students present to consider life in public office.

The document itself concludes with a brief reference to the Millennium Development Goals under the heading 'Looking beyond our shores' and speaks of 'reducing our carbon footprint'. Sprinkled with references to World Youth Day and quotes from Benedict XVI it is clearly seeking to engage the momentum generated by WYD08. It challenges youth to take up that energy and utilise it in the cause of justice.

Of its nature it is a diffuse document, dealing with a range of issues, and so lacks the focus and hard edge of the 'Voices for Justice' event. But the coincidental timing of these two events stands as a challenge to Catholic youth to display the same level of commitment as the 'Voices for Justice' youth to take up Micah's challenge.

Sunday 27 September is Social Justice Sunday.

Neil OrmerodNeil Ormerod is Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University and member of the Micah Challenge Theology Reference Group. He is co-author with Dr Shane Clifton, a Pentecostal theologian, of Globalization and the Mission of the Church.

Topic tags: micah, voices for justice, millenium development goals, Catholic Bishops' social justice statement



submit a comment

Existing comments

Here we go again. A very worthwhile cause is hijacked to support a theory- the greenhouse theory- that is no more than a theory. It is certainly not an issue on which to morally judge Christians.
Kevin Prendergast | 25 September 2009

Excellent article, very illuminating point about the impact of saying and doing nothing...
Paul Cleary | 25 September 2009

In order to end poverty, one must begin with a theory as to how poverty is caused.

I'm personally convinced after decades of study that the vast proportion of poverty today is caused by insufficient respect of the rights to life and property.

I note the cluster of political regimes which began to shape their legal framework around these rights from - say - the late eighteenth century, and the explosion of wealth that resulted. The typical 'poor' person in England or America in, say 1910, was immeasurably better off than a 'poor' person in those countries in 1750 or earlier. Not so under other regimes. I asked myself: Why? And there seems to be but one answer.

So I believe there is an at least credible case for saying that the Millenium Goals in relation to poverty will be reached by enforcing the basic human rights of life and property. In other words...the free market. Limited government. The rule of law.

If you like, 'classical liberalism".

I wonder how many of the sincere, well-meaning Micah Challenge students making their case in Canberra have been exposed, in this era of 'diversity', to this scenario in the course of their education?
Hugh | 26 September 2009


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up