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Locking Up the Poor: Andrew’s Response

By Andrew Stephens-Rennie

This is a response to Christian Harvey’s article about the Omnibus Crime Bill that was recently passed in the House of Commons. 

What time do I have, really? What time do I have to think about things like politics and crime?

Sometimes I catch myself thinking these things, and wonder how such a bill might affect me, my work, and the people with and amongst whom I serve.

And yet if I stop to think about it, I know that many political decisions affect my community.

They might affect my neighbours here in East Vancouver. They might affect the lives of the young people and youth leaders I serve.

So If I were to stop and think about the omnibus crime bill. And if I were to respond to Christian’s post, I guess I might be stirred to some sort of action.

Here’s the thing. As youth ministry leaders, I think that this could have profound affects on our work. Before we get into the nitty gritty, I think that first and foremost, it should cause us to ask questions about who are the young people we serve?

Are any of them in danger of being affected by this bill?

If yes, how?

If not, why not?

These questions should bring up a larger question about our ministry.

What is it about our ministries amongst youth that either embrace or push away young people who might be most affected by this bill? The ones who might be locked up? Those who might have family members affected by new law enforcement policies such as these?

Sometimes I think we assume that the young people in our churches won’t be affected by these things. And I wonder if that doesn’t point to a significant problem. Either the problem is our delusion that folks in our congregation won’t be affected, or the problem has something to do with the fact that our congregations are so exclusive that the people most affected by this bill would not be welcome, either implicitly or explicitly.

One of the biggest challenges to seeing the way in which this bill might affect us and those whom we love is our relational poverty. Are we friends with people who are not like us?

Check the last 10 calls on your cell phone. How many of those people look like us, think like us, make the same kind of money we do, work in the same kind of jobs?

Do our last 10 calls reflect the diversity of this world, or the insularity of our comfort zone?

One of the biggest challenges to seeing the way in which this bill might affect us and those whom we love is our lack of friendship on the margins.

And yet if we are friends with those who are poor.

If we are friends with those who have recently immigrated to Canada.

If we are friends with those who suffer from mental illness.

If we are friends with those who have different levels of education, health care, and access to opportunity as we do

How does that change the equation?

It changes the equation because the story is no longer abstract. We are no longer talking about the unnamed other, but about our friends. We are talking with our friends, and we are learning about the world from their perspective. From the perspective of the people most affected by this bill.

So here’s the thing. I see myself implicated in what I’ve just written. I can make excuses about how I’ve just moved to the city, how I haven’t yet plugged in and gotten to know my neighbourhood and neighbours. And yet, over my shoulder I can hear the probing, uncomfortable question of liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez ringing in my ears:

“You say you care about the poor. Then tell me, what are their names?”




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