London tests power of prayer in bid to close rich-poor gap

LFPress.com – news/London – Election twist
Sunday, April 17, 2011.   Randy Richmond, The London Free Press

In a religious first with an election twist, leaders from several major faiths in London have joined forces to preach the same message at the same time to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

The message: Vote and vote for the person or party you believe does the most to bridge the growing gap in Canada between the rich and the poor.

It’s likely the first time leaders of different religions in London have blanketed their followers with one message, and a political one at that.

“It is stunning. How often do all faiths in one community hear the same message, never mind at the same time?” said Rev. Kate Crawford of First St. Andrews United.

From Temple Israel’s Shabbat service last weekend and the London Muslim Mosque’s prayers Friday to Christian services this Sunday, the message is being spread through the city.

“We are one family at the end of the day,” Imam Jamal Taleb of London Muslim Mosque said Friday.

“We believe the gap between the rich and poor is growing. The change has to be made in Ottawa. Therefore we are encouraging our people to go and vote.”

Religious leaders stressed they don’t want to tell voters whom to choose in the May 2 federal election.

“We are not partisan. We want to use the process to effect change without giving an opinion about which candidate is doing it better,” said Rabbi Debra Dressler of Temple Israel in London.

But the religious leaders are making it equally clear they want their followers, and candidates, to focus on poverty.

“We have an obligation to the homeless, to the poor, to ask all the parties the question: what are you going to do?” said Rev. Jeffrey Crittenden of Metropolitan United.

The foray into the election arises from a new association of church leaders in London called the Religious Social Action Coalition.

So far, the coalition includes three large downtown Protestant churches — First St. Andrews United, Metropolitan United Church, The Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Anglican) — and the Sisters of St. Joseph, Temple Israel of London, and the London Muslim Mosque.

Church leaders and their congregations have been battling the symptoms of poverty for decades with food banks and meal programs, said Rev. Kevin Dixon of St Paul’s Anglican. Now they must push politicians to help find solutions.

“There is the implication by only treating the symptoms we are endorsing the policies at the root cause,” he said.

If voters can’t be persuaded to think of the poor for selfless reasons, they might want to consider the impact of poverty on their own lives, said Sister Sue Wilson of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“The gap between the rich and the poor tears apart the fabric of society,” she said.

Studies have shown the wider the gap, the greater levels of violence, crime and, teen pregnancy in a community, she said.

The coalition has its roots in several casual meetings last fall among the ministers from the three large downtown churches.

They invited other leaders to join them in a fight against poverty, and the election provided the first chance to act, Crawford said.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘we need to do something.’ ”

randy.richmond@sunmedia.ca

+ ART:

Rabbi Debra Dressler (debra dressler in datavue)

Rev Kate Crawford, Rev Kevin Dixon and Rev Jeffrey Crittenden were in sue reeve photo published nov 4, 2010

Sister Sue Wilson in photo published april 2, 2005

Iman Jamal Taleb photographed fri by derek

POINTER AT THE TOP FOR SEPARATE STORY

Six London faith leaders, one question: How can we believe in a loving God in a world of such suffering?

A Free Press roundtable, including some members of the new Religious Social Action Coalition, in print and online Saturday, April 23.

WHAT THEY SAID

Sister Sue Wilson

Sisters of St. Joseph

“Sometimes we need to push the political parties to where they are not going to go on their own.”

Rev. Kate Crawford

First-St. Andrews United Church

“Within one week, all faiths will be hearing the same message. There is a moral imperative we speak.”

Rev. Kevin Dixon

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Anglican)

“We need to vote in a way that helps restore the social equality of this country.”

Imam Jamal Taleb

London Muslim Mosque

“We don’t want to tell people to vote for this person or that person. We want people to make their own judgment on the issue of poverty.”

Rev. Jeffrey Crittenden

Metropolitan United Church

“We encourage people to look through the lens of poverty to ask the questions for those who have been excluded from the debate.”

Rabbi Debra Dressler

Temple Israel London

“This is one of the most pressing issues of our time. One way to address it is to make candidates address this growing disparity.”

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