This is my sixth attempt at writing this post. I have struggled with how best to cover this issue--which I think deserves scrutiny-- with charity and giving the benefit of the doubt. The St. Louis Review is a good source of Catholic information and is staffed with faithful Catholics who do a great job. But sometimes things can fall through the cracks, and this, in my opinion, is one of those times.
This week, the Review has given extensive and positive coverage to an organization that has questionable adherence to Catholic teachings. This group calls itself JustFaith. JustFaith was the subject of multi-article coverage in the "Living Our Faith" section of the Review, a pull-out section that takes a particular theme and provides several articles covering specifics related to that theme. In this section, under the theme of social justice ministry, JustFaith is presented in a positive light, and its activities in local parishes are favorably canvassed. The following is from the main article:
JustFaith brings a life of love, justice
by Barbara Watkins
"JustFaith is not just another program," according to Pat Dougherty. "It changes lives. It calls out the best in us."
Dougherty, senior director of advocacy for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, called his participation in JustFaith Ministries — a formation program that seeks to help people transform themselves and their commitment to social justice — "one of the best things I've ever done."
Dougherty and Greg Rohde, director of parish social ministry for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, are inviting parishes to participate in the JustFaith programs. So far, approximately 300 people in the archdiocese have gone through at least one JustFaith program. Last year, 170 people from 24 parishes in five deaneries took part.
To Dougherty, "JustFaith is a faith journey, a justice journey. It's your journey. You're changing as you go along, how you look at things, what you are called to do. It's a journey in a prayerful small group setting, a challenge in the midst of other people."
JustFaith Ministries has grown into a national program led by Jezreel, now executive director. A Catholic ministry that has developed a faith component for other churches, JustFaith participants include more than 18,000 people from more than 1,000 churches nationwide. JustFaith Ministries has partnerships with several Catholic organizations, including Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Pax Christi USA, as well as the Christian anti-hunger group Bread for the World.
The group's mission statement is presented in the article, but in order to interpret it, one must really get to know the founder, Jack Jezreel, who was interviewed by the Review.
The article quotes JustFaith's mission statement as follows:
JustFaith Ministries forms, informs and transforms people of faith by offering programs and resources that sustain them in their compassionate commitment to build a more just and peaceful world.
This mission statement is precisely the kind of thing that is capable of differing interpretations, depending on the perspective of the reader. Who doesn't want a more just and peaceful world, after all?
JustFaith identifies certain "critical issues" for which it provides training in its "JustMatters" program. From the article:
The JustMatters modules cover critical social issues and/or justice issues.They include six to eight sessions, each about two to two-and-a-half hours long with an opening and closing prayer, and can include space for a guest speaker
-Faith Encounters the Ecological Crisis
-In the Footsteps of the Crucified
-God's Creation Cries for Justice
-Engaging Our Conflicts
Again, these modules are filled with buzz words which send a message of socialist political activism devoid of any necessary connection to the Catholic faith. Faith encounters in the ecological crisis? Come on. What does that mean? God's creation cries for justice? New Wineskins? My own take on this is that this is exactly the kind of "faith perspective" that has emptied out the pews for the last 45 years.
But forget what I think; what does the founder of JustFaith think?
To begin with, Jack Jezreel has been a featured speaker at several conferences of the dissenter group "Call to Action", to wit: 1996 CTA national conference; 1997 CTA national conference: “Spirituality of Commitment Making Promises, Friends and Justice”; The fourth West Coast CTA Conference, August 11-13, 2000: “Transformed People, Transformed Parish, Transformed World”; and the keynote at CTA-affiliated Pax Christi 2007 National Conference.
Stephanie Block of the Catholic Media Coalition has this to say about Jezreel and JustFaith:
JustFaith materials include reading lists of works by other problematic authors, including Cloud of Witness by Jim Wallis, an evangelical minister who edits the magazine Sojourners – originally founded to support the anti-war and sanctuary movements. Currently, Wallis is promoting the New Sanctuary Movement to support illegal immigration in the US and the Faith in Public Life network of “spiritual progressives”, many of whom advocate abortion and homosexual advocacy. JustFaith also recommends Selected Readings in Liberation Theology by Gustavo Gutierrez & others.3 Another recommended book is Doing Justice by Dennis A. Jacobsen, which promotes the organizing principles of Saul Alinsky. These are not Catholic materials.
Nor does Jack Jezreel, the founder and director of JustFaith, intend to support authentic Catholic social justice teaching. Jezreel is longtime speaker for the dissident Catholic organization Call to Action,4 which exists to change church doctrine and structure along liberationist lines. He sees JustFaith has a way to “transform parishes”, as he believes they ought to be “transformed,” with parishes holding all parishioners’ goods in common and having a “shared economics”.5
Since it doesn’t represent a Catholic perspective, JustFaith can be – and is – used ecumenically, as it has been in Louisville, Kentucky where the program originated. Little wonder that his program is flawed and the Catholics passing through it are confused about Church teaching. (links to footnotes in the original)
Further analysis of JustFaith can be found here.
JustFaith also touts its partnership with the much-criticized Catholic Campaign for Human Development (which was caught funding ACORN in the past) and Pax Christi USA, a similar social justice/sustainable earth type group.
In another piece in the "Living Our Faith" section, the Review ran a CNS article about the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, sponsored in part by JustFaith. the headline reads "Speakers suggest joining pro-life, social justice efforts". This is a great idea if that means that authentic Catholic teaching should be promoted in a consistent fashion; it isn't so great if it means that we should ignore abortion issues as long as we spend some money on social welfare programs. But what is even worse than either of these is if it means we should front for a liberation theology, Christ-as-Marx sort of socialist activism with a Catholic veneer.
Jack Jezreel himself wrote an article on his intentions with JustFaith called "How to turn a lukewarm parish into a hotbed of social justice". I urge you to read it and ponder it. JustFaith may in fact create hotbeds of "social justice"; the problem is that they won't be Catholic parishes, lukewarm or otherwise.
We shouldn't be celebrating a program designed to create more dissident parishes, headed by a supporter of groups that dissent from Catholic teachings. We have enough of both already.