In researching JustFaith, blogger Janet Baker pointed out an article by Jack Jezreel, founder of the program, that he wrote in 1999. [Baker offers some pertinent thoughts at her blog, restore-dc-catholicism.blogspot.com, about JustFaith in the Washington DC area].
Entitled “Parish ministry: How to turn a lukewarm parish into a hotbed of social justice,” Jezreel considers the incipient days of his social ministry program and then basks in what he sees as its very happy outcomes. [http://salt.claretianpubs.org/issues/prmin/jezreel.html]
The first insightful moment in the article is when Jezreel describes the “hints” he’s found to demonstrate that one can transform a parish to have a heart for social justice (as he defines it). One hint of this possibility was found during his experiences in a Colorado Springs “intentional Christian community” modeled after the Catholic Worker, a place where “the movers and shakers in peacemaking and seeking justice have been people – often religious and ordained – who have had some access to more of the tradition than what most Catholics experienced in the parish…” That “access to more of the tradition” than most Catholics includes “knowledge of liberation theology.”
“Knowledge of liberation theology,” in other words, is a component that “transforms a parish,” principally from being Catholic to being liberationist.
Insightful moment number two comes when Jezreel details the tremendous influence of JustFaith. Participants say that their experiences in the program have led to some life-changing decisions, many of which involved immersion into social justice projects of one sort or another. For example, “Rosemary Smith, Mary Sue Barnett, Jackie Claes, and Keiron O'Connell began a women’s concerns committee and orchestrated a women’s homily series that provided an opportunity for women’s voices to be heard from the pulpit. They were also responsible for a yearlong program on the role of women in the church, inviting such speakers as Mary Luke Tobin, Richard McBrien, Mary Jo Weaver, and Katherine Hilkert, not to mention some outstanding local speakers.”
The problem is that these speakers aren’t reflective of Catholic but of feminist thought. Mary Luke Tobin, Mary Jo Weaver, and Katherine Hilkert were vocal supporters of women's ordination to the priesthood. So was Richard McBrien, who had the added distinction of writing a book, Catholicism, that was one of the only publications to be “officially disapproved” by the liberal United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for containing “inaccurate or misleading” statements.
Jezreel also points to the influence JustFaith had on participant David Chervenak, who went on to oversee “a yearlong discernment process on the matter of civil rights for homosexuals.”
Please don’t misunderstand. Not every JustFaith participant goes into “justice” activities that contradict Church teaching. However, not only is the capacity for open rebellion present in the program – it’s presented, as one sees in the above article, as a “good,” which is engaged in the service of justice “work.”
Without taking away from any positive results of the JustFaith program – and obviously there would have to be some for it to have been replicated around the country for over two decades – one must acknowledge its false theological underpinnings and the presence of misguided values. Taken together, as part of the overall pursuit of righteousness, we have in fact a very subtle poison.
Worse, the very success of the program – the bonding of its participants, the sacrificial impulses it inspires, the evangelical enthusiasm and subsequent spread of its ideas about “justice” (some of them terribly erroneous) – is placed at the service of a very unjust re-educating of its Catholic members.
Stephanie Block edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper and is a founder of the Catholic Media Coalition.
For further information about JustFaith, see “JustFaith vs. the Catholic Faith,” at the Catholic Media Coalition website here.
Also, see Speroforum here.