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Child poverty truly threatens the family.

A few weeks ago, a report was released suggesting more than one million children in Canada are living below the poverty line. Campaign 2000, a national watchdog organization, said more than 15 per cent of Canadian children live in low-income families who earn less than two-thirds the national median hourly wage of about $10. Moderator Rick Fee was forthright in his reaction, calling the situation "a real scandal." It is.

The report was issued 15 years after all parties in the House of Commons vowed to fix the problem of child poverty. The rate was about the same then, although three times the rate of most northern European countries, and actually climbed to almost 22 per cent in 1996. In response to the recent news, the federal Social Development Department offered the lame defence that Statistics Canada figures from 2002 indicate the child poverty rate is closer to 10 per cent, or 700,000 children.

Pick whichever figure you like, how is it that so many children should live in anything approaching that kind of poverty in an immensely rich country like Canada? This is an issue that truly jeopardizes the sanctity of the family and ought to give every politician guilt pangs. But in the wake of the story, few voices of concern were heard. Ken Dryden, the Social Development Minister, said he had no ideas of how to fix the problem.

It seems that everyone was waiting for the Supreme Court to render its opinion on proposed federal same-sex marriage legislation. On this, politicians have had plenty to say, as have several lobby groups that purport to support the family. Focus on the Family, REAL Women and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada all have issued news releases and papers on their perceived threat to the family from permitting same-sex marriage. None of them had anything to say about child poverty. They might well have raised the issue of provinces clawing back federal aid from welfare families.

Families earning below $22,600 receive a federal supplement of about $125 a month for each child. But only New Brunswick and Manitoba don't withhold that supplementary benefit from welfare and disability recipients. That is unconscionably kicking families while they are down. While few solutions to poverty are straightforward, taking with one hand what has been given by another is not one of them.

As for pending same-sex legislation, faith organizations appear to have little to fear. Same-sex marriage is not being imposed on religious groups. The court was very clear that freedom of religion has a wide scope and will protect opponents of same-sex marriage. Ministers will not be forced to marry a homosexual couple so long as the application of refusal is consistently applied. If a faith group forbids same-sex unions, everyone must abide by that. If a faith says it's up to the minister or temple or congregation, that too must be consistently followed. The same rules apply today: an Orthodox rabbi cannot be compelled to marry a man and a woman who are not Orthodox.

For those who are truly worried about families, there is another issue of far greater importance. Moderator Fee has set a goal of raising $500,000 over two years for various projects to do with AIDS in Africa. As of mid-December, less than $100,000 had come in. That is disappointingly low. AIDS is not only robbing Africa of its workforce (and therefore its ability to feed itself and become economically self-sufficient) but it is leaving hundreds of thousands of orphaned children to care for themselves and their younger siblings. These are families in real need, and we can help them. Besides giving to the church, politicians need to be lobbied about Canada's embarrassing level of international aid. Politicians' obsession over the same-sex issue is fueled by anxious voices. Christians need to raise their voices about issues that truly focus on the health of families at home and abroad.

A butterfly recently entered my life rather unexpectedly. It seems a caterpillar on some cabbage flowers slipped away to create a chrysalis on a small lampshade, because one morning at breakfast there was a little flutter and suddenly there was a small, pale green butterfly at the picture window looking out at the back garden.

With no source of nectar in the house, I put a pinch of sugar on the back of two fingers with a few drops of water to create a trough, and the butterfly hopped up for a drink. The butterfly has been around for 10 days now and still prefers to gaze out at the garden. I am its only source of food.

God has given us the capacity for deep and loving human relationships, as well as ones with other creatures, even if they are ephemeral, lf God created the butterfly, the least I can do is care for it as best I can. And are humans not of more value than butterflies? God's children continue to cry out, not for ideological angst, but for concrete expressions of love and care.
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Title Annotation:for the record
Author:Harris, David
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Previous Article:Called to wonder.
Next Article:Congregations that pray together, stay together.

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