Monday, February 25, 2013

Justice Conference 2013: Evangelical Contribution to a Trending Yet Significant Movement

If you followed the tail end of the #Justice2013 feed you would have noticed a frequent retweet, "Justice trending on Twitter." It was a proud call for celebration as the conference had generated so much on-line energy that it was being noticed by the platform.

Is that what justice is for Evangelicals? Is it a trending passion and hipster movement that is here today and gone tomorrow? As pondered by Gary Haugen of IJM, will the causes and voices crying for advocacy be rolled in and out much like the varying conference frills wheeled in and out of the Philadelphia Convention Center?

While I still wonder, jaded by past experiences with evangelical congregations and popular voices who rejected justice then jumped on board just before the world around them passed them by, I was encouraged by those who challenged this real temptation of trend. Evangelicals in Philly confessed their past ignorance and gathered together for repentance as they turned towards a broader and much more wholistic gospel.

Brenda Salter McNeil preached, "We don't have an evangelical theology that can address the catastrophic events of the day. We need a new theology. How can we share with the world what is happening when we don't know ourselves?"


Yet, while Evangelicals struggle to develop a theology of justice with great depth, the innovation, creativity, and praxis are worthy of celebration and replication. Although not a competition, their efforts trump the tangible responses of many mainline denominations who have the rich tradition and deep theology of justice but slow and red-tape laden responses to human suffering and missional engagement. Brenda Salter McNeil again exposes truth:

"We have an idolatrous posture towards injustice and real human suffering. Our obsession with theological and political rationale can stunt compassion and empathy."

As a mainliner who is only now beginning to recover my relationship with evangelicalism, I envy the ability to act quickly and respond intuitively. You do not have the same institutional barriers we do. You do not obsess over polity and cling to stale patterns and systems. While you and I may disagree vehemently on the ins and outs of theology and doctrine, when God calls you respond. I am grateful that you do! I also hope we can collaborate together with greater frequency. We actually hold more in common than we may realize or care to admit.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. True, the speakers left much to be desired when it came to the intellect. Nicholas Wolterstorff, the only prominent academic to keynote, was given a mere 10 minutes. Despite the call to go deep and recover a theology of justice rooted in a theology of God, as hyped by founder Ken Wytsma, the conversations hovered on the surface.
Nonetheless, the conference was flooded with real life practitioners from all over the world who were transparent and accessible. The conference speakers drew an audience that probably never would have come if headlined by the likes of Brueggemann. [update: apparently he spoke last year. I stand corrected. We need more of that]
Churches brought their youth and parents brought their kids. There were folks in their 70's and 80's, youthful prospective and current college students, pastors and lay members. The room was packed with those who may be new to this conversation and simply needed something to grab onto other than trend.
They needed familiar, albeit seasoned, voices to remind them they were on the right path.

They needed those who were doing more than speaking about justice, but also and especially doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Viewed in that light, the conference was a major success, even if it was trending.

And I got to meet John Perkins. I was also introduced to Micah Bournes (spoken word below).

So thank you @justiceconference2013. I am grateful for the weekend break from main-line protestantism and fresh conversations with sisters and brothers living what I dream to practice sooner rather than later!

**Suggestion for 2014:

*How can we reframe how all of this pertains to youth ministry and those packaged short-term mission programs for summer youth ministry that perpetuate the non-profit industrial complex mentioned by Eugene Cho. But that's for another day.

**There was a void in engagement with LGBTQ justice issues. Really should invite PFLAG and Jay Bakker.


Here are a few notes from the conference for those interested. These notes do not assume I agree with all :)

Ken Wytsma (Founder; Pastor of Antioch Church and President of Kilns College)

When you study God, you study justice; when you study justice, you study God.

There is a difference between standing up and sitting down. Sitting down is listening, learning, andgiving voice to the other.

In our quest for infamy we have pushed aside the minority voice. We cannot allow our desire to be heroic to trump our call to faithfulness.

"I only have one set of eyes; need other people with different lenses."

You cannot hurry lament. Must move towards empathy.

Cannot do good without a desire to become good.

Everyone wants to change humanity but nobody wants to change themselves (quoting Tolstoy)

Noel Castellanos and Leroy Barber (CEO of Christian Community Development Association and President of Mission Year, respectively)

We really missed the voice of Richard Twiss, who passed away from a heart attack this February. Uncle Richard was supposed to be a part of this panel, who did their best to proceed despite an irreplaceable void.

Peace not only the absense of tension but also the presence of justice.

Embrace the poor as a launching pad for the cemnter of God's mission and justice.

Brenda Salter McNeil (Author of A Credible Witness: Reflections of Power, Evangelism and Race)

Sometimes we look too hard for explanations and are barred from extending radical compassion, empathy, and justice (reflections on Good Samaritan parable)

Examine your theology because your theology will affect your anthropology.

What is getting at the core of your gut? That's God's call.

Eugene Cho (co-founder of One Days Wages)

It's not enough to say I heard it on NPR. Justice is not sexy. It's a marathon.

Any passion and pursuit of justice unless practiced under the lordship of Christ can become idolatrous. We need the lens of Scripture, God, and mission of Jesus Christ to frame our theology and practice of justice.

Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world versus actually changing the world. Are we in danger of becoming the most overrted generation?

We cannot change the entire world. Anyone who tells you otherwiswe is either lying or trying to sell you something.

Make sure our pursuit of God informs our pursuit of jusice, not the other way around.

We must refuse to turn justice merely into projects and dehumanize the poor and oppressed. This is when justice lapses into nonprofit industrial complex.

When you dehumanize the poor you are of no value to their redemption.

When the grass looks greener on the other side it may be the Holy SPirit telling you to water the grass you are standing on.

Gary Haugen (President and CEO of International Justice Mission)

When people write about this generation they will say its when the church woke from its 100 year slumber from justice.

Need a love willing a to endure the tedium pivotal to liberation and justice.

The work of justice is long and boring, filled with waiting rooms and signatures. But I love it. (playing of the Peter Gabriel Song, "The Book of Love")

Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff (Professor of Philosophoical Theology, Yale University)

Love and justice mus no longer be viewed in conflict with one another

Justice rooted in rights and worth as human beings.

Treating neighbor justly is a way of embodying love.

Two forms of love. The first, promotion of the well-being of our neioghbor. The second, honoring the dignity of our neighbor.

Shane Claiborne (Simple Way)

He celebrated his new partnership with Raw Tools, who wield AK-47 and other firearms into farming tools.

How many pouds of food harvested to feed people can replace the numerous lives these weapons took through gun violence?

Quaker Tenet: Oppose everything that destroys life.

Call to reclaim meaning of the penitentiary, rooted in same word for repemntence. Penitentiaries are to become places of rehabilitation and real change versus warehouses of prisoners.

Chai Ling (

Sometimes we need to offer forgiveness before we can fully receive justice...

60 % of trafficked women are from China

God is still aprting the Red Sea in China

Discussion Panel with Dr. John Perkins, Lisa Sharon Harper, Lynne Hybels, and Stephan Bauman

Are our gospels too small and not propelling us towards justice? (Harper)

It's not a menu; it's a must! (Bauman)

Theology of justice begins with God calling humanity the image of God (Perkins)

God's deliverance of Israel was not merely spiritual; it was a physical deliverance we call justice. (Perkins)

We must redefine dominion and reclaim it as stewardship and agency as we read Genesis 1. (Harper)

Theology of Justice has three components: understanding of humanity made in the image of God; reconciliation of humanity and the world; pursuit of stewardship and redistribution of resources. (Perkins)

Poor need moire than materialism to be liberated from poverty. (Perkins)

The church lives out its call most fully when its arms are wrapped around a community in pain. (Perkins)

Enter into the call of God and then move towards obedience. (Perkins)

Only one race- human race. Many nationalities. (Perkins)

Poverty is man-made and can be eradicated (Bauman)

Most service in the church is for "me." (Perkins)

We cannot jsut give poor money and resources without also changing social policies. (Perkins)

At our borders we have two signs: help wanted and no trespassing. We need major immigration reform yet the church has often remained silent and comfortable in Sunday morning pews. (Harper)

"Go to the people; live among the people; love the people; learn from what the people know; build upon what the people have. Pray. That's how this justice cause will become a movement."

---John Perkins