CC Issue 16 / Reflections / Social Work / Theology / Faith

Why I Love The Justice Conference

This weekend, I and 4,600 others descended on Portland in pursuit of justice. We came from 42 states and 8 countries with one thing in common: we love the word justice and we hope it’s a word that the church (and then our world) starts to love just as much as we do.

The Justice Conference is becoming an annual gathering of activists, artists, church-ladies, hipsters, Christians, non-Christians, white people, black people, all people who care about making a difference in a desperate world. I won’t pretend it was a perfect representation of all ages, races, classes where every voice was represented and heard. I won’t deny that we gathered in the American city most notorious for self-righteous liberal do-gooding gone mad (see the TV show Portlandia for evidence). I won’t deny that, by and large, we who came are young and idealistic. I won’t deny that we came because we believe that we can change the world. And because a lot of us believe, as speaker Shane Claiborne said, “God doesn’t want to change the world without us.”

So how is it that holding a conference on justice can change the world? What difference does it really make that 4,600 of us gave up a weekend essentially to listen to a dozen speakers and experience art and music honoring justice? I should tell you that the amazing speakers included theologians Walter Brueggemann and Miroslav Volf, civil rights leader John Perkins, church leader Francis Chan, President of World Relief Stephen Bauman, founder of the Innocence Project Madeleine Delone, and other very inspiring people. But I’ll also say that no matter how inspiring the list of presenters, some would struggle to understand what the point was to spend a weekend thinking about justice, talking about justice, but not necessarily doing justice.

And they would be right-this Justice Conference has no purpose if it’s just a place to feel inspired for a day, to feel convicted for a day, and then to leave and return to a world unchanged. Except, for some of us, the world has changed, just a little bit. Because now we feel less alone in the conviction that something is wrong with our faith if the word justice has no connection to it. We know that there are others out there like us, whose longing is to see God’s beauty restored to the earth and God’s image on display within everyone we meet. We know that even though religion is a dirty word for our generation, God is doing a work of justice in our midst that transcends religion. And we know that we are invited–in fact, that everyone is invited by God to join in.

Last year, my husband and I attend The Justice Conference on our own in Bend, OR. This year, we invited 19 people who said yes and came to Portland. Amazing. Last year, the conference drew about 1,000 people to the small community of Bend. This year, 4,600 gathered in Portland, next year, I hope, 10,000 will gather in Philadelphia. Not because it will change the world for us to gather, but because it will change those of us who care about changing the world. We will become smarter in how we do it. We will become aware of our blind spots (this year’s most challenging speaker for me was Richard Twiss, an American Indian who cried out to be noticed, acknowledged by this group of so-called enlightened Christians). We will meet others who love the same kinds of people we do, and then we’ll meet others who love different people, and then thank God that he is drawing all kinds of people to Himself. Not everyone who came has figured out where God is calling them, not everyone there is doing a great work of justice–but some are. And how important it is for us know that, and be inspired by that, and begin to be transformed to do our own work.

If this is your passion–if you want to be part of this community of seekers after justice, I encourage you (seriously) to figure out a way to go to the next Justice Conference, Feb 22-23, 2013 in Philadelphia. If that’s not possible, know that you are part of a revolution and that, whether you can meet them or not, there are literally thousands (I hope millions) of people out there who love justice the same way that you do. And our numbers are growing every year.

(P.S. Ken Wytsma, founder of the Justice Conference, has some great stuff about it on his blog. Check it out!)

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