Last weekend, six members of EMU’s Peace Fellowship traveled to Philadelphia for the third annual Justice Conference.
Joining around four thousand other justice seekers, conference goers had the opportunity to attend five break-out workshops on Friday as part of the pre-conference, then nine large group sessions. Each session had speakers and musicians who engaged the audience with the issues that are impacting Christians today such as poverty, racism, sexism, immigration, and many more.
The Justice Conference was created in 2009 to gather together Christians who wanted a better theology for social justice and to empower others to be actively working in the world on behalf of their faith.
Although there was a strong evangelical emphasis, the conference is not associated with any one denomination. World Relief and Kilns College in Bend, Oregon were the main sponsors of the event, along with many speakers from Eastern University and other justice-oriented groups, such as Sojourners.
Pre-conference workshops were the highlight for many conference goers. With a plethora of choices, different speakers engaged interested attendees on topics such as “Using Twitter for Good,” “Welcoming the Stranger-Justice for the Immigrant,” and “Mobilizing Your Church to Respond to Global Poverty Through Biblically Based Advocacy.”
First-Year Rachel Bowman said that her favorite workshop was a session led by Jodina Hicks entitled “Incarceration: The United States’ Response to Urban Poverty.”
Bowman reported that “For me, this workshop was inspiring and heart- breaking. Jodina mentioned how the US holds 25 percent of the incarcerated population, yet only 5 percent of the world’s population. Those statistics, she offered, exhibit the widespread use of the prison system as a response to a need for justice. The session has made me consider the possibility of going to law school upon graduation in order to work toward prison reform. As I sat and listened to Jodina’s stories and statistics, my eyes began to well up with tears. I knew then that I couldn’t simply forget about what I had heard; action and justice were calling.”
The main conference, held in a large exhibit hall in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, brought in many big-name speakers, such as Shane Claiborne, Civil Rights leader Dr. John Perkins, Pulitzer Prize-winner Sheryl WuDunn, and many others to speak about the reasons and resources to fighting injustice in our world today.
“Justice is a marathon race in which the church needs to be engaged for the long haul,” said Gary Haugen, President and CEO of the International Justice Mission, an organization working to secure legal justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. “Justice seeking means a return to the God from whom love and justice flow.”
Senior Josh Kanagy said that one of his biggest takeaways from the main conference was Shane Claiborne’s reminder that activists should not be self-righteous. Claiborne mentioned the ease at which some will criticize someone for using a Styrofoam cup and forget to build a relationship with that person.
“I am guilty of doing this, even here at the conference,” confessed Josh. “I feel ahead of the game because Anabaptists are already a lot further than where evangelicals are in terms of peace building. At EMU, we talk a lot about social justice, and it felt that this conference was an introduction to justice to many people. However, it was also exciting to see so many people excited about justice seeking and be- ginning this journey.”
The conference came to a close with a panel discussion on poverty and how the church should be engaged to solve this and other justice problems. Overall, the conference brought in a different perspective than the Mennonite perspective in terms of how Christians could be doing justice work and was a learning opportunity for all involved.
Senior Krista Nyce said that “it was really great to take a look at justice through another perspective and be able to apply that to what I am learning here at EMU.”
For anyone who would like to hear more, the students who attended the conference will be sharing tonight at 8:30 in Common Grounds.