I had the pleasure of traveling with Peace Fellowship club last weekend to the Justice Conference. The conference’s website had me eager to go listen to an impressive list of speakers. The list included CEOs, activists, revolutionaries, and one whom I am sure you are familiar with, Shane Claiborne.
By the second breakout session, I realized that the conference was distinctively evangelical, which was not expressly advertised. These sessions ranged from education and immigration reform to modern day slavery and the nature of justice. As an Anabaptist, I have passion for these topics, and yet I felt extremely uncomfortable.
Anabaptists should acknowledge the tensions they might have with particular aspects of the Evangelical tradition as one of the initial steps to creating a conversation between the two traditions that can benefit both.
One of the sessions I went to was a poetry slam. A number of artists gave their original pieces of spoken word. Maybe it was the middle-aged woman with thin blond but graying hair in front of me that left me uncomfortable. She kept bobbing her head in agreement to one of the poet’s inspiring words. I realized that this woman always started nodding just before the poet actually said something she could agree with.
I was driven to distraction, amused and fascinated by the interchange be- tween the artist and this audience member. Why would you agree with someone before you know what they are actually saying?
Maybe it was the costly show that was put on before and after every session that made me uncomfortable. It was quite impressive, complete with smoke, dazzling lights, and enormous sub-woofers that filled the room and your body with thick vibrations, a feat in of itself, considering the colossal multiple football field size of the room.
The music they put on for an audience of thousands seemed superficial to my critical and sensitive ears, not to mention the extravagant use of money that did not seem to aid an understanding of justice.
Maybe it was the way that they talked about justice. There were certainly moments which rose to a level of lucidity that equipped me to seek and understand justice. But overall the conference did not match my expectations. I was expecting the conference to be primarily academic rather than evangelical.
The real moments of encounter and learning seemed to occur between my friends and me in our discussions: discussions of pointless fun, our personal stories, and the nature of justice. This is one facet of the story, but it is also important to talk about the other facets.
After all, spoken word is a legitimate method of communication, and who am I to criticize someone else’s passion? Many people in the audience were moved by the impressive music; to many, the music was for the glory of God. I did not feel at home at the conference in the way I felt comfort- able with the friends I came with. At the same time, there were multitudes of people who were at home at the conference. This discrepancy is something I think should be acknowledged.
What is the best way to pursue justice while embracing both the differences and the similarities in the particular traditions? That will be an important question for both Anabaptists and Evangelicals to address if they want to learn from each other.
Seth, a first-year from Pa., is reoccurringly lost, habitually curious, and always busy.