The annual JUSTICE Conference (@thejusticeconf) (#Justice17) rests on the belief that “true life is found when we give our lives away on behalf of others.” The motivation of the conference is a “theology of justice”—the idea that an understanding of God should compel love for others and engagement in social justice issues.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog posts, God’s Justice Bible at The Justice Conference and God’s Justice: The Holy Bible—An Interview with Tim Stafford]
Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other. Zechariah 7:9-10 (NIV)
What is the JUSTICE conference and why do people attend it?
Mark Reddy: The JUSTICE Conference is an annual conference held each year in Chicago. Since its beginning in Bend, Oregon in 2010, the driving force of the conference has always been a “theology of justice,” which is the belief that an understanding of God should compel love for others and engagement in social justice issues.
Attendees of The JUSTICE Conference range from professional justice practitioners to church leaders seeking to lead and guide their compassion and justice teams, to anyone seeking to understand how their faith compels an engagement with the world around us.
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18 (NIV)
To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3 (NIV)
How does the conference theme of “Love Thy Neighbor” integrate with current events in the news?
Mark Reddy: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love thy neighbor as yourself. ‘There is no commandment greater than these.” — Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)
We live in complex and challenging times. Globally the threats of terrorism, violence, and environmental challenges continue to shadow our world. Locally, cultural divisions are being exploited for political advantage, whilst poverty and systemic injustice continue to lead to widening equity gaps within our society.
But Jesus’ message—love thy neighbor—is still our greatest call to worship and justice. When we thoughtfully examine the statement “love thy neighbor,” we’re compelled to ask “who is my neighbor?”. This question is often met with hostility and justifications, but if we’re to truly follow the example of Jesus, we must confront the uncomfortable reality of loving all God’s children—all made in the image of God.
The thread of each conversation at the JUSTICE Conference is within the context of a theology of justice that calls followers of Christ into a more intentional lifestyle of ‘living justly’ as we seek to live out our faith and be disciples of Jesus.
We believe that this theme could not be more timely as we answer the question the expert in the law asked 2000 years ago: well, who is my neighbor? And how do we practically and tangibly live out Jesus’ command to love, especially in a climate dominated by fear and a desire to protect and demand our rights.
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)
How is justice at the heart of the message of the Bible?
Mark Reddy: To quote Tim Stafford, editor of NIV God’s Justice (Zondervan, 2016): “He (God) loves the world, and he has every intention of redeeming every part of it. That is the very definition of God’s justice…It has never been God’s intention to simply save souls, and let the world he made and loves fall to pieces. He wants to redeem everything, and he calls his image-bearers to be forgiven and transformed in order that they might play a crucial role in redeeming everything he loves. God’s justice restores the vital connection of spiritual transformation to the world.”
This is my command: Love each other. John 15:17 (NIV)
What is a “theology of justice”?
Mark Reddy: Our theology determines our belief system when it comes to how we understand God as the Bible reveals him, and it also determines how we make sense of the way we engage with the world in which we live—and if we live according to our theology, our beliefs will dictate our actions.
We believe that a theology of justice commands that we study God through the lens of his heart for the vulnerable and marginalized and allow that understanding to determine the way in which we in turn live out our lives.
Throughout the Bible, justice is mentioned over and over again, and doing justice is a clear command from God to his followers. Micah 6:8 says that the Lord requires that we act justly and love mercy. When we see the thread of justice throughout the Bible, we’ll see God’s heart for it—and we’ll see our responsibility to actively engage in justice. Isaiah 1 tells us that our worship is meaningless and that we need to “learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
When Jesus returned from the temptation in the wilderness, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
If justice was this important to Jesus, so must it be for us.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8 (NIV)
The conference intends to “disrupt broken thinking.” What do you mean?
Mark Reddy: In Isaiah 58, God brings the challenge that our worship of him amounts to nothing if we don’t respond to injustice and those in need. The people are rebuked for their fasting, their worship, the ways that they seek God and ask his advice, then ignore what he says. We, too, can get so caught up in doing things that we’ve always done—in seeing things the way that we’ve always seen them—that we miss what God is so clearly telling us.
We believe it’s so important to listen to voices that are different to us, that provide different perspectives to the ones we’re used to. Our intention is to offer a different filter through which our attendees can view the world; to see other perspectives than our own and to learn from those who we may not otherwise have the chance to hear.
Often our exposure to only one, or a limited, narrative limits the way we see God and the way in which we engage the world. We’re seeking to expand our view of God and the gospel, and not limit God to the boxes we so often put him in. We firmly believe that this is done through really listening to one another and learning from those who are different to us, rather than remaining in our own tribes or living in echo chambers.
Do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV)
Working to solve culturally entrenched unjust situations seems like a daunting and impossible goal. What do you say to Christians who are ready to give up before they begin?
Mark Reddy: Jesus calls his followers to take up their cross and follow him, and we need to do that daily; and we need to do that together. Entrenched unjust systems are daunting, and the desire to give up is real. I’m reminded of a post that one of our upcoming speakers, Christena Cleveland, wrote some months ago on the privilege of hopelessness. Having the option to give up means that we’re beginning from a place of privilege and we have an even greater responsibility to engage in the systemic injustice around us. We believe that having an understanding of privilege and what to do with it is essential to an understanding of justice.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 1 Peter 1:22 (NIV)
How should Christians rely on the Bible to go beyond “hashtag slacktivism” to make a difference in their everyday lives?
Mark Reddy: Again, I’d return to Isaiah 58 where we’re reminded that we must engage in issues of justice because our faith compels us to; because the Word of God compels us to. When we engage in issues from this standpoint, “hashtag slacktivism” will not be enough. The deeper our understanding of the Bible, the greater our commitment to the flourishing of others should be.
The Bible should compel us to sacrifice that which we need to sacrifice and extend our love to our neighbor—this should outwork itself each day with every person we encounter, be it our literal neighbor living next door, the refugee fleeing terror on the other side of the world, the poor in our own city, or the person whose faith we cannot understand. It’s a journey and God graciously gives us new mercies every morning.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Bio: Originally from Sydney, Australia, Mark Reddy is a strategic thinker and cultural innovator with nearly two decades spent honing his craft of storytelling, casting vision and leading highly capable teams within various organizations including: Christian Media & Arts Australia, The Australian Christian Channel, Hillsong, Parachute Music, Easterfest, Compassion (Australia), CBM, Open Doors, Opportunity International, Hope Rwanda, Bible Society, Samaritans Purse, and others. He and his wife Vickie, are the founders of SPARC, a community of artists & creatives at the intersection of art, faith & culture. Mark is the Executive Director of The JUSTICE Conference and serves as senior vice-president of brand at World Relief USA. He lives in Chicago with his wife Vickie and their two daughters.
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