(Updated 2-24-12- SCHEDULE-Registration at Door info Justice Conference Schedule-Registration Info )
(Originally published Oregonian website blog Feb. 21, 2012 Oregonlive.com Justice Conference Story)
Ken Wytsma has been teaching classes on justice at Kilns College–School of Theology in Bend for years, and he has preached on the topic of justice at Antioch Church, where he is the founding lead pastor.
But last year he decided he wanted to take the topic of justice to the next level. Real life. “I had a desire to look beyond the text book definition of justice, to actually practicing it,” Wytsma said.
He invited speakers, fellow pastors, theologians, professors, and activists to join him in a conference format for a discussion on what it means to live out what they have preached on the topic of justice.
Wytsma simply called his gathering “The Justice Conference,” and it convened about 1000 people in Bend last February, with people attending from dozens of countries. It is now an annual event.
The second annual two-day Justice Conference
that starts Friday is an international two day event sponsored by World Relief and Kilns College bringing together 3500 men and women to discuss and dialogue on issues related to justice, a topic that is not just a passing fad.
This year’s venue for the Friday Feb. 24 and Saturday Feb. 25 event is the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, and will triple the number of the inaugural function. Attendees are streaming to the Rose City from 41 states and over eight international countries, including participants from Asia and Africa.
“It has taken off, the heartbeat of the conference has taken off,” said Wytsma. “It is passion. Justice. The heart of justice. The passion of justice.”
This year’s speakers include civil rights leader and author John M. Perkins
whose book Let Justice Roll Down discusses his return to, and ongoing ministry in, Mississippi, where his brother was murdered; Ben Cohen, founder of Ben & Jerry’s, who will join peace activist Shane Claiborne to discuss “Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream;” anti-sex trafficking advocate Rachel Lloyd, who was profiled by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times; Joshua DuBois, the Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Francis Chan, the best-selling author of Crazy Love; Richard Twiss, a
Native American educator, author and activist whose ministry, Wiconi International, is based out of Vancouver, Washington where he lives; and Portland’s Rick McKinley, founding pastor of Imago Dei Community.
Locally, Kevin Palau and the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association helped congregate 100 pastors to support and promote The Justice Conference. And, the City of Portland has offered a warm welcome, added Wytsma.
With The Justice Conference, he wanted to bring in the best theologians, professors, authors, and activists to dialogue on ‘What does it look like to life a just life? To “getting beyond justice as a cause” to looking at real life stories of “how people are making justice a lifestyle.
For example, how are individuals and groups dealing with the reality of sex trafficking, gangs, race tensions, poverty, gentrification, and immigration?
“It’s easy to call people illegal immigrants or prostitutes, but then we do not connect with their story,” Wytsma said. “When our empathy is not involved we do not see them on the same level.”
“What we are trying to do is connect people to the universal story, the deeper story, that is not just a craze, but something necessary that makes claims on us whether we realize it or not,” Wytsma believes. “Justice is universal, like truth, and is in play all the time.”
One of the local theologians invited, Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Theology & Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University, will moderate a panel discussion with leaders of diverse ethnic perspectives, focusing on gentrification and urban renewal.
“We have white justice issues, and justice issues of color. We all tend to pick and choose the justice issues that we find impacting our communities most dramatically,” Metzger said.
“My hope and prayer is that this conference is moving beyond such compartmentalization, toward a holistic framework for approaching the wide spectrum of issues that we should address as Christ-followers who seek to bear witness to Scripture’s call to be just in all our interactions.
He added, “Everyone is from the state of Missouri, the ‘Show-Me’ state. We need to ‘show’ the faith in which we believe to those who are cynical.”
One of those activists, John Canda, who is living this “Show-Me” life, is on Metzger’s panel. Canda’s “100 Men Campaign” in Portland challenges men to “just show up” in order to make a dent in the chronic gang issues of Portland.
Canda said that the congregating of 3000 people to discuss justice is, “extremely significant because after all, we are all in this together. To gather individuals from across the globe to offer their solutions to me is monumental.”
“Justice to me is the belief in, and the practice of, equality for everyone without regard to the color of their skin,” said Canda.
Wytsma appreciates the diversity of this year’s speaker line up. “Each of these speakers has a different but important take on the topic,” he said.
He is awestruck at the response, with the tripling of the numbers after just one year.
“It has been interesting to see how this thing is taking off. This topic of justice is bringing all these people together,” Wytsma said. “It is neat to see so many people care about justice. This is not a fashion thing, to hang on your Facebook page.”
(The Justice Conference takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25 at the Oregon Convention Center)
— Cornelia Seigneur: firstname.lastname@example.org