Print

Pittsburgh church to host simulcast of Philadelphia Justice Conference

Written by Ann Rodgers on .

The Northway Christian Community campus in Oakland will host a live simulcast of The Justice Conference, a national evangelical gathering devoted to reintegrating concern for social justice back into the evangelical worldview.
The main conference is expected to draw 5,000 people from across the nation to Philadelphia Feb. 22-24, 2013. The simulcast, which won’t include the pre-conference or a post-conference film festival, will run Friday Feb. 22 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday Feb. 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:35 p.m.. Registration for the simulcast costs $99.
For much of its history evangelicalism had a strong social justice stream, providing leadership for the anti-slavery movement, efforts to end child labor and other causes. But for a variety of reasons in the late 19th century a rift opened with the more theologically liberal “social gospel” movement and new strains of evangelicalism that focused more on the hereafter than the here and now. Since World War II many evangelical groups have worked at mending this breach, including the Lausanne movement on the global scale and Evangelicals for Social Action in the United States. Countless evangelical organizations have been founded to promote environmentalism, oppose human trafficking and promote other human rights causes.
But the Rev. Ken Wytsma, 40, a pastor and social entrepreneur from Bend, Ore., saw a need to bring these groups together in search of a common theological grounding to undergird their work. The Philadelphia conference will be the third. Last year’s drew 4,000 participants to Portland, Ore., from 44 states and two dozen nations.
The conference isn't about promoting any one cause, although 200 groups will bring their agendas to the exhibit area.
“I wanted the rallying point to be a conversation about justice, a theology of justice, not just hyping people up about causes. We want people to see that justice is rooted in the character of God,” he said. “People come expecting to find a cause. What they end up with is a paradigm shift. They have been changed.”
Speakers range from longtime evangelical stalwarts such as John Perkins, who has been promoting racial reconciliation for decades, to emerging leaders such as the Rev. Eugene Cho, who pastors a multi-cultural church in Seattle.
His own convictions were rooted in childhood when his parents, who survived Nazi-occupied Holland and came as refugees to post-war America, decided to help a refugee family that had survived the Cambodian genocide. It left him with strong convictions about opposing evil systems and helping the poor. But when he eventually did graduate studies at the Talbot School of Theology, a mainstream evangelical school, he found many students suspicious of any kind of social activism.
“They treated it as suspect, as a form of the social gospel,” he said.
His ministry emphasizes the a biblical focus on justice for the poor.
Two hot button topics that aren’t emphasized at The Justice Conference are abortion and gay rights.
Many younger evangelicals belief that abortion is wrong but are burned out with a polarizing poltical approach to the problem, he said.
“Abortion is a justice issue, but its one of a myriad of issues. We don’t avoid it, but it’s not an abortion conference,” he said.
Gay rights, he said, are such a complex topic for evangelicals to work through that any short statements on the subject are open to misinterpretation from all sides.
“Its a rapidly changing conversation. Whether Christians want to have that conversation or not, they have to learn to interact, not just react,” he said. “It’s not up-down, left-right. It’s a lot more complex, and the major framework we have to start with is one of love.”

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.