Do you know what I want?Amos 5:24 MSG
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
I was recently honoured to be part of the We Are Tearfund team at The Justice Conference as a reporter. I was looking forward to it for ages – and boy it did not disappoint! The Justice Conference is a worldwide movement hosted in seven countries encouraging everyday Christians to pursue everyday justice. The kind of justice that is an integral part of discipleship; both on our doorsteps and across the continents.
Hosted in the Drum Conference centre in Wembley Park, it’s one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the UK. This is very typical of the Justice Conference. They don’t just preach and teach on justice, but actively live it out – even to the location and registration wristbands. It’s definitely the first time I’ve had a ticket that was both compostable and could be used to plant seeds.
An honest conversation
Something that both surprised and challenged me was the focus on race relations both inside and outside of the church. This was demonstrated by the brilliant representation of speakers, musicians and contributors from all walks of life, with all kinds of experiences to draw upon. Now, I’ve grown up in the church and it’s been a massive part of my life for as long as I can remember. But this was actually the first time I heard conversations of race being preached from pulpit (so to speak).
For me, this is both hugely radical and necessary. I’m lucky to be a part of two diverse churches at home and uni, yet I still don’t think we give it enough airtime. Far too often the only person we hear preaching the word is a white, middle-aged man. And while that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, does it really represent the broad and beautiful tapestry of the global church today?
Racial issues exist as they are interwoven into our structural foundations as a nation, and racism is far from over when we consider the wide and thriving disparities of inequality. It exists within our churches and our communities. The speakers were upfront and honest about their experiences, and I’ve felt so challenged by their courage and conviction to talk on these issues. The fact that there were over forty contributors spread out over the two days, highlights their efforts to stay true to their values of diversity, inclusion and equality. I love it.*
Bridging the ‘gap’
Something that I wrongly didn’t expect was the sheer number of older generations present throughout. I’m a uni student, and I live in this weird student bubble of twenty-something’s studying and living with only one another. So our interaction with the outside world can be somewhat limited.
Even as we pursue social justice together, this can result in the narrative that justice is upheld only by young people and possibly millennials at a push. And there is a lot of value in the leadership of young people. Possibly one of the most well-known public figures, Greta Thunberg is just sixteen, and the recent movement of Extinction Rebellion is flooded with younger supporters.
But I was forced to rethink these preconceptions. In a world surrounded by division, boundaries and borders, this process of ‘othering’ can creep into Christian circles. Even recently, Brexit is a good example of a perceived generation gap in how we think. But actually, this ‘gap’ is not Biblical nor a value we should continue.
Chatting to attendees about their lives and work in ministry left me humbled at how much I have to learn. Some of these people have been running food banks, homeless shelters, prison work and charities for longer than I’ve been alive! Perhaps it’s time we both sat down to discuss how we see social justice – and to listen to each other. It could change the game.
*For more on this, I highly recommend Ben Lindsay’s book – We Need to Talk About Race