Well, it’s been a busy week since our Justice Conference Simulcast (Feb. 21 & 22) and I’ve finally got a chance to sit down and process a bit.
My first thought was that it was a great and worthwhile thing to do. I find myself thankful to my church leadership for allowing us the opportunity to host the event. These things can be taxing on staff, facilities, budget and I’m grateful that during a time when we are already stretched, that we found the conversation of justice worth doing.
My second thought is that I am still reeling from all the positive responses from those that came. Frankly, I am just not used to the justice conversation getting so much positive feedback. Rather, I am used to mostly sincere people asking, “What about the gospel? Is that not more important?” And I’m used to saying something like, “The gospel is about justice, as we see in Scripture, we cannot actually split the two.”
Then there are my own thoughts. I was emceeing our time so I did miss some parts (I’d be grateful if anyone shared their notes with me.) But I have a few highlights – two specific that I’d like to share in this post.
One was during our Pre-Conference Workshops. We were fortunate to have some really amazing local organizations present on topics that included fistula, micro-financing, clean water, China’s “One Child Policy” and many more. One workshop I attended was led by Bonnie Gatchell founder of Route One Ministries. Their mission “is to minister to women exploited by the sex industry on the North Shore and around Boston.”
She started her presentation by not only warning us that she would be using some awkward words in relation to the sex-industry but she also helped break the tension by having us repeat back to her words like “stripper,” “pimp,” ”sexy” and a few others. Nothing like a bunch of church types saying “topless” at the same time.
The room relaxed and no one left (although if life were a perfect comedy one of our elders would have chosen to walk in the door at that exact moment). But the reality is that if you are a church type and chose to come to this event and its pre-conferences, your real fear is that the church will be silent on issues like trafficking.
As Bonnie led us through the Scriptural imperatives of human dignity, freedom, loving the other, caring for the forgotten and bondaged, the room grew more invested. Then we heard about how these women had to rent their lockers at the clubs, how some were forced to do more than dance, how some fell into this trap, how some were relocated, how some felt hopeless, how some became no longer among us.
It’s difficult to recreate the context but I tell you I witnessed a moment of a few people realizing that many strippers are forced into this life. Yes, some choose to strip but many are forced through the most evil of tactics including outright deception, manipulation, drugs, deceit, shame and promises that will never be realized. And therefore some are looking for help to get out of this life.
This ministry is a group of women that literally go to strip clubs, engage with those being exploited, see what they can do for them (every situation is different), and ultimately hoping they can be freed from this form of trafficking. That was one of a few moments during the Pre-Conferences that I find myself thinking about. Another was during the simulcast that took place that evening and all day Saturday.
One of the presentations that many of us are still talking about was from Bryan Stevenson who is human rights lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Inniative and he is talking about the need for reform in our prison system, specifically for the sake of minority groups. I first heard him speak at Q Washington DC (“Is Our Justice System Just?”) and found his words moving then as he is a very talented speaker. But after this presentation at the simulcast, I find his message seeping through my heart a bit more. We all know this is a sensitive subject and a lot of terrible things have been said from all sides but the question Bryan keeps making me ask is, “As a Christ-follower, is justice being done here?”
When I hear the words “prison reform,” I tend to think that’s probably a good thing but if I were honest, I’m hesitant to consider it a priority in a world filled with children dying of preventable diseases, young women and boys being trafficked, babies being aborted, and a host of other grave injustices. I’m realizing more so that those on death row are certainly among the “least of these,” and I’m bothered more and more that the poor, the mentally ill and those from other populations do not often get fair treatment in our justice system. Though I still want the guilty to be convicted, we need to do this justly.
Jesus taught us to care for the widows, orphans and visit those in prison and while I can create a lengthy rationalization of how the latter does not quite equate to the former, I’m still coming to the conclusion that doing two out of three is not enough. I find myself wondering what’s next here.
So when it comes to the social justice conversation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, guilt-ridden and put up your walls. You can’t do everything. BUT we can do all more and we can all do a better job at what we’re doing. These are worthwhile moments for me and contribute to why I’m grateful for access to these types of conversations.
I have a couple other posts in the mix here, one is on the experience of watching a simulcast, the other is what comes to mind when N.T. Wright said, “If it’s real, it’s local.” If you attended, feel free to share your thoughts. If you didn’t attend, videos will be posted on The Justice Conference site but feel free to respond too.