The Justice Conference, Part 5: Justice Isn’t Sexy, But It’s Beautiful
This piece was originally published at Patheos on February 25, 2013.
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Is justice the latest Evangelical church growth technique or tool? Do people find it sexy and cool to be associated with justice issues? Is the justice movement a fad or is it truly long-lasting? We need to guard against cynicism on the one hand and a superficial approach to justice on the other hand. I hold out hope for this new justice movement to the extent that we build on the shoulders of Jesus and righteous elders who have gone before us. Their just lives are not sexy, but they are beautiful.
One of the most memorable moments from The Justice Conference in Portland last year was the opening prayer given by my friend and mentor, African American pastor Dr. LeRoy Haynes, Jr. Dr. Haynes opened the conference with a prayer that opened the heavens and my heart. He has given his life to fighting injustices and for bearing witness to Jesus’ justice revolution, as he untiringly addresses systemic racism and poverty in our society today. His story may not be known in many Evangelical circles, but it is by no means a passing fad. He had marched with Dr. King and had been imprisoned during the civil rights movement. As a youth, he would go to jail for civil rights protests on Fridays and get out in time for classes on Mondays. Now an elderly man, he’s still engaged in the march for justice. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon race for him.
Dr. John M. Perkins has also given his life for justice. Years ago, I heard my friend and mentor share a significant snapshot of his life story of struggling for justice in the face of the demonic forces of racism and poverty to a very diverse audience at a secular university. After his talk, as people mingled in the lobby, I heard one young man say to a friend, “When Christianity is lived out that way, it’s better than sex.” A just life isn’t sexy, but it is beautiful.
At the close of this year’s Justice Conference in Philadelphia, Lynn Hybels exhorted all of us gathered for the event to build on the work of those who have gone before us, like Dr. Perkins. She graciously warned us to move forward with humility and fear and trembling, as we spend our lives in identifying with those on the margins. She asked Dr. Perkins to share closing words and then pray for everyone gathered at the conference. As the elderly African American saint prayed, he poured the love and passion of his deep soul into the auditorium. More than mere words, he prayed with his life blood that we would go forward and even lead the way. To do so, we will need to have the same perspective and live the same kind of life that he has lived: walking the talk and speaking and living with the authority of obeying Jesus in caring for those in the margins from the margins over many years. If we do, we can be assured that our just lives and justice movement will endure long after it has lost its seeming sex appeal. Only then will we experience how beautiful justice really is.