(Photo: Twitter/Tim Ghali)
The third annual Justice Conference drawing attendees from nearly every state and dozens of countries around the world is officially underway this weekend in Philadelphia, where Christian organizers and speakers hope to promote discussion about social justice issues and equip participants to engage those areas theologically.
"The Justice Conference is interesting [because] we're not really cause-based, we really try and have a conversation about justice ... the theology of justice with the idea that hopefully, being able to speak to that and help people as they go into different causes, they're going to be able to do that from a different perspective," Ken Wytsma, who helped found The Justice Conference in 2010, told The Christian Post via phone Friday.
Wytsma is also a creative adviser for World Relief, president of Kilns College School of Theology and Mission in Oregon, and lead pastor of Antioch Church.
"There'll be topics presented from creation to sex trafficking," he told CP of the subjects the 2013 conference would highlight, adding that there would be no single issue emphasized other than helping attendees engage justice within a biblical framework. Wytsma believes an understanding of God should compel love for others and engagement in justice, according to a statement on the conference website, which adds that "true life is found when we give our lives away on behalf of others."
Among conference and pre-conference speakers are Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church who works to raise awareness about the civil war in the Congo, Quest Church Pastor Eugene Cho whose One Days' Wages nonprofit combats global poverty, and prominent social activist Shane Claiborne who helps lead The Simple Way in Philadelphia. Several musical and performing artists will also be in attendance.
Running through Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, The Justice Conference 2013 is also being simulcast for the first time at 17 national locations. Additionally, a film festival is making its debut this year, with Grammy nominee Michael Gungor and Joshua DuBois, former executive director of the White House's faith-based office, and others serving as judges for best long form, short form and justice films.
"We have a film festival that's birthing this year around the conference, The Justice Film Festival," Wytsma explained. "[It's] like a Sundance-style film festival that's going on concurrent with and around the conference itself."
Wytsma said he was expecting 4,000 to attend this year's conference in Philadelphia while another few thousand were expected to watch via simulcast.
"It's a pretty diverse mix because people are coming from all across the country and internationally as well," he explained when asked about Friday's turnout. "I would say if there was a dominant demographic ... younger folks, students, grad students, motivated 20-somethings would probably be the largest percentage, but it's a pretty broad demographic."
As for the impact The Justice Conference organizers hope to have this year, Wytsma said, "Life change would be the real idea so that people go away knowing what justice is and wanting to figure out what that looks like in daily life."
"We're really hoping that people would find this a transformative event, kind of a paradigm-altering event [that enables them] to engage deeper in justice, and do that from a theological standpoint," he added.
More information about this year's Justice Conference can be found on the event website.