Getting involved in solving social ills should be an essential part of the Christian community, not an optional extra. That was the resounding message heard by 4,000 people at the Justice Conference this past weekend.
The second annual Justice Conference, a two–day event to promote dialogue about issues such as human trafficking, slavery, poverty, HIV/AIDS and human rights was held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore. Speakers including an all-star lineup of leaders fighting for social causes were joined by representatives of 100 organizations to challenge attendees to integrate action into their faith, event organizers said.
Don Golden, who works at World Relief, which was a co-sponsor of the Justice Conference, told The Christian Post the event was about more than just bringing about awareness to today's problems.
"It's a deepening of the foundations of social action especially from a solid evangelical and Christ-following perspective," he said. "There are many practical things [presented at the conference], but there was one idea that kept coming through and it was this whole idea of really bringing the Gospel to bear to the Church; that following Jesus necessitates putting things right, right relationships particularly among the most vulnerable, the forgotten, the voiceless.
"That the essence of Christ's practical ministry, the way he lived is essential to the way of Jesus and that the followers of Jesus can't look at service to the weak and vulnerable as optional extra, but rather as an essential part of the Christian Gospel.
"You could hear that (message) coming from every speaker," he said.
Golden said World Relief's goal at the conference was to help evangelicals, especially those having thoughts that engagement in social issues "could be a slippery slope towards the social Gospel," see the biblical mandate for doing so.
"We want to bring very strong biblical reflection and confidence to that group. We want to also bring those, such as young people who are used to engaging in social issues, with not only a strong theological foundation, but also a foundation of good quality development," he explained.
Justice Conference founder Ken Wytsma said although next year's conference is already planned for Philadelphia, he is still unsure how this year's event will manifest itself during the coming year.
"I see the conference not as an end to a means, but a means. I think it is a mechanism for God to stir the pot and catalyze a lot of things from His end that we might not have recognized going into the conference," Wytsma said.
"The conference is really trying to say something about a theology of justice. It's something that we are hemmed into and it is a theological necessity. Justice operates in all spheres of life and our relationships need to be in right order with God and our neighbor," he explained.
Wytsma said he was certain that putting a priority on building a foundation for social justice by asking for God's help produced a favorable climate for the event.
"So many people sensed God's hand on it. Maybe this conference can be a catalyst for change. That's all we were really hoping for it," he said.
The Feb. 24-25 conference featured such speakers as best-selling author Francis Chan; Walter Brueggemann, the world's most important Old Testament scholar; American civil rights activisit John M. Perkins; and Reebok Human Rights Award winner Rachel Lloyd.