I didn’t want to go to The Justice Conference. You can ask my roommates, I complained about it from the time I signed up until Multnomah asked me to write about it here on Deeper Church and said they’d comp my registration. So, you know, my attendance was motivated by a passion for a free ticket, not justice. Go me.
Before you go thinking I’m some horrible person who thinks injustice should be celebrated or that injustice is the cause for which we need to work, let me state very clearly I believe that if you are a Christian you are required to be passionate about and to work for God’s justice lived out here and now on earth. The problem I had with the Justice Conference was that I didn’t think a conference was the way to go about promoting justice. I didn’t want to sit around for two days and listen to people tell me how I wasn’t doing enough or how great all their accomplishments were and how great it made them feel about themselves. It was also a class assignment, which meant I didn’t even get to decide if I wanted to go. I just had to (Hashtag control issues).
But isn’t that the way we discover the injustices that infuriate us? Isn’t that the way we decide we must work to see God’s justice made real in a particular region of the world, or in a certain issue area? We don’t really decide that we want to work for justice, at least not at first. That issue area just grabs us and won’t let us go. God’s heart for His children grabs us and He will not let us go.
I attended both the pre-conference sessions here in Portland, and then watched the simulcast of the main conference. The pre-conference sessions in Portland were incredible. Each session was packed with amazing speakers, and each speaker shared the ways they were doing justice in Portland and throughout Oregon, and even a few other states as well.
I learned about The Cupcake Girls (more on them later) and their work to love and support women in the adult entertainment industry in both Las Vegas and Portland. I went to two different sessions on the foster care system in Oregon, learning about the challenges, heartbreak, love, and joy that come regardless of what role you play in the system. The Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) session was all about their work to combat sexual assault against young adults, and the ways they seek to empower those same young adults. The day ended with a session on a Christian response to homosexuality, which isn’t as complicated as we try to make it.
These sessions were incredible. I have no doubt that the other twenty sessions I was unable to attend were equally amazing, that those presenters were equally passionate about seeing justice done in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.
I spent Friday’s lunch break with Joy Hoover and Briana McDonald. We got burgers and we talked cupcakes, or rather The Cupcake Girls. It is an organization that was born when Joy, during a Las Vegas vacation with her husband, learned more about the adult entertainment industry. She felt like she had to do something, so the very next day, she walked into a Vegas strip club carrying a box of cupcakes, and began to talk to the women working there.
Fast forward three years, and that one box of cupcakes on a vacation in Vegas has turned into a non-profit that seeks to offer love, support, and the occasional cupcake to women in the adult entertainment world. They host spa days, bring cupcakes and flowers, throw baby and wedding showers, and simply love these women. Beyond that, they have support groups, offer medical and dental services, and even help women move if and when they decide they’re ready to leave. But the purpose, Joy and Bri pointed out to me, is not to convince the women they befriend to leave. The purpose is to love them, and to keep loving them.
It seems small. It seems like it’s not enough. For a fixer like me it seems like they’re lacking an end goal. But then Joy tells stories of the women she’s befriended, and I realize quickly that loving the women in the clubs and brothels they visit is a radical act. Just love. Love without expectation. Love that consistently shows up, whether it is with cupcakes, a visit to the doctor, a rose, or a listening ear. Love that follows through and says, “You are valuable simply because you exist.”
What encouraged me the most, what stuck out to me the most was the relational, community-oriented approach to justice that was advocated throughout the pre-conference and the main conference. There was a recognition that, while God inclines each of our hearts individually to different injustices, the most effective way to bring His justice into those places and situations is in community and into the communities. Not to be the rescuers, but to come in as bearers of the love and grace of God, lived out in the manner of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that those experiencing poverty, slavery, incarceration, abuse, and any number of other injustices, might be empowered and not simply rescued.
Because I am not strong enough to rescue anyone. We are not strong enough to rescue all those who need rescuing. I cannot be trusted with the power it gives me to be seen as rescuer. We are not to be trusted with the power that comes with being the rescuer. And to offer rescue alone transfers power from the oppressor to the rescuers rather than to those who have been oppressed.
The only one trustworthy enough and strong enough to be the rescuer is the same one who already rescued me, who has rescued all those who believe in and confess Christ as Lord. Only God can rescue the oppressed. Only God can rescue us.
When we go out to worship God through our fight against the injustice that has so comfortably settled into every corner of the world, let us remember that it is God who rescues. Let us remember that God’s justice works differently. Let us remember that we are just as much in need of rescue as those to whom God has turned our hearts. Let our mission instead be love. Let our mission instead be to listen well and to learn from those who have been oppressed. Let our mission go forward with God always at the center of all we do. Let our mission be that the world would know the love of the Father through the face of the Son poured out by the Spirit.