Justice Conference Day 1 liveblog

Justice Conference Day 1 liveblog

I am going to attempt to liveblog the sessions I am in today – so that I remember them, fight off the jet lag, and hopefully help you to connect with the justice conference where ever you are… please forgive the typos and the fact that things might not flow that easily when reading… enjoy!

So here we are in a ballroom in the prestigious Biltmore Millenium Hotel in downtown LA. The first session I am attending  is going to be lead by Alexia Salvatiera and Peter Heltzel both from New York.

Faith-rooted Organising and Biblically Based Public Policy Advocacy

Alexia is Luthercostal – a pastor from the Lutheran tradition who came to faith during the Jesus movement.

Peter is a pastor in New York and a theologian.

Time to quote Micah 6:8 ( we might be able to play Justice bible text bingo today…).

We are good at loving mercy as a church but we are not too good at doing justice.

We are not good at connecting justice and the gospel. We are especially confused when we get into the fuzzy areas of public policy. The way we do justice and advocacy is not congruent with our Christian faith.  Hence this seminar will explain how and why we do justice.

  • Organising is bringing people together to create systemic change.

  • Advocacy is a tool of organising influencing public decision-making.

Young people when they get involved in organising made it open source through social media. So this seminar is continually changing.  [ Alexia describes herself as “an Organic theologian.” ]

Peter leads everyone in a song of “I am going to lay down my burden… down by the riverside.”

The theologian foundations of the community organising comes from slave religion. It was down by the riverside they were able to conspire for the kingdom of God. It was postcolonial basis of prophetic Christian religion – abolitionism, civil rights movement etc.  Theologically how does our faith allow us to be unique in the way that we organise. In contrast to traditional community organising that emphasises self interest. Instead of looking for the winnable battles – lets make sure we are in the right fight.  We have moved from an emphasis on justice to justice – we should see the fruit of justification is justice.

If you give someone a fish you feed them for a day
– this is called direct service.
if you teach them to fish you feed them for life
– this is called community development.
if you take down the wall that stops them getting to the river
– this is called 
Organising and Advocacy –

We will explore two different approaches to power

Serpent Power – Luke 18:1-8

– the widow that nags the judge into doing what she wants.

– it is an important way of working and is the normal way of doing advocacy.

– but we the church bring something unique to advocacy…

“The 13th rule: Pick the target, freeze it, personalise it and polarise it” Alinski – the godfather of community organising.

Christian community organising cannot take this approach as it encourages division rather than unity and death (shooting) rather than life.  We should see people as human rather than as targets.

We need Dove Power – 2 Samuel 12:1-13

– we need to understand Spiritual power  – on Easter Sunday during Apartheid Bishop Desmond Tutu was preaching and the government sent in armed soldiers to stop him from preaching against apartheid. When they stormed the building he started laughing and  invited the soldiers to join the party now because God is going to win the battle for justice so they might as well join in now.

We need to make sure that we are not atheist in the way we do public policy work. We need to be prophetic.

We follow the prophetic tradition because we need to remember the poor. We are part of a dismembered body as a church – we need to remember the poor – bring them physically or through story into the conversation.

Alexia shares a story from the peace process she was involved which took the form of dream sharing.

1. Bring two polarised groups into the same room.
2. Ask each group to share their dreams for the city.
3. Be surprised by the fact that both groups most likely want the same dream.
4. Find a way to collaborate to make that dream take place.

right second session coming up:


 Ken Wystma: The Gospel and Justice

Most people say that justice is an important part of the Christian faith. But there is now a pushback from the response to justice movement. Justice is OK we need to be careful that we don’t get distracted from the main thing which is the gospel. But this sets up a false dichotomy that is unhelpful.

Part of the problem is that we have defined justice solely in terms of ethics. As a result justice is seen to be the parallel of “works” – the good stuff Christians do that don’t earn our salvation.  Works are already pitted in opposition to the gospel. If we don’t define justice at the beginning it is already put outside of the sphere of the gospel.

Going to do the definitions up front as a faulty definition has important consequences.

What is justice?

Justice is about right relationship between God, Self, Others and Creation. (You might want to check out this book). Just laws and structures allow for things to be in their right relationships. Justice and righteousness are synonyms for each other.

Isaiah 59:14

So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
15 Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

Truth is a universal concept that defines reality for us. Truth is true all the time – the correspondence theory of truth.

If truth corresponds to what is.
Justice corresponds to what ought to be.

Primary justice is the way things were in the Garden.
Restorative justice involves activities that bring us back to the way things were meant to be.

In the garden things were just and straight.
Sin bends things.
Restorative justice works to unbend things.

Most people think of criminal justice – law, order and court rooms. We right wrongs by punishing the wrong doers. The other way we think about justice is charity – we see a lack and then seek to meet it. We don’t think enough about primary justice – the way in which things were meant to be. Wystma refers to Nicholas Wolterstorf for some of these definitions.

Wystma argues that it is better for us, a more appropriate way for us to be human that we find our best life. We were made for others centred, self giving love we are in alignment with what God intended for us and our flourishing. Justice has an epistemic element.

Jeremiah 22:15-17

“Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
and on oppression and extortion.”

This is social justice – a word that has been abused. It just means justice in society.  This is what it means to know God – to be concerned about the needy.

Back to Isaiah 59:15-17

The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
    and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
    and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

The incarnation is the right arm of God breaking into the world to bring restorative justice for God’s own creation.

The life of Jesus demonstrates the justice of God putting things back the way they were supposed to be.
The death of Jesus demonstrates the justice of God when he quotes Psalm 22. In this moment of suffering I am still the person that it prophecies.
The resurrection of Jesus (John 21) focusses on the mission of Jesus to bring peace into the world.

[This is pretty dense stuff – it could just be my jet lag with some pretty straight Bible teaching – uninterrupted by stories or illustrations. Wondering about the theology of education and transformation at play in the conference design. ]

When Jesus dies for our sins – the heavens shook, the earth broke and in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. The altar is the place where sins were atoned for on a regular basis. Eventually you get the Holy of Holies the separation between the holiness an purity of God and fallen human people. The altar was always a way to mend a relationship. Hence the tearing of the curtain when Jesus died. We are reconciled with God.

When confronted by people who argue that justice is not an important part of the Christian faith.

The gospel is about how unjust people can  be next to a just god as if we are just, through a process of justification, whereby we are justified. but it has nothing to do with justice. 

It’s not a choice between Jesus or Justice. Its a category mistake: Substances have properties.
Properties are things that substances have.

Some properties are essential to our identity.
Jesus is the justice of God come to earth, if we stand against him and his plans we are against God himself. Justice is a defining feature of God. It is an essential characteristic. There has never been a place or time where you had Jesus and you did not also have justice.

Next stop seminar 3…

Social Justice and Consumerism
Hans E Tokse


How do we do social justice in consumer society.

Kuttner (1997) Everything for Sale.

How do justice workers respond to the onslaught of consumerism. In a world where people are quick to wear the cool social justice T-shirt and instagraming it – how do we respond?

– The background of consumer society

3 days after 9/11 president Bush said “We have to get everyone back to shop.”  This prompted a question “What is the essence of a country?” For example how come Turkey has not had a fundamentalist muslim government especially when in so many turkish coffee shops  the conversation is all about the military. Perhaps in the US the new civil religion is sports? No, the essence of America is money – its the economy stupid. Bush was right – 70% of the US economy is based on going to the mall.

The freedom to shop comes from the Bonne Marche in Paris. It allowed women to go and shop rather than the men who used to do it all.  New social etiquette developed:
Opening a door for a woman?
Holding the arm of a woman as you take her shopping

In the book the Consumer Republic argues this consumerism became part of life in the post war era. The factories ramped up to produce war machines now is turned into consumer goods.

The most important shift in US society was made by the washing machine – it turned an 8 hour job into an automated one. The soap opera was developed to meet this new amount of time.

I no longer know what I need. Need was corrupted by desire.
What was the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism becomes the secular ethic and the spirit of capitalism.

[ This is a little rambly and difficult to follow] – What constitutes the consumer society

In the book Paradox of Choice it is argued that  because you cannot create more unique products you create more choice – Whole Milk, Half and Half, Organic Milk, Fair trade Milk, Chocolate milk. With the overabundance of choice we don’t choose we get confused. I don’t really know what I want.

1. Conspicuous Consumption

Power for the purpose of display.
Buying brands we show we can afford what others can’t afford.
Hannah Arendt talks about Snobvalue -I could do something that other people are not able to.
Entertainment -society is looking for spectacle and experiences.
Christopher Lash the culture of Narcism describes how americans have become self-absorbed me-ists. We want therapists and gurus to make sure we feel good about ourselves.

Brightsidedness – a term from the author of the book “Nickels and Dimes.” a sociologist invaded the cancer support groups and noticed how only good news stories were told about remissions.

Planned Obsolences- we make something deliberately to make things redundant.

We have a christian model of benevolence and social justice for the poor. Doing right in the sight of God is dependent on giving to the poor. How we treat the poor is a reflection on the civility of any society. Poverty ministry can develop an Us and Them dichotomy. American civil society is driven by Us rather than them.

– How has consumer society created a justice brand

There are some people who wear justice T-shirts because it is cool rather than because it is who they are. Do I wear the justice brand when I do my works for the poor? Does caring for the poor become an add on to my life? Occupy the brand was made by Ad Busters. Occupy was a branded protest.

Conspicuous Consumption – the branded T-shirt
Snob value – I have a T-shirt that you don’t have.
Entertainment – justice work is fun and brings a good feeling.
Culture of Narcissism – justice makes me feel good about myself.
Brightsidedness – everything is positive, all is good – we cover up the bad.

“There are many things that can only be seen through the eyes of those who have cried” Oscar Romero @Justice2014Live
21/02/2014 12:04

Eugene Cho

Cho is the founder of One Day’s Wages and the founding pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. Cho explains his job is to put us off from starting new things.

Nehemiah 1

Cho argues that we like Nehemiah have been spoken to by God.


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