Fort Worth, Texas: I attended a terrific conference this weekend on the theme of Micah 6:8–“God has revealed what is required us: to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” The highlight for me was hearing Shane Claiborne talk to social justice types who specialize in confronting sytemic social ills on a political level, and say prophetically: “If you want to confront poverty, you have to know the names of poor people…” Here’s a link to summary in United Methodist Reporter, and pasted below:
Energized for justice: Living Faith conference celebrates UM ministries
Bill Fentum, Nov 9, 2007
UMR PHOTO BY BILL FENTUM
A banner at the Living Faith, Seeking Justice conference showed support for Step It Up 2007’s National Day of Climate Action, Nov. 3.
By Bill Fentum
FORT WORTH, Texas—It’s easy to give in to despair on the front lines of social-justice ministry. Supporting workers’ rights, immigration reform or environmental concerns puts you at perpetual odds with others in the church.
The solution? Take a sabbatical, now and then.
About 700 United Methodist clergy and lay leaders from around the world re-energized each other Nov. 1-4 at Living Faith, Seeking Justice, a first-ever international conference sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society.
They worshipped together, celebrated victories and went to workshops taught by experts in dozens of fields—from hunger relief and war resistance to death-penalty abolition and abuse recovery. Some visited local ministries, including PACT House (Parents and Children Together), a networking and referral service for families of prison inmates.
“Justice ministries don’t just give us Band-Aids. They go after the root causes of social ills,” said Brian Heymans, a member of University United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, during a workshop. “If you’re standing by a raging river, and you see baby after baby being washed away, do you focus on rescuing a few of them?
“Of course not. You go upstream to keep them from falling in.”
Mr. Heymans recently helped launch the Amos Commission, a program aimed at involving all Austin District churches in justice work. It’s named for the Old Testament prophet who called for repentance at a time when Israel’s leaders were getting rich off the labor of peasants.
“It fell to Amos to preach harsh words in a smooth season,” Jim Winkler, top executive of the Board of Church and Society, told attendees. “Most of us don’t relish confronting principalities. But just as sheep need a shepherd, people of wealth have a responsibility to those in poverty.”
The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kan., stepped in eight years ago after public schools in nearby Kansas City, Mo., lost their state accreditation. COR, one of the denomination’s largest congregations, stayed in touch with individual teachers, provided supplies for all students and refurbished one of the schools.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, COR’s senior pastor, said members felt called to act after he preached a sermon reminding them the first public school in Kansas City started in the basement of Westport Methodist Church in 1854.
“That, I think, is the power of the pulpit,” he said in an interview. “A prophet comes in and basically fires away, and there’s a place for that. But if you’re a pastor, your goal is to gently lead the people you’re shepherding. It means using tact and wisdom to influence rather than irritate.”
Not every issue, he added, can be unpacked in a single sermon.
Before the war in Iraq began in 2003, Mr. Hamilton drafted a position paper to share with members, explaining why he didn’t believe an invasion would meet just-war criteria. Then he posted it on the church Web site, inviting the congregation to read and discuss it.
“Recognize that Christians can disagree on issues,” he told participants in a plenary address. “Then, instead of feeling like they’ve been abused from the pulpit, they’ll be more open to listening—though some people may leave.”
Forty years of membership decline in the United Methodist Church has kept clergy fearful of anything that “rocks the boat,” conference speakers said, even on positions made clear in the denomination’s Social Principles.
“But not to take sides is to side with those in power,” the Rev. Janet Wolf, a United Methodist minister and social-justice advocate, said during a sermon. “People are supposed to look on us and say, ‘You know, they’re Jesus people. Nobody else loves like that.’”
Christian activist Shane Claiborne traveled in his early 20s to Calcutta, India, where he worked alongside the late Mother Teresa. Coming home to Philadelphia, he felt driven by her words, “If we really care about the poor, we know their names.”
So in 1997, he co-founded The Simple Way, a faith community of young adults that serves the city’s poorest residents. Members take part-time jobs to keep things running, and live off of $150 a month per person.
When Philadelphia officials passed laws making it illegal for homeless people to sleep or eat in public places, The Simple Way hosted a worship service in Love Park. They prayed with the homeless, sang, then “broke bread” by ordering pizzas for them. Mr. Claiborne and others went to trial, but they were acquitted and the laws were overturned.
“I walked into court wearing a shirt saying, ‘Jesus was homeless,’” Mr. Claiborne told attendees. “The judge asked me what I meant by that, and I told him that Jesus said ‘foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ The judge smiled and said, ‘You guys might have a chance.’”
Mr. Claiborne, who was raised a United Methodist, said he’s “madly in love with Jesus. But there’s a part of me that shudders, because I never know what he’s going to get me into next!”
In another plenary, Dr. Harold Recinos, a professor of church and society at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, said discrimination persists in the U.S., particularly against immigrant communities, because of xenophobia fueled by books like Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation (Harper, 1996).
Mr. Brimelow, a British-American journalist, urges tightening border security, reducing legal immigration and ending free education for children of undocumented workers.
“I know a lot of Mexican Americans who are more American than Mr. Brimelow,” Dr. Recinos said. “This kind of scholarship only gives rise to hate.”
Fear of immigration, he added, reminds him of the two disciples meeting the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but not immediately recognizing him.
“It wasn’t until they broke bread with this stranger that they saw the truth,” he said. “Would that we would do the same when we see the undocumented in our midst. God’s reign comes in simple fellowship with strangers.”
United Methodists shouldn’t separate ministries of justice from their call to share God’s love with the world, said Mr. Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection.
“If we work for social justice without practicing evangelism, we’re only offering half a solution. You’d better lay hold of both, and approach the gospel in a way that puts your head, heart and hands into ministry.”
Justice-making is all about “watching for the gaps” between faith and action, just as you would be careful when boarding or getting off a train, said the Rev. Elizabeth Tapia, director of the Center for Christianities in Global Context at Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J.
“And when you find those gaps,” she told participants, “remove them.
“Sociologists say it takes only 5 percent of a country’s population to change a society. You belong to that 5 percent.”