Thousands of young Evangelical Christians are set to descend upon Chicago June 3-4 for the Justice Conference, an annual event to promote dialogue on social justice related issues such as poverty, human rights, slavery, HIV/AIDS, and human trafficking.
At last year’s conference, a project of the National Association of Evangelicals‘ humanitarian organization World Relief, issues of racial injustice and poverty were strongly addressed. However, there was almost no attention given to global persecution of Christians, marriage, or sanctity of life.
At the 2013 Justice Conference in Philadelphia, IRD’s Kristin Rudolph reported how author Sheryl WuDunn gave an address about the growing problem of gender imbalance in birth ratios, but ignored the main cause: sex-selective abortion. Similarly, at the 2012 gathering, pacifist activist Shane Claiborne targeted military spending as a budgetary culprit, with no mention that spiraling entitlement growth threatens to leave future generations saddled with debt.
This year, Rev. Traci Blackmon, acting executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries for the United Church of Christ (UCC), Lisa Sharon Harper of the Leftist Evangelical organization Sojourners, and Native American activist Mark Charles are among the speakers.
Young Evangelical Christians with big hearts for social change will soon attend the annual Justice Conference. We caution these brothers and sisters in Christ to avoid the temptation of looking at racial injustice, poverty, and other important social concerns through a divisive secular lens rather than a Gospel-centered lens.”
Organizers for the Justice Conference carefully avoid discussions of relevant cultural issues such as religious freedom, the persecution of Christians abroad, the sanctity of unborn life, marriage, or Evangelicals’ historically strong support of Israel. Instead, Justice Conference speakers tend to focus on racial grievances, gun control, neo-pacifism, and denouncing American patriotism as bigoted idolatry. Evangelicals should do better than offering an insecure echo of secular culture.
Last year, the Justice Conference invited keynote speaker Cornel West, honored member of the Democratic Socialists of America and professor at the emphatically non-Evangelical Union Theological Seminary, whose address nodded to socialist liberation theology.
It’s odd that this year the ostensibly Evangelical conference has invited a top official from another emphatically non-Evangelical institution, the United Church of Christ, an Oldline Protestant denomination in dire financial and membership straits. Clearly, the UCC’s aggressively liberal theological and political values are not working. Evangelicals would be wise to avoid the UCC’s mistakes rather than follow its lead.
My colleagues at The Institute on Religion & Democracy and I pray that the 2016 Justice Conference speakers are moved by the Holy Spirit to take an uncompromising stand for Gospel truths and not conform to passing cultural trends that could mislead a generation of young people.