North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload Motivates, Encourages Attendees

Cornel West
"Justice is what love looks like in public," said Dr. Cornel West, Princeton University, in his featured address to the conference March 23.

More than 900 people learn about systemic causes of injustice

CHICAGO (March 26, 2012) – "World changers." The 900-plus attendees at the March 23-24 North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload conference heard that phrase often, an ideal that conference organizers sought to instill in those who were there to learn about justice and how to work for it in their communities.

Through speakers and workshop presentations, conference attendees learned that justice can mean many things, such as acts of compassion or advocacy for systemic changes. Tony Zamble, director, University Ministries, said he hoped attendees would see justice holistically, embracing both compassion and advocating for change in systems. "We hope to learn about why, as the people of God, we should care about justice in the first place," he added.

The Justice Summit portion of the program led off the conference March 23, followed by Chicago Reload March 24, a continuing education event for urban youth workers the University has hosted since 2005. Many attended both days.

The highlight was Dr. Cornel West, a well-known author, speaker, commentator, and professor at Princeton (N.J.) University. Attendees packed the North Park Gymnasium March 23 to hear West deliver a rousing commentary on Christianity, love, and justice. Declaring that his tradition "looks first to the cross," West said, "I know who I am because somebody loved me, somebody cared for me, somebody sacrificed for me … and they're still doing it." Expanding that theme, West argued that "justice is what love looks like in public." Christianity, he said, is "anti-injustice."

West urged the attendees to be "originals," versus "copies" or "echoes" of others. "When I see young people, I see too many copies – not enough originals," he said. "How empty, how shallow, how hollow. Jesus, because he loved so, and sacrificed so, was measured not just by what he said, but by what he did, what he enacted, what he embodied."

"Cornel West's preaching was just amazing," said second-year master of divinity student Philip Chung, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill. "I've heard a lot about him, and people have told me about his reputation as a great preacher." Domingo Patino, Chicago, came just to hear West. "He's one voice. We need many more like him," he said. Seth Jenkins, Chicago, said West "inspired me" to do more.

Rev. Jim Wallis, author, speaker, theologian, and president of Sojourners, Washington, D.C., told the conference that justice is an act of worship because "Jesus loves all of us." "Injustice is broken relationships, and shalom is about restoring it," he said. "Justice means doing whatever it takes to make it right." Wallis urged the audience to trust their hearts, and if they believe something is wrong,"say it, name it, lift it up. Come together and then say, 'how can we make it right?'"

Rev. Judy Peterson, North Park University campus pastor, based her comments on Ezekiel 37, the biblical story of the valley of dry bones. "When the hand of the Lord is upon you, he will set you in places like this," she said. "The call of Jesus Christ and his followers is to follow him in his mission, and when the spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus, Jesus was led to walk back and forth among dry bones." The dry bones, she said, are people who are hungry, homeless, or hurting – "the untouchables." Peterson said that if people want to breathe new life into "dry bones," they should understand that they are conduits for God's work. "Let God lead you to valleys full of bones," she said.

Chicago Reload speakers focus on lament, parable of the Good Samaritan

Rev. Dr. Soong Chan-Rah, North Park Theological Seminary (NPTS), described two theologies which he attributed to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann: The theology of celebration in which people are pleased with their life circumstances and want things to remain the same, and the theology of suffering that recognizes injustice in the world and seeks change. Both are right, Rah said, and both have truth to share with the other. "When you go into the communities and you see the children, the youth, the homeless, those that you say are suffering – whom you might think have nothing to offer – enter into that story of lament. Walk alongside and say 'how is my life changed because I come from a place where I have only half the gospel, and by being in a place of lament and suffering, I now understand the fullness of the cross, the fullness of the resurrection, the fullness of the gospel.'" Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at NPTS.

Rev. Harvey Carey, Citadel of Faith Covenant Church, Detroit, told the conference audience to do as the Good Samaritan did, and not assume things about other people. "The journey to revelation about justice must begin with looking beyond the obvious, and being willing to do what others don't do, and see that there's a story behind everything," he said. He also urged the audience to show the Good Samaritan's genuine compassion toward others, and focus on what really matters to God.

Attending the two-day event was "a great experience," said Miriam De Jong, director of programs, Tall Turf Ministries, Grand Rapids, Mich. "I think it's always valuable to hear diverse perspectives from a diverse group of speakers. That's one of the things that I've appreciated the most."

Carena Shannon, a NPTS student from Grand Rapids, said the conference was beneficial. "What I'll remember most is to 'go and be disciples.' What's been encouraging is seeing so many people who are in same ministry as me, and seeing support and advocacy for standing for justice – but also remembering to be encouraged to do what God has called us to do, and that we are to act. That's what I hope to do with the rest of my life," she said.

Presentations by conference plenary speakers were available to regional, national, and international audiences via live webcasts carried on the North Park University website.

Use @npunews to follow North Park University News on Twitter. For further information or resources, contact John Brooks, Director of Media Relations and News, via email or at (773) 244-5522. Learn more about North Park University.

Next Steps

Read more of the campus news featured in the Summer 2012 North Parker.