Thursday, December 17, 2009

Justice Revival Dallas. . .who'll step up and how?

Gerald Britt, VP of Public Policy here at Central Dallas Ministries, published the following essay on the Op-Ed pages of The Dallas Morning News on last Tuesday, December 15:

After the Justice Revival

This isn't a criticism, just a reality: Getting church leaders across denominational, theological, racial, geographic, class and ideological barriers to work together can be like getting cats to march in a parade. But that is the challenge in the aftermath of Dallas' Justice Revival.

The Justice Revival is a concept introduced in the book The Great Awakening by Jim Wallis, the leader of the progressive Christian organization Sojourners. It harkens back to church revivals that resulted in spiritual conversions and social justice movements that helped bring about the abolition of slavery; produced child labor laws; and addressed issues of public health and poverty in northern slums area.

Can churches still provide the spark that ignites a spiritual-based revival with social implications in Dallas?

Although attendance goals for the November gathering fell short of expectations, the Justice Revival was always promoted as more than a specific event. The real test will be whether churches achieve their goals involving education and housing for the homeless. That, in turn, involves how well participating congregations are able to draw the distinction between "justice" and "charity."

The November "Day of Service" focused on deploying Justice Revival participants throughout the city to help with service projects at schools and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's March to Help the Homeless. These weekend events were meant to symbolize commitment through acts of compassion. Justice, however, means addressing the failures of the systems associated with these issues.

The spiritual "great awakening" – of which this revival should be both symbol and catalyst – should seek to play a more robust role than simply being campus volunteers. Substantive engagement regarding public education is a vital need in our schools.

We all should heed and repeat former DISD board president Sandy Kress' warning that this involvement avoid becoming "charity around the edges" of much-needed reform. Churches must be careful not to be used to mask real systemic failures with feel-good success stories or to be relegated to the margins, where real impact is almost impossible.

Serious involvement demands rejecting stereotypes of poor families, instead listening and becoming allies with parents in their dreams for their children's future. It means dealing with issues of health and safety as well as asking whether schools have textbooks and up-to-date technology. It should involve helping parents understand the relationship between classroom grades and standardized testing. Plus partnering with existing community programs to provide enrichment opportunities to enhance classroom learning. It could mean establishing academies to help parents better understand school culture, the politics of public education and parental rights and responsibilities within the school system.

In short, congregations should bring an appetite for tough-minded engagement as well as tenderhearted volunteerism.

Justice Revival congregations also are asked to lead the way in supporting Dallas' official goal to provide 700 units of affordable housing, a goal that should be embraced by the entire city. Churches can be invaluable allies, educating themselves on effective strategies addressing the problem that can be adopted here in Dallas. Churches also can promote the housing goal as an opportunity for a ministry of inclusion.

Most important, churches can work with city officials and nonprofits to make this housing a reality. That starts with congregations recognizing the homeless among us as fellow citizens and thus serving as advocates to build support within their respective communities for the housing.

Justice Revival congregations' impact can be totally out of proportion to the event attendance itself if their commitment to justice is as great as their compassion.

So, what do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The secular side of the equation - Service-Learning and etc. - is also dealing with the move from an ontological orientation of charity to one of social justice. Volunteerism for the sake of volunteerism can be ultimately self-serving and self-defeating, as it does not address the underlying (and overlying) causes of the problems. And without getting at the root causes of problems, we are too often continuing to perpetuate the system-wide privileges in which we live. As the Rev. Britt points out in the article, it's a "both/and," not an "either/or."