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Loving justice means sacrifice

Thursday 2 April 2015

“Justice has become an elevated conversation.”

Eugene Cho is a Seattle Pastor, speaking to me from the US about his new book Overrated, a “confessional” about the church’s tendency to making everything about us instead of God, including noble pursuits towards justice.EugeneCho1

“Now that justice has become celebrated and there’s a lot of banter about it, we really need to ask the question: are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world? Are we really digging in theologically, faithfully, prayerfully and in it for the long haul?”

It’s a personal question for Cho who gave away a year’s wage towards alleviating extreme poverty a few years back. To be able to do that, the impact on his family was not insignificant: their kids endured the end of piano lessons and basketball camps, while the whole family moved out of their house to live with friends, leasing their place for 10 weeks in order to save up their goal amount.

But through his experience that year – and now of founding One Day’s Wage, an organisation which encourages people to give up one day’s wage a year towards alleviating poverty ­– Cho has had time to reflect on motive and purpose.

“It’s a question that I wrestle with. [Overrated] was kind of a difficult book to write because I’m sharing that even still, as a Christian and as a leader I’m often more enamoured with the idea of following Jesus than actually following Him, or doing good things rather than actually living obediently.”

Cho will be sharing his message of cutting hypocrisy off at the root when he comes to Australia next month for the Justice Conference, a new conference organised by TEAR Australia. A coming together of many Christian organisations and NGOs, the conference is aimed at furthering the conversation around justice in Australia.

Conference organisers say they hope that they can show “justice” doesn’t have to compete with the “gospel” but can instead can be part of the gospel.

Cho says those who fear social justice overtaking the preaching of the gospel have a justifiable fear, but that sometimes it can be taken to an unhelpful extreme.

“It’s a valid question … I simply remind people in response to those fears that when we read the scriptures, the word of God, it communicates how passionate God’s heart is for justice, mercy and compassion. It’s not some sort of political agenda, not some new trendy conversation. Rather, justice is the character of God.”

Yet, he says, there are times when a Christians’ passion to change the world can develop into an unhelpful saviour/hero complex.

“Even good things can become idolatrous. So the topic of justice, if not undergirded by Scripture and good, faithful prayer and theology, I think can become somewhat of an idolatrous pursuit even in itself.

“So we have to remind people on that extreme that even justice work is part of our larger response to the gospel. We do justice because of the gospel, because of Jesus.”

The Justice Conference will run for the first time in Melbourne in April. At a time when the church calendar is full of conferences and a number already focused on social justice, conference director Paul Flavel says TEAR wanted to create an event that wasn’t only for social justice die hards. They want to bring together a breadth and range of Christian organisations to start a conversation.

“We feel like there are parts of the church here in Australia who really haven’t encountered this conversation before and so we really wanted a conference that was accessible to them and that was relevant to the growing areas of the church. So, some of the growing Pentecostal churches and a lot of the second generation Korean, Malaysian and Chinese churches.”

Organisations involved with the Justice Conference include Compassion, CBM, Baptist World Aid, Anglican Overseas Aid, International Justice Mission, ACC International Relief, International Needs, the Salvos, a number of theological colleges, Collective Shout, Grasstree Gathering, Common Grace, Love Makes A Way, Micah Challenge, Seed, Surrender, and many more. It’s a big line up of NGOs mostly based in Melbourne, where the conference will be held.

Eugene is one of the key speakers alongside Melinda Tankard Reist, Head of the Australian Anglican Church Dr Philip Freier, and founder of the US Justice Conference Ken Wystma.

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