Fellowship Southwest held its inaugural Compassion & Justice Conference in Dallas, Texas, on September 8-9. The conference brought together award-winning authors, well-known speakers, worship leaders and attendees committed to justice for the sake of a more compassionate world.
Hosted by Life in Deep Ellum, a faith-based community center that comes with a coffee bar and gathers people for conversations that center community, participants were greeted by an artistic aesthetic. It wasn’t just a nice touch but a necessary reminder that beauty is essential to the common good.
Stephen Reeves, Fellowship Southwest’s executive director, hopes to offer a different testimony of the faithful. “As we tell stories, invite action, and encourage connection with our partners, we strive to stoke not your anger but your passion, not your fear but your empathy. We hope to offer a different public witness, one that is faithful, thoughtful, courageous and kind,” he said.
Fellowship Southwest hopes to provide opportunities for persons of faith to take meaningful action on hunger, immigration, issues that impact indigenous communities and racial justice. With the support of sponsors, including Good Faith Media, the Compassion & Justice Conference provided the connection needed to prioritize these values that center the needs of neighbor and our communal longing for justice.
Like the art that lined the building’s walls, the presentations, worship services and workshop discussions were not superficial but drew you into deeper reflection and conversation. The two-day event was focused and fueled by thought leaders who are committed to these issues and to neighboring well.
Alexia Salvateirra, the Academic Dean of the Centro Latino at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Associate Professor of Mission and Global Transformation, opened the event by bearing powerful witness. “We don’t have a compassion problem in the church, but we do have a vision problem. We have to see,” she said about immigration.
Her words were followed by a workshop that featured several voices and a chance to shop around for opportunities to take action. John Garland, who has been a pastor of the San Antonio Mennonite Church since 2016, put the work of justice in perspective.
“We are working against powers and principalities that are working against the image of God,” he told the audience. “Look at your brothers and sisters who have power and call them to liberation. You don’t have to serve the powers and principalities.”
Eugene Cho, president and CEO of Bread for the World, shared his personal story with hunger and Jesus’ story of abundance in a narrative of lack. He then encouraged the audience to share in the suffering of others.
“A theology of advocacy is a love that speaks up,” he said. “Do what you can. Do it well, do it with joy, do it with love.”
Zach Lambert, the lead pastor and founder of Restore Austin and co-founder of the Post Evangelical Collective, offered a message for which the only response could be embodiment. He told participants to be like Pharaoh’s daughter who, though raised to be xenophobic and privileged in her identity, saved the Hebrew boy.
Award-winning author and member of the Potawatomi nation Kaitlin Curtice bore witness to the problems with a colonizing faith, the need for resistance and the truth-telling that is required for healing. “I only knew a colonized version of God,” she shared. Through poetry and personal readings from her book Native: Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering God, Curtice bound the audience together through storytelling.
Jemar Tisby is a renowned author and professor at Simmons College of Kentucky who is committed to educating people about the history of racism in America. “We do not graduate. We are perpetual students of justice,” he said.
He addressed the audience with the passion of a preacher and the presence of a scholar. Naming the work of cultivating awareness in the work of justice, Tisby too called for embodiment—head (that is, awareness), heart (relationships) and hands (commitment). Oftentimes sharing from his book How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice, Tisby said, “When it comes to fighting for justice, we don’t have a how-to problem. We have a want-to problem.”
The conference ended with a closing worship service. Victoria Robb Powers, senior pastor of Royal Lane Baptist Church, told the audience, “Keep proclaiming your liberation in the face of those who deny it. This is a part of the ongoing work of justice.”
It sounded like a commissioning and thus, only the beginning for this Compassion & Justice Conference.