A Revival for Justice

In November, Dallas hosted Sojourners’ Justice Revival. Com-bining the tradition of Billy Graham with that of Martin Luther King Jr., Dallas churches came together across racial, theological, and geographic boundaries to connect personal faith to social justice.

Rev. Zan Wesley Holmes Jr. preached the opening night. Dr. Holmes, who has been ministering in the Dallas area for more than 50 years, said of the Justice Revival, “This is historic ... we have never come together like this.” He added that he had been waiting for this his whole life.

On that first night, a young man stayed afterward to talk to me. “I’m ready,” he said. “Ready for what?” I asked. “Ready to change the world!” This young African American told me that he was the youngest Methodist minister in the state of Texas. He drove into Dallas every night from the small, rural town he is serving.

Church historians say that spiritual activity doesn’t get to be called “revival” until it has changed something in the society. This revival had specific goals laid out by the pastors who came together—creating at least 25 church partnerships with Dallas public schools and advocating for 700 new units of permanent housing for chronically homeless people. The Revival has already hired a full-time organizer to make sure those goals are met. “What has changed,” the pastor of an evangelical megachurch said to me, “is that our church used to be just internally focused, but now it is externally focused.”

Fourteen months of planning went into the Justice Revival, with Sojourners’ national field organizer Aaron Graham visiting the city 18 times. A 25-person leadership team represented a 225-member planning team, with conveners from evangelical, mainline, black, and Latino churches. Leaders representing more than 1,000 churches signed up. All the major denominations came on board, including the Catholic diocese, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans, United Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists, and many of the well-known white, black, and Latino megachurches.

Mayor Tom Leppert spoke the first night and officially proclaimed the week of Nov. 10 in Dallas as “Justice Revival Week.” The crowd was delighted by 11-year-old Dalton Sherman, who has appeared on Oprah and spoken before tens of thousands, as he rallied support for his Dallas public schools by asking, “Do you believe in me?” Ignite Greater Works held training and workshops during the day, including an exhibition hall of more than 50 ministries. They hosted a leaders lunch with Paul Monteiro from the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Each night was a moving experience of worship as we enjoyed a great diversity of talented and Grammy-winning musical artists—Jaci Velasquez, Salvador, Fred Hammond, and Israel & New Breed. The Dallas area is 40 percent Latino, so all of our marketing materials were in both Spanish and English and headset interpretation was offered throughout the event. Rev. Samuel Rodriguez’s preaching on the revival’s second night was interpreted from the stage.

We gave an invitation to Christ and to justice each night. Every night, I called on the pastors of the city to come onto the stage to symbolize their commitment to the city. In the vast Market Hall, small groups of Christians of all races, ages, and denominations held hands and prayed for a revival of faith and justice to come to their city.

Thousands attended the three-day revival. Dallas Baptist University sponsored an emerging leaders dinner with more than 200 young leaders from throughout the city. They heard from Lauren Winner, who gave a powerful word about the critical connection between spiritual disciplines and the work of social justice. One evening, 50 homeless folks were present, reminding us what it was all about. A community choir brought together 150 people. One thousand people took the vision of the revival to the streets on Saturday and participated in 10 different projects in five neighborhoods, including a march for the homeless.

An editorial in The Dallas Morning News before the event correctly said that the goal of the Justice Revival was to help “recast our national dialogue about many different issues,” and that “houses of faith can be sanctuaries where people of all stripes ... can gather publicly to discuss everything from health care to immigration reform to school policies.” Rev. Ron Scates, senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian, described the Revival as “a witness to the world the church is not going into ‘circle the wagons’ mode, but is answering Christ’s call to be the church out in the streets.”

Every night we reminded the crowd that the “true test of revival is not what happens during these three days, but what happens afterward.” But what happened those three nights in Dallas was a deep encouragement to many and a sign that here, in the buckle of the Bible Belt, a justice revival is already under way and a new generation is ready to put its faith into action—for social justice. Let the church say amen!

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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