Justice Revival

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.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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Can I Get a Witness?

Thousands gathered in the Dallas Market Center in November for three days of preaching, Bible study, and action for social justice. The Justice Revival, organized by Sojourners, convened Dallas clergy, activists, and political leaders representing more than 200 churches to address two main concerns: the city’s 6,000 homeless people and the high percentage of high school students in the Dallas school district who are not adequately prepared for college. Eleven-year-old Dallas public school student Dalton Sherman was a highlight of the event. “Do you believe that what you’re doing in your community is shaping not just my generation, but that of my children—and my children’s children?” he asked a cheering crowd.

In a highly segregated city, participants came from across denominational, political, and ethnic lines—including evangelicals, mainline Protestants, historic black church pastors, Latino ministers, and the Catholic bishop. Service projects following the event took nearly 1,000 volunteers to five low-income neighborhoods throughout Dallas.

Following Sojourners’ 2008 Justice Revival in Columbus, Ohio, volunteers worked at 50 projects cleaning parks, rehabbing homeless shelters, organizing food pantries, and hosting gasoline-giveaways in poor neighborhoods. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland convened a statewide anti-poverty task force that included more than 300 participants, with one segment dedicated to addressing challenges unique to children and youth.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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Nashville's New Groove

Derek Webb wants to dig latrines for Jesus. And he’s looking for a few thousand friends to lend a hand. In a world where as many as 8,000 people die each day from waterborne diseases, he says, it’s the Christian thing to do. To get the word out about his latrine campaign, Webb, a Nashville-based Christian singer-songwriter who doesn’t mince words, is planning to launch a new Web site—www.giveashit.org. The name, he said, is meant to startle people into action.

“The twin towers fall every day in Africa for lack of clean drinking water—7,500 or 8,000 people dying every day and the church does not appear to give a shit,” said Webb, echoing evangelist Tony Campolo’s provocative challenge to churches.

That’s something Webb, who helped found the contemporary Christian band Caedmon’s Call before launching a solo career, is determined to change. And he doesn’t mind offending people in the process, if he can get their attention.

“Part of my job is to take language and redeem it and to use it for good,” says Webb. “This is a great opportunity for me to use language creatively to stir people to action.”

Webb is one of a growing number of Nashville-based Christian musicians who are combining their faith with a commitment to social justice. Rather than simply playing benefit concerts or becoming celebrity spokespeople for charity, they’re taking a hands-on role in serving some of the poorest people on the planet and advocating for social change.

“Rather than ‘I’ll play your benefit,’ which is the most natural thing for us to do, there is more of a desire to be involved,” said Grammy Award-winning artist Ashley Cleveland, a veteran of the Christian music scene in Nashville.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2009
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