The Adventist Church’s Conscience and Justice Council (CJC) recently held its annual convention in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Attendees gathered September 22-25 in Glendale, California, United States, for a weekend themed around Prophetic Justice.
The CJC is composed of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty directors from the nine regional conferences in North America, along with representatives from Oakwood University, Washington Adventist University, Loma Linda University, the North Pacific Union, Pacific Union, Southern Union, and the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Realizing that the times in which we live beckon us to be like the sons of Issachar, who understood the times, organizers offered three tracks during the convention. There was a track on justice (the public affairs component); a track on conscience (the religious liberty component); and a pastor’s track that focused on helping our ministers to be better equipped to serve our members and communities who deal with various social issues and ills in our society.
Time and space would not permit me to list every workshop and every presenter who poured into the conference participants, but participants were tremendously blessed by the ministry and testimony of Larry Johnson Sr., brother of the famous Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson is the founding president of Brotherhood Against Drugs, and he gave his powerful testimony of how God brought him through his drug addiction. Now he is actively engaged in helping young men break similar chains of addiction in their own lives.
On Friday during lunch there was a powerful panel that discussed “Thorny Theories and Decisions: Systemic Attacks on Truth.” The panel was made up of Timothy Golden, professor of philosophy at Walla Walla University; Gregory Hoenes, director of West Region for the Southern California Conference; Jeanice Warden Washington, chief consultant for the California Assembly Higher Education Committee; and Alan Reinach, president of the Church-State Council. This robust panel alerted us to many cases and laws taking place at various state and Supreme Court levels that, though legally binding, may be ethically and morally problematic — or, simply stated, wrong.
Zdravko Plantak, professor of religion and ethical studies at Loma Linda University, conducted a workshop on the “Adventist Prophetic Role.” In a nutshell, he stated that God has always had a prophetic person or people in every era who were courageous enough to speak His Word, and to stand for what was right, even if it was unpopular. And we still have a responsibility to use our prophetic gift not just for foretelling but also for forthtelling.
Over this four-day weekend we were also blessed with four powerful sermons from Louis Felton of Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia; Lola Moore Johnston, senior pastor of the Restoration Praise Center, Bowie, Maryland; Manny Arteaga, lead pastor of the Kalēo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale; and Kerwin Jones of the Houston International Adventist church, who is also pursuing a degree in law.
Johnston, who shared the divine worship hour message, encouraged, inspired, and implored us to “say something and do something” when it comes to any form of injustice or oppression that takes place in our communities. We are to follow the example of the Egyptian midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who defied the mandates and genocidal laws of the Pharaoh of Egypt and feared God rather than man. Each message and workshop stirred us to be good Samaritans in our spheres of influence, and not to leave anyone in need.
Finally, during every CJC convention we enjoy a field trip in the host city. On Sabbath afternoon, participants were taken on a field trip to a few of the homeless shelters in the city of Los Angeles. As many may be aware, Los Angeles has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the United States. But by God’s grace there are individuals who are determined to make a dent in that homeless population and provide shelter and food for that demographic.
The Honorable Marqueece Harris-Dawson, city council member for the 8th District of Los Angeles, met participants at one of the shelters and explained the level of commitment that he and others have to those struggling with the plight of homelessness. “We came to understand that unlike the stereotypes, many in Los Angeles can be working and still end up homeless, based on changing family dynamics, and the extremely high cost of living,” one participant shared. The average rent for one-bedroom, 700-square-foot (65-square-meter) apartment in Los Angeles County is US$2,250 per month. In addition, because of the warm California weather, some who are struggling with homelessness in other colder cities make their way to Los Angeles because they can survive outside. Councilman Harris-Dawson and the workers there are determined to make a difference for those who go through this experience and have developed programs to get many of the residents back into permanent housing.
“We thank God for the leadership of the Conscience and Justice Council chairperson Edwards Woods III, who also serves as the PARL director for the Lake Region Conference, and the CJC team for orchestrating this convention,” one of the organizers said. “We believe that as this annual convention moves from region to region around the country that more of our church members and leaders will be inspired to ‘say something and do something.’ ”
Cryston Josiah is vice president for administration and PARL director for the Central States Conference.