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A heart for justice

Justice Conference UK organiser, Tearfund’s Jo Herbert, says the two-day event will equip the church

On 2-3 November, the Justice Conference, a global movement that was founded in the US in 2010, will be held for the very first time in London (Wembley), to support Christians in Britain as they think and talk about issues of justice, peace and reconciliation.

To mark its 50th anniversary this year, Tearfund will be among the charities and organisations that will host the event, which has been organised by its theological and networks manager, Jo Herbert. In an interview with Naomi Osinnowo, the editorial content manager at the Evangelical Alliance, of which Tearfund is a member, Jo shares why the UK church should attend the event and what has stirred her heart for ethical living.

Why is now the right time for the Justice Conference to take place in the UK?

The Justice Conference is an opportunity to engage with and explore the underline theology of how and why we engage with issues of justice. It will inform our methodology, enabling us to go deeper and be better equipped to apply the biblical teachings practically. This will be accessible theology – intended to shape how we transform ourselves, our churches, our communities, and our world. 

The UK church has journeyed so much with this, and we hope this will bring people together to celebrate, learn from each other, and discover what more we can do, as we let God speak with us while we reflect on biblical truth and His heart for justice. 

What can attendees look forward to?

An exciting series of main sessions and workshops! The arts and justice element, in particular, is an important part of the conference, exploring creativity and justice. Contributions from our partners, including talks by international speakers, as we’re hosting the event in partnership with other organisations and individuals, to ensure the breadth of what is happening in the UK and across the world is heard here. 

Political issues and theology will be explored, as well as the environment and how we engage with a just and living God. There’ll be sessions for church leaders that delve into ethical living specifically. We are covering a lot; however, we know we can’t cover every justice issue in two days. We want people to be inspired and our aim is to bring theology to life for people, so they are equipped practically and can apply this is many other areas. 

Can you tell us a little about the talk/​s you’ll give at the event?

Some of the key questions I’ll consider are: how do we live faithfully, bearing witness to Christ, in the UK, a developed country, where we often live in excess, immersed in a consumerist and individualistic society? How do we make sure we’re being shaped for the kingdom rather than society? 

As I round up the whole event, I will talk about how we might apply what we’ve learnt. I don’t want us to be inspired while at the conference and then forget about it when we leave. I would like to see all of us leave the event challenged to think more theologically and biblically, which I hope will ultimately inspire and inform our practice. 

What does ethical living mean to you?

Romans 12:1 – 2 reads: So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering…” (I like how the The Message translation phrases it.) 

Ethical living is a key part of my own discipleship. I believe every disciple should ask, how am I joining in with God’s mission and how can I follow Christ faithfully, being His witness? I ask myself these questions, and ethical living helps me to fill in the blanks, adding the detail of how I live out my faith in my everyday life. 

I then live with an awareness, as I dwell on this earth with others, that I exist not only for my own self, but to bring about the kingdom of God that is beyond me whilst I’m here. 

You’re committed to living ethically, making good progress towards a zero-waste lifestyle. What has inspired this and how far are you going to take it?

I’m an all-or-nothing person, so when I became a Christian at 17, I knew I would be all in for my faith and that no part of my life would not come under the submission of Christ. My pursuit of God’s heart leads me to care about issues of justice and poverty and consider the decisions that I make in my everyday life carefully, including my consumer choices and how they impact people around the world. So, since I’ve made the decision to submit my whole life to God, I can’t pick and choose the principles I follow. 

But, it has taken time to get to where I am today, and I still have a lot to learn and a journey ahead of me. There was a time when I was pretty ignorant – all I really knew about was Fairtrade. Yes, I heard people talking about the environment at church, but the scope and seriousness of environmental issues hadn’t dawned on me. It was when I got to Tearfund that I was hit with the reality of how the wider natural world is linked to the wellbeing of people, and that God loves all of his creation, so realised that environmental issues matter. 

What I’ve found over the years is the more I have done, the more I can do. For example, I started by buying Fairtrade products faithfully. I then looked to buy locally as much as I can. I’ve switched to a greener energy supplier. I’ve reduced what I consume, including travel; I took the train to Barcelona, for example. I buy second-hand clothes and products (which saves a lot of money too). I eat less meat, and the meat I do eat is UK-sourced and high welfare. I have started my journey to a zero-waste lifestyle. I even make my own toothpaste. It’s always been one step at a time though.

To some this may seem extreme, but I sensed God convicting me about my lifestyle. And this has been one of the most profound spiritual journeys that I’ve been on. It’s now instinctive for me to ask: do I really need this, or do I want it? Does my reliance come from God or stuff, food and caffeine? Am I more shaped by a consumer culture than God’s kingdom culture? 

Yes, it can be tough, but it’s also liberating and has afforded me the opportunity to bring my whole life back before God. For me, living ethically is about living faithfully before God and seeking justice in all that I do is part of my worship.

The Christians I speak with who care passionately about the wider natural world typically have a theology degree. Is creation care failing to make its way to local churches? 

First off, you don’t need qualifications to care about wider nature and creation. I had a blind spot and I think, on the whole, though there are exceptions, particularly in the evangelical church, we have a blind spot around creation care and engagement with the material world. 

In my view, there’s been a divide about mission, about saving people’s souls and social action and justice. What about holistic mission? It’s a false dichotomy that the whole mission of God is seeing people’s souls saved and helping their physical needs and environment. The Bible shows us that. 

God uses nature throughout the Bible. Nature is often used as a metaphor for understanding who God is. When I became a Christian, no one taught me to have that lens. So, how can we inspire people to understand more of who God is as we engage with care for creation? It requires us to be humble enough to say that we have a blind spot and we need to learn. 

We learn bit by bit, and we take small steps. We see this as discipleship, not legalism: we approach this in the same way, the faithful journey towards a better end – that’s really important here. And we go on the journey together, encouraging each other when we get it right. 

About the author

Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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