It's not an uncommon scene: A Christian pop band plugs in and coos about Jesus's love to the faithful flock, which sways with arms raised to the heavens. Last night, that scene replayed itself in Dallas as Sojourners, the Washington D.C.-based social ministry, kicked off its Justice Revival event. The three-day gathering is the baby of Rev. Jim Wallis, a New York Times bestselling author, who started Sojourners and who, after publishing The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America last year, Wallis started the Justice Revival "movement."
Dallas Justice Revival will be headed up by Randy Skinner, from Strategic Justice Initiative, Inc. The movement brings together more than 200 parishes of different denominations who hope to create 700 new units of permanent housing to help end chronic homelessness; and forge 25 new partnerships between Dallas-area churches and public schools to help increase the college readiness of the students.
The first Justice Revival event was held last year in Columbus, Ohio, and attracted some 10,000 people. The turn-out for Dallas's opening night was much smaller: Only 883 folks sat in the audience at Dallas Market Hall.
Regardless, organizers and attendees kept the faith. Before walking on stage to begin the evening's program, some 50 pastors and Sojourners event staffers held hands in a large prayer circle. "We pray for some of that Kingdom in Heaven right here on Earth, in Dallas," said Aaron Graham, Sojourners's national field organizer. "Help us, God. Whatever happens in these next few days, we trust you."
Wallis took then the stage, grinning and beaming. "Sometimes it's up to us to clear up the confusion about what it means to be a Christian," said Wallis.
Speaking afterward with Unfair Park, Wallis shrugged off the small crowd: "This is an experiment," he told us. He reasoned that Tuesday night may just have been a bad night for the people in Dallas to make it to Market Hall. Regardless, the fact that so many pastors had joined together for the first time in Dallas history was the real news, said Wallis. "That's the power of it."
In explaining how Sojourners has been able to reinvigorate so many millions of followers across the country, Wallis said: "It is a movement. It's getting people involved in neighborhoods, cities, and their world. Some people may have a heart for Jesus, but never had a heart for justice. For them, this is a second conversion."
Skinner, the new director for Dallas Justice Revival, is proud of how many denominations have come together to meld their faith with social justice action.
"We've kind of done our own thing in our own way and we've not highly succeeded, so why not come together," he told Unfair Park about various church efforts to help the needy. Churches have fled along with congregants to the suburbs, and now, he insists, there's a shift in the consciousness to return and help. "In this movement, if you're going to really see your city blessed, you have to go back and correct the historical injustices."