In starting the Center, we are not claiming to be the foremost expert on justice and peace in America. We want to show how Christian spiritual formation leads us toward a deeper desire for justice and peace for all God’s creation, because all people are created equal in the image of God. Our hope in starting the Center is to contribute to a more just Church and society.
We have a huge responsibility, for to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). We know white people, particularly white men, occupy places of privilege, and we want to use whatever advantage we have for the sake of others. This responsibility is not a heavy burden or ill-fitting. It is a free and light joy. It is a delight to find our “Psalm 139 selves” and to take up our callings to come alongside those who are different from us. In the words of Lila Watson: “If you have come to help you are wasting your time, but if you believe that your liberation is bound up in mine then let us work together.”
We come to this delicate, complex work with a mix of emotions: excited and hopeful—and aware of many weaknesses. The Center is not about our founder, Bishop Todd Hunter. It is not his platform. It is a platform for centering the voices of people we call Formed Well Heroes—women and men who are pursuing the transformation of their souls into Christlikeness by moving toward and with image-bearers who have often been cast to the margins.
We have learned that we must enter the space of justice work as beloved. We are grateful for and freed by this insight from Osheta Moore’s Dear White Peacemakers. She writes:
I, a Black Peacemaker, am Beloved and you, White Peacemaker, are Beloved,
and we belong to each other.
This is what we build our anti-racism peacemaking on, White Peacemaker.
This is our why.
Everything else will disappear and overwhelm,
But the love of God owned and reflected
is the living water we need along the journey.
From that belovedness, we are striving to create a beloved community of all peoples.
Within the pursuit of justice, we hope to see an increased emphasis on spiritual practices and formation, specifically repentance and lament. Dennae Pierre, a member of our Advisory Board, says that repentance and lament, “…[are] the inner work necessary to engage long term in the ministry of justice and reconciliation in ways that reflect Jesus.”
We want to lead and be with the Church as we willingly enter the uncomfortable territory that comes with recognizing, naming and walking out the work of the Spirit in the areas of repentance and lament.
As a Center, we are working toward these three sequential steps: 1) Trust and follow Jesus. 2) Join him in his work. 3) Recognize the need for your heart, soul, mind, emotions, will and body to be transformed.
This outward and inward rhythm contains the core practices for formation, justice and peace.
Our full devotion is to Jesus, not Marx, not Socialism. We don’t rely on 20th century social theorists to construe the ethics or to aim the actions of our lives.
Marxist allegations mischaracterize the actual beliefs of Christian leaders working in the area of race. We know thousands of Christian leaders all over the world and in most every denomination. None of these leaders who care about issues of race and want to work on it are motivated by CRT. In stark contrast, they are motivated by creation (Gen. 1:27; 3:20), by the patriarchs (Gen. 12:3), by the prophets (Amos 5:24), by Proverbs (31:8-9), by Jesus (Mt. 7:12; 22:39), by Paul (Acts 17:26; Romans 10:12; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 2:13-18; Phil. 2:3-4; Col. 3:11), by Peter (Acts 10:28, 34, 35) and by the revelation of racial and ethnic perfection given to John (Rev. 7:9). Similar to MLK before them, today’s Christian leaders—at least the ones we know—are animated by the beautiful biblical vision of the oneness of all humanity in Christ, living with each other on the basis of agape love.
In terms of CRT, the Black church has been trying for decades—previous to and outside of the CRT framework—to make some of the same points now being made by CRT theorists. We don’t know of any orthodox Christian Black leader “buying into a false gospel” called Marxism. They are not anti-American or a threat to Christianity. CRT is not the secret ideological foundation of the Christian Black protest movement. We have not seen Black Christian leaders seek to victimize white males or destroy the structures of American life. Those things are antithetical to MLK’s tradition of agape love and a beloved community for all. The Black leaders we know are Christ-centered and deserve the support of the whole Church. And when they see other Christian leaders gathering together to make dubious public condemnations of CRT while remaining utterly silent about structural racism, it only illustrates our blindness, harms our relationships, and inhibits our common mission to bring justice and equity to all of God’s image bearers.
A solid way forward is to recall that all truth is God’s truth. If the lens of Critical Race Theory helps to truthfully identify underlying assumptions and structures that are otherwise hidden, isn’t that a gift, and the possible basis for healing and justice? As Ekemini Uwan says, “I am for truth no matter who tells it; I am for justice no matter who it is for, or against.” Read more thoughts from Bishop Todd on Critical Race Theory here.
Jeremiah 6:14 says, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Past history and present reality has clearly shown us that both people and systems act unjustly. There is no either/or, and for us as Christians there is no easy out; racism is both a sin problem and a skin problem. Racism itself is built on a system that is built upon individuals. To say that justice will simply occur if we as sinners turn to Jesus, while ignoring the need for reformed societal laws and legislation, is to willfully ignore the history of racism perpetuated by Christian individuals and structures alike. To say that reformed systems will magically transform hearts is to dismiss the present-day outcry and suffering of our brothers and sisters of color.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Laws won’t make people like me, but laws will keep people from nudging me [in the street].”
We believe we can’t continue to deny the reality that people of color are often treated differently in virtually every sector and institution from healthcare to education, immigration to incarceration. It doesn’t move the needle forward toward justice and peace to remain in the dark about these systemic issues. True peace comes in acknowledging the whole truth, and that truth requires noticing the inequities individuals and communities of color face.
The idea of a center seeking social justice is not original to us—Catholic Orders, various anabaptist groups and others have paved the way. But in a contemporary sense, the difference is where we begin. Justice and peace come from the inside out—from the overflow of a transformed heart. Why we pursue justice, how we activate justice, and what we consider true peace all stem from the life and character of Jesus being formed in us.
The other thing that makes The Center different is that it takes the individualized history of formation and turns the focus outward, while also marrying the outward focus of social justice with the inward work of Jesus. The expansiveness of Christ means that formation, justice and peace are both inward and outward.
The lens through which the Center does its work is not ideological: not left/right or conservative/liberal. Nor are we rooted in partisan politics. Thus, we do not align with any political party, and we don’t fight against them. They are merely part of the American context for ministry, and each side of the aisle can be ethically correct on a given topic.
In the same way Jesus did not follow the partisans of his day—Zealots, Heriodians, the Qumran, etc.—we don’t rely on the vagaries of election cycles to guide our work. We are guided by the Great Command, the Great Commission and the Golden Rule. Political parties must fit into those commitments, because we do not intend to fit into their fickle, time-bound, self-seeking value systems. Political parties create and then appeal to self-interest. The Center exists to help people die to self-interest and to live for others—for Jesus and the hurting.
In terms of religious politics, it is sad to us that many Christians hear the word justice or the phrase social justice, and immediately think: liberal. We understand the mid-20th century historical context from which that observation comes. But that moment in time is not definitive, it is an aberration. Never before had Christians thought to dismiss biblical authority, doubt the person and work of Jesus, but decide to hang on to him as a non-divine moral teacher and doer of justice.
In fact, over the long history of the people of God, the opposite is true. The biblical prophets were the conservatives of their day. They were trying to conserve the person, testimony and purposes of Yahweh. It is within that goal that the prophets consistently referred to God as a God of justice and called the people of God to participate with him in bringing justice, goodness, freedom and beauty to bear on God’s beloved creation. Social justice (if that phrase still alarms you, think “enacted tzedek” or “lived dikaiosunē”), pursued in alignment with the purposes of God and the spirit of Jesus, is not something to be feared–it is core to the purposes of God in his saved, converted, redeemed people.
At The Center, we recognize there are various layers of complexity and nuance to issues of justice. Biblical peace is not the absence of conflict, nor is it our intention to incite or instigate conflict. We seek instead to provide a thoughtful community to engage in the deeper issues of race, justice and inequality for the sake of peace.
The Gospel is Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-6): his atoning death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and present-day ministry at the right hand of the Father. These biblical truths are core to our faith. But unto what? This is answered by the “Gospel According to Jesus” found in Mark 1:14-15:
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
For Jesus, the Gospel was centered in what his Father was doing. It was connected to the larger story of Israel (“the time has come…”). It was manifested by the rule and reign of God in and through Jesus. This reality entailed then, and does now, a decision—to reconsider our whole lives (repent) and to place our whole confidence (believe) in Jesus. In this way, we become whole-life apprentices (disciples/students) of Jesus for the sake of others.
In brief, we harmonize the Gospel about Jesus with the Gospel according to Jesus in this way: it was shocking to Jesus’ contemporaries, but the final will of God, the inauguration of his kingdom—which will one day be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Jesus—came not via military or political power, but through a crucified Messiah whom by the power of the resurrection the grave could not contain. At Jesus’ ascension, the Spirit was poured out on the Church in power, authority, fruit and gifts, all for the purpose of being ambassadors of the kingdom Jesus announced in his teaching, modeled in his way of being, and demonstrated in his works of power.
Our founder, Bishop Todd Hunter, has written about this extensively in his book, Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others.
As Jesus’ cooperative friends, we seek to join him in the inbreaking of God’s kingdom until fulfillment comes. That is the story which draws together the three emphases of The Center: formation into Christlikeness, pursuing justice and seeking peace.
The Center is interdenominational. Bishop Todd is an Anglican bishop (C4SO.org). The province his diocese belongs to, the Anglican Church in North America, is mostly white. As such, we—and most white churches of whatever denomination—contain the full range, for better or worse, of common responses to race/justice/peace-seeking. The Center gathers followers of Jesus from any church who believe issues of justice and righteousness are directly addressed throughout the scriptures, calling the Church to be the instruments that bring about the kingdom of God—specifically in the realm of human suffering and injustice. We seek to know what those justice-loaded texts mean. We desire to know the reality to which they point. We want to embody them, live fully into them. We want to follow Jesus as his cooperative friends into the social realities around us today, realities in which certain people groups are more consistently and flagrantly victimized.
I don’t come to the work of justice and peace feeling qualified. I tip-toe in feeling called by the prophecy of Isaiah and the words of Jesus and James, etc:
Isaiah 68:1: For I, the Lord, love justice.
Luke 4: to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Matthew 25: I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.
James 1: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Looking back at my journals, I have for years wanted the last era of my work to participate with the biblical vision of shalom. I have yearned for myself (and now others) to live into the profound realites suggested by the Old and New Testament words, tzedek and dikaiosune, that refer simultaneously to personal holiness/piety and social justice. My pursuit of Jesus and biblical shalom led me to a place where I could not separate the two.
I have been seeking my own spiritual formation and working on the edges of the spiritual formation movement for 30 years. While I have made good progress, I am far from perfect. I want my transformation to deepen. During the same decades, I have observed and honored colleagues who worked in various justice movements. My passion is to get formation and justice in conversation with each other. Why? This is a bit of a caricature, but too often formation is merely personal, and justice-seeking too often leads to burnout, anger at the Church and cynicism about the world.
With the publication of my book Deep Peace (Zondervan, 2021) and founding The Center for Formation, Justice and Peace, I am going public with what has been rattling around in my heart and brain: try to become a truly good person, doing the true good, in a community of people who seek the same.
On the formational front, my main influences have been Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson.
On issues of justice and peace, I’ve been thinking about it since my brother was killed by a mortar shell in Vietnam. I continued pondering it when my daughter received university and graduate degrees in “Peace Studies.” The following writers have inspired me to put that compassion into action.
Greg Thompson: An Experiment in Love, a dissertation on Martin Luther King, Jr.
James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Soong-Chan Rah: Prophetic Lament
Jamar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
Michael Cassidy, The Politics of Love
Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love