Fueled by the organizational mission “to transform communities  surrounding local churches by ensuring freedom of justice and conscience,” the  Conscience and Justice Council hosted their 8th annual convention Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2023. “When the Church Comes to Town: Promoting Liberty,  Pursuing Justice” was the theme. 

Held on the campus of the North American Division of Seventh-day  Adventists in Maryland, the conference was a gathering of social justice visionaries and thought  leaders. The weekend included a synergy of activities for attendees whom Pastor Gary Wimbish, vice president of administration for the Allegheny East Conference, called “disciples of democracy.” 

Encouraging the work of the “disciples” was a soul stirring sermon on  Friday evening by Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, president and general  secretary of the National Council of Churches. Bishop McKenzie drew the  attendees into her message with a thoughtful question: Do you understand your  assignment? Anchoring her message in Luke 11, verses 9 and 10, Bishop McKenzie called on the audience to do as the Lord requires to seek justice and defend the oppressed.  “God’s Word is your assignment,” said McKenzie. You must “knock on the locked  doors” of those who have the “means and resources.” Helping those in need is an  opportunity. McKenzie admonished the audience to persist. “The door of denial”  can become a “door of breakthrough.”  

Sponsored by the Office for Regional Conference Ministry, the speaker for  the Sabbath service was Dr. Paula Olivier, director of youth and young adult ministries for  the Northeastern Conference. Encouraging the audience to testify of the  “awesomeness of God,” Pastor Olivier encouraged an active Christian life. “Your  authentic worship . . . is measured by what happens when you leave worship… “Are you self-centered or Christ-centered?” she asked. “There is no such thing as a  Jesus without Justice.” It is important for church folk to be Christ-centered activist.  

One of the highlights of this powerful weekend was the Best Practices Tour, where attendees were able to visit Safe Streets Sandtown. This is one of  Baltimore’s flagship gun violence reduction programs. We were able to hear the testimonies of the staff of literally preventing violent crimes from taking place. Our  church communities would do well to partner and support ministries like this that are always needed in our urban communities.

Attended by a diversity of people, organizations and institutions committed to serving as “disciples of democracy,” the conference attendees explored  conscience and justice issues in theory and practice through a broad selection of plenary sessions, presentations and panels, including Where Does the Church  Stand on Systemic Racism and Application of The Three Angels Message?  presented by Pastor G. Alexander Bryant, president of the North American Division and Carolyn Forrest, human resources director of the North American Division. A highly engaging symposium was sponsored by Adventist Healthcare. Named in  honor of Lucille Byard, the session was titled Living Out Our Mission: Whole Person Care and Partnership with the Community.  

In addition to the thoughtful discussions, attendees were ministered to in song by groups and vocalists. 

Attendees were blessed to leave the annual conference with ideas and information ready to be used in their local communities. Edward Woods III, CJC  chairperson, said, “We praise God for the talented speakers and presenters for providing the tools, resources and best practices for attendees to implement in their local community surrounding their church.”  

Dr. Ramona L. Hyman is a professor, writer and speaker living in Huntsville, Alabama. In addition, she serves  as a Governor’s Appointee for the Alabama Arts Council.