Jamie Gates, director of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR), along with five of students who serve as CJR interns, attended the Justice Conference in Philadelphia this month. We asked Gates a few questions about the conference as well as PLNU’s greater involvement in social justice.
Tell us a little about your and your students’ level of involvement in the conference.
I took the five CJR interns as a means to inspire, disciple, network for PLNU connections and their future career/callings, and to engage PLNU at the heart of the Christian reflection and action around justice and the church. The Justice Conference gathered over 5,000 Christians working on multiple dimensions of Christian justice work in the world, over 160 non-profits (NGOs) and it turns out that our university is far advanced compared to many of our colleagues on a number of justice initiatives, especially human trafficking, fair trade, international development, immigration and women’s issues.
PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation also led, inviting in World Relief and Vanguard University, in organizing a dinner to gather people working against global slavery at Christian colleges/universities, NGOs and churches.
You just returned from this conference, you’re putting on events to inform people about what PLNU is doing concerning social justice, and you were just co-awarded a National Institute of Justice grant – what’s behind all the great awareness and success?
No doubt it is first and foremost the grace of God that continues to call us and open doors for us to be involved in the great suffering of the world. I am also deeply grateful for the vision of a Wesleyan-Holiness university that spends its precious resources on helping faculty, staff and students get involved in the pressing social concerns of our time. The university gives some of us release time and a budget to help immerse ourselves in the issues and networks that are engaging the world for justice. Without this release time and funding, we would not have the opportunity for such a deep and broad impact.
How do you feel PLNU has a unique voice in the conversation around justice, specifically at an event like the Justice Conference?
Justice sits at PLNU’s theological and institutional core. Having a Center for Justice and Reconciliation, a Center for Women’s Studies and a Center for International Development gives us a measurable advantage in becoming a leading Wesleyan-Holiness voice among Christian universities. These three centers are grounded in and strengthened by the theological vision generated by the Wesleyan Center. As the university continues to invest faculty/staff time and financial resources, we can continue to build on this reputation. As our students are graduating and making a deep impact elsewhere in the world, our ability to engage in these matters only gets stronger! We were clearly in a leadership position among Christian universities in relation to our anti-human trafficking work. Our Sabbath Economics intern Andrew Schalin also found that as he spoke with every organization and university working for fair trade, that PLNU is at the moment significantly further ahead in promoting and establishing university infrastructure committed to fair trade!
You can find deep commitments to justice well beyond the work of these centers. PLNU’s Fermanian Business and Economics Institute is in partnership with the CJR’s Dr. Pat Leslie on homelessness research for the city of San Diego. Dr. Lindsey Lupo gets students involved in local justice-related internships through the Institute for Politics and Public Service run out of the Department of History and Political Science. Many faculty lead justice-related curriculum, internships and co-curricular opportunities. Student Development facilitates justice-related clubs and has a justice-minded student leadership. Spiritual Development disciples us around issues of justice and the Christian life throughout all of its outlets, especially Community Ministries and International Ministries. For those of us out there engaging directly in the community on PLNU’s behalf, for those of us moving in justice circles for the sake of providing our students, staff and faculty with a wide range of places to plug in, a campus community committed to justice provides a strong platform on which to stand.