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Judson conference studies God’s idea of justice

Emily Gray executive director World Relief organization’s DuPage/Aurorbranch calls JudsUniversity students stup for whBible referred as “sojourner” we would call

Emily Gray, executive director of the World Relief organization’s DuPage/Aurora branch, calls on Judson University students to stand up for what the Bible referred to as the “sojourner” and we would call “an immigrant.” Her speech at Judson’s Friday chapel service kicked off a two-day “Justice Conference” at the Elgin university. | Dave Gathman/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 24, 2014 6:29AM

ELGIN — When most Americans hear the word “justice,” they think about TV’s “Law and Order.” About courtrooms. About prison.

But Emily Gray says God’s idea of justice as revealed in the Bible is more about helping the victim than about punishing the perpetrator.

“Prison and punishment are not justice. That is retribution,” Gray said.

Gray is executive director of DuPage/Aurora branch of an organization called World Relief, which works with immigrants in the Fox Valley and DuPage County. She spoke at Judson University’s chapel service Friday to kick off a two-day “Justice Conference” being run simultaneously at sites across the country by World Relief. Speaking mainly over television links, speakers at the conference talked about issues such as human trafficking, prostitution, modern-day slavery, poverty, AIDS and immigration from an evangelical Christian viewpoint.

Judson sociology professor Marsha Vaughn, who coordinated Judson’s part of the conference, said about 100 people attended the local activities, in Judson’s Thompson Center.

Saving sojourner

Even in the legalistic Old Testament times, Gray told her Judson audience, Bible passages such as Psalm 146 say that the person who follows Israel’s God must “uphold the cause of the oppressed and give food to the hungry ... set prisoners free, give sight to the blind ... watch over the sojourner and sustain the fatherless and the widow.”

At that time a “sojourner,” she said, was a person from a foreign land, or what modern Americans would call an immigrant.

Adding a touch of humor, she said that according to Genesis, when God threw Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden because they had committed the first sin, it was the world’s first “deportation.”

“God placed angels with flaming swords at the entrance to the garden to keep Adam and Eve from going back in,” Gray said. “And we talk about securing our borders!”

Gray noted that when Jesus came along, he told a lawyer that to gain eternal life, the man needed not to obey certain specific laws but to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

When the lawyer then asked Jesus who his “neighbor” was, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, making clear that the “neighbors” we must love include even despised foreign people.

“So who is on the list? Widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor, the sick, those in prison,” said Gray. “Over and over in the Bible, it says these should be the focus of justice. They are not the focus of criminal punishment.”

Sex trafficking

Professor Vaughn said that when she attended a talk by Gary Haugen, the founder of a Christian social-service agency based in Washington, “it rocked my world.”

Haugen said that 29 million people worldwide still are literally enslaved, about one-fourth or one-fifth of those caught up in the sex-trafficking business.

“I had always thought that working for justice was for the super-spiritual or the politician or the nonprofit group,” Vaughn said. “It was someone else’s job. But justice is so much more than freeing people from prostitution or feeding the poor. To work for justice is to come close to the heart of God. Justice is developing relationships with people.”

Locally, Vaughn said, she can think of three Judson-related people who already are working passionately for this biblical brand of justice:

Judson graduate Mal Keenan went to Zambia and discovered that schools in that African country had only one book for every 35 or 40 children. So she started a nonprofit group to provide more books.

A grad named Andy Brophy visited India and founded an organization to free girls trapped in the sex trade there.

Judson alumnus and board of trustees member Bruce Strom of Elgin started a nonprofit called Administer Justice that looks for people falling through the cracks in our legal system.

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