Today in the Mission Yearbook

When Justice Knox, it’s best to answer


The Rev. Meredith Loftis, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, is the guest on ‘Being Matthew 25’

March 24, 2023

The Rev. Meredith Loftis is associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Contributed photo)

Opportunity knocks in most people’s lives, but in Knoxville, Tennessee, justice knocks.

The Matthew 25 work of Justice Knox was the focus of a recent “Being Matthew 25” broadcast, which can be viewed here. The guest of the Rev. DeEtte Decker, communications director for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, was the Rev. Meredith Loftis, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville.

Using Micah 6:8 as its foundation, Justice Knox is a local nonprofit made up of congregations from many faiths seeking solutions to community needs. According to its website, the mission of Justice Knox, which includes First Presbyterian Church as a member, is “to understand problems facing the Knoxville community through person-to-person conversation, and to grow those conversations into prioritized, research-based education items. These action items are targeted to have a real impact on the lives of underserved — or not before heard — community members.”

Watch a video describing the work of Justice Knox here.

First Presbyterian Church traces its downtown Knoxville roots to 1792. The Matthew 25 congregation decided a few years back that “rather than just continuing to treat the symptoms” of systemic poverty, “let’s diagnose the problem and work to heal it,” Loftis told Decker. “It’s what we call ‘justice ministry.’”

The Rev. DeEtte Decker

While many people of faith are able to demonstrate kindness and walk humbly with God, “we aren’t always so sure what justice looks like, or how to do it,” Loftis said. “Justice work is hard work because it’s not simply handing out. It’s discovering why a system works the way it does and seeking to change it.”

“We recognized we couldn’t do the work alone. We really have to work with our partners and with lots of people,” she said. The vehicle was Justice Knox, an organization of about 20 congregations including Jewish and Muslim faith communities.

“By partnering together, we can harness the power to create real change and hold our community leaders and officials accountable,” Loftis said. One example: Through extended work with the mayor and city council, Justice Knox pushed the city to establish an affordable housing trust fund that will allocate $50 million over the next 10 years to renovate affordable housing units and build new ones.

“I want to be honest. This work isn’t easy,” Loftis told Decker. “It is messy and long-haul work that often takes years to accomplish. The seeds of justice we are trying to plant and see take root may not happen soon or even with us, but in the people who come after us and take on this work. But it is lasting systemic work, and we are proud of it.”

The broadcast also included other Justice Knox voices.

“When we think about ‘love thy neighbor,’ we forget the rest of the sentence, ‘love thy neighbor as yourself,’” said Marjorie Thigpen-Carter, lead organizer for Justice Knox, whose approach is, “I want to stand up for my neighbors and make sure that systems are treating them fairly and they are being treated fairly.”

In addition to all the work it’s doing, Justice Knox has been partnering with the Presbyterian Hunger Program for training in congregation-based community organizing. Justice Knox has been using grant money “to train our leaders to build justice ministry networks,” Loftis explained.

“There’s a deep relational aspect in doing this work,” she said. “It helps us recognize that though we are different and may approach faith in God in different ways, we are all children of God, and we can achieve so much more when we work together. That has been an amazing blessing.”

“We have learned to do the hard work of confronting our community leaders and elected officials and digging into those messy systems that are hard to change,” Loftis said. “Confronting systems of power is not easy, and for most of us it’s not natural … We speak respectfully but firmly and say, ‘You know what? We’re called to love our neighbors and we need to see that happen. You have the power to do that. Let’s do that together.’ The grant from Presbyterian Hunger Program has been instrumental in that.”

This edition of “Being Matthew 25” included white members of the PC(USA)’s national staff reading a litany approved by the 225th General Assembly (2022) called “The Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and its Legacy.” A recording is here.

 Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Justice Knox 

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jacklyn Walker, Mission Specialist I, World Mission’s Director’s Office, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Beth Waltemath, Communication Associate, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, thank you for providing the inspiration to move forward in faith. We embrace the opportunities and blessings that surround us. Amen.