USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Social Justice and Thriving Congregations

Social Justice and Thriving Congregations

Social Justice and Thriving Congregations

The recent protests and marches for civil rights, police reform and social justice inevitably implicate churches and other religious institutions. What is the relationship between seeking social justice and developing a thriving congregation? What is, or can be, the role of local congregations in the social justice movement? What should be the role of the Church in the social justice movement?

Watch the panel, the second of a three-part conversation on Thriving Congregations:


Robert Chao Romero is an associate professor in the departments of Chicana/o Studies and Central America Studies, and Asian American Studies.  He received his Ph.D. from UCLA in Latin American History and his Juris Doctor from U.C. Berkeley and is also an attorney. He is the author of Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity; The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940; Jesus for Revolutionaries: An Introduction to Race, Social Justice, and Christianity; and Mixed Race Student Politics. The Chinese in Mexico received the Latina/o Studies book award from the Latin American Studies Association and Brown Church was written with the support of a Louisville Institute Sabbatical Grant for Researchers. Romero is also an ordained minister and faith-rooted community organizer.

Rabbi Sharon Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR, which was started in 2004 and has become a model for reinvigorating Jewish tradition ad practice in the US and beyond. Brous is a leading voice in reanimating religious life in America and beyond, working to develop a spiritual roadmap for soulful, multi-faith justice work in Los Angeles and around the country. Her TED talk, “Reclaiming Religion,” has been viewed by more than 1.4 million people and translated into 22 languages.

Brous was named #1 on the Newsweek/The Daily Beast list of the most influential Rabbis in America, and has been recognized numerous times by The Forward and the Jerusalem Post as one of the fifty most influential Jews. Brous, who graduated from Columbia University and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, is an Auburn Senior Fellow, sits on the faculty of the Shalom Hartman Institute-North America and REBOOT, and serves on the International Council of the New Israel Fund.

Pastor Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie was a Virgin Records Artist with the Rap Group College Boyz—the group that brought you Victim of the Ghetto—when he heard a call from God in 1994 while watching the movie Malcolm X. He is a visionary church planter and for the past 14 years has served as pastor of The Row LA, aka “The Church Without Walls,” in Downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row Community. He previously co-founded and served as Executive Pastor of NewSong LA Covenant Church among other roles in his 12-plus years with the NewSong family.

Cue is the co-convener of the Black & Brown Clergy Coalition as well as the Black Jewish Justice Alliance in the City of Los Angeles as a faith-rooted organizer and part-time staff with Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). Pastor Cue is founder and Director of Creating Justice-LA, and he is a member of Black Lives Matter LA and Clergy 4 Black Lives and is dedicated to helping address issues of public policy that affect the most vulnerable citizens and residents in the City of Los Angeles. He is a graduate of the Passing the Mantle program at the University of Southern California Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement. Pastor Cue is a KCET/PBS 2019 Southern California Local Hero honoree.

About Conversation on Thriving Congregations

Conversations on Thriving Congregations is part of Reimagining Church Initiative at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. This initiative seeks to bring church leaders together to reimagine the possibilities for creating thriving congregations both in how they provide deep meaning and community for their members, and in developing programming and presence in their host communities.

The conversations are intended to lay groundwork for developing a community of church leaders who are seeking a space in which to share their experience and insights and to learn from other church, academic and community leaders.

Your Hosts:

Richard Flory is senior director of research and evaluation at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He is a sociologist whose research focuses on religious and cultural change, religion and urban life, and the religious and spiritual lives of youth and young adults. Professor Flory has published several books, most recently, Back Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2020). Flory frequently speaks at conferences and with faith groups.

Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard is program manager for the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement where she combines her experience as a pastor and expertise as a community leader to run programs that train pastors to take on civic engagement work. Smith-Pollard also is a pastor, motivational speaker, author, life coach, radio personality and community activist. She has served as Assistant Pastor and Pastor of Family Ministries at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, California; Pastor of A.K. Quinn AME Church in Moreno Valley, California; and Pastor of St. James AME Church in Los Angeles, California. In 2014, Smith-Pollard launched Word of Encouragement Community Church (WOECC.ORG) in Los Angeles. She is a frequent speaker at churches and church conferences.

The Reimagining Church Initiative is supported by a grant from The Lilly Endowment.