Gary Haugen’s thesis is a concise and to-the-point confrontation within our very narrow-minded awareness of the realities of matters pertaining to global injustice. His thesis is a message known first-hand by so many thousands who suffer and yet for too many of us, it remains all so often “out of sight, out of mind,” as he phrased it. This book states that people want to pretend that the injustice is not there because it would make them feel better about themselves. He then moves from that position to a somewhat uncomfortable position of “into sight and mind, yet not out of reach” throughout the latter two-thirds of his message. Not only is the message of justice ministry in sight, but it is imperative that it is in our sights. He challenges the way we do church against the way we become the church. Finally, throughout the last two thirds of the book, he weaves different threads of Scriptural hope in the God of justice.
God has called us to love what he loves and despise what he despises. Gary Haugen and the International Justice Mission have taken this call seriously. They have adopted lives committed to stamping out the injustices of the world. This book has opened my heart to a greater sense of compassion for those victims caught in the grip of severe persecution as well as given me newly directed passion to be a part of God’s redemptive work surrounding human injustice.
How could our society become more informed about the injustices at home and abroad and yet have no response? This type of inactivity is precisely where Christians should not be. As Shane Claiborne tells it, “I felt as though I were standing in between non-believing activists and inactive believers.” This is where Haugen’s book serves as a tool where beyond informative fact, moves us practically toward seeking justice and becoming a more biblical people of change? It’s not a mere call to action or a challenge, nor is it about untried theories about what types of things people may try that he himself has not. Complete with checklists, this material doubles as a handbook for social justice.
The author develops the tension well and attempts to address the paralysis of analysis. With carefully chosen specific examples of mistreatment, Haugen presents the vivid results of cruel sin that otherwise would not have been stumbled upon by most of us in our mindless work to home to job to babysitter existence. This place is a place that can be implemented by decision. Information is power, or at least we tell ourselves this. But when the information is so overwhelming and often far removed from anyplace we may presume to have influence, the power does not seem to follow the information. Thus, we seize up and do nothing. Haugen compares this to the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. He states, “The vastness of the injustice that international Christian workers encounter is truly staggering . . . It is nearly impossible to get our minds wrapped around the human magnitude of these numbers” (p. 42).
This syndrome is not an excuse to do nothing. In fact, it’s a place that one should celebrate. It would be a landmark to personally see the immediacy of the crisis, to see oneself in its path. For Haugen, there is something more of God and God’s power that we will miss if we do not ever find ourselves surrounded in suffering. Donald Miller confirms this point in a phone interview with Mike Parker where he comments on Job’s suffering. Job can know that God is so good that the pain he will endure to gain this perspective will not matter. But the mystery is this: what is “good” about this news? Especially after getting outside of the United States, he was exposed to greater amounts of pain and simultaneously equally greater amounts of God’s grace and power. So much so, that to return to the U.S. and commute an Ohio highway with neighbors, “the dichotomy is excruciatingly obvious.” Opening ourselves up to a world of pain is how we open ourselves up to more of God’s nature—God’s heart for justice.
According to Haugen and also the Bible, “Justice is the exercise of power with moral excellence.” Similarly, “injustice, a sin, is the abuse of power to take from a person what God has given to them.” Not only is there power in the information, but also there is moral excellence attached to it. In reality, the power is found in the moral excellence. At the top of the long list of Scripture approaching the matters of justice is that of taking an active role in being an agent to accomplish what He desires for His church. Here is the subtle difference, God could directly make the difference Himself, but He has chosen to work differently. More often than not, He chooses to work through His church.
The gospel continually calls the Bride (Church) to let our lives be affected by a call to justice. If we can get comfortable with suffering, we can have an impact. There is suffering here and we need to seek it out. Haugen points out in page 32 that the “Lord looks for someone to ‘stand in the breach’ (Isaiah 1:17), to ‘intervene’ (Isaiah 59:15-16), and to ‘seek justice’ (Ezekiel 22:25, 27, 30).”
For the author, the epiphany comes in the story of the good Samaritan. Recalling Micah 6:8, we are called to a precious few commitments and yet miss the first of them. “God is prepared to do the miraculous, if we would just step out in obedience,” Gary spells out in an interview with Gabe Lyons of Q and The Fermi Project.
His conclusion is simple: “Go and be close to the people who are suffering.” Within our own communities, there are places where we can find people vulnerable and suffering, for example in battered women shelters or with the social service personnel.
Compassion, Haugen explains, comes from the Latin “com” and “passio” which means “to suffer with.” Therefore, go be with the people that are suffering. This challenge extends itself to places abroad. It is up to us to acknowledge with confidence that God will meet you there and make crystal clear one’s revelation of God’s plan to use His church (made up of individuals) to love other people. If we trust God, we won’t be afraid. He actually exists and actually loves us completely. If love casts out fear, then what other excuse are we left with?
Quite possibly the most encouraging “Good News” since founding the International Justice Mission would be that the harvest has a way of doubling. How this is understood is found in an interview of Bethany Hoang with Catalyst about the successes in Cambodia. The International Justice Mission has been doing raids and bringing exploiters of small children to trial, prosecuted, and sentenced with 100% success rate. But this is labor intensive and yields one criminal per conviction. When IJM shows the local police force in Cambodia to do their own raids and surveillance, the yield becomes much greater. Now, IJM staff may concentrate their efforts in another place at the same time the continuing effort was underway in Cambodia. Thus, in this way, the job is more efficient compared to the time, effort, and personnel involved prosecuting each criminal on an individual case-by-case scenario by IJM alone.
The arrest and conviction of those who behave unjustly and are punished for it will itself have a limiting effect on the cultural climate. Prosecuting injustice has a way of limiting injustice. The lock up of those who exploit children sends a signal that is understood by others who exploit children in those same communities. It reminds them that the paradigm is shifting. It reveals that gross injustice may have been unavenged in the past, but now, there will be swift consequences if they continue to take other’s freedoms and lives for their own profit. No longer will dirty cops turn a blind eye to the injustice. Possibly dirty cops themselves will refrain from abusing their authority. Now, in Cambodia, it seems that a renewal sprouts like a green symbol of life from a black soil of spilled blood.
In summary, Haugen’s conviction is a mind-sobering two-fold punch. I was struck with the realization that the rest of the world had not progressed in human rights in the same way we have in the U.S. This is not to say that injustice is not common in the U.S. As a middle class citizen with everything I need at the click of a button, I should be doing more to help those who are less fortunate than I am. Immersing myself with the information about the hardships of the world is the first step. I do not want to live my life with the “out of sight, out of mind” mentallity. I want to avoid any unawareness. I need to find those who need my help and take any opportunity given to me. The Lord gave me the ability to learn, therefore I must use that blessing and find any need. Whether it be in an African village or the house down the street, I should be open to any call the Lord gives me.
I can no longer accept injustice. Injustice exists wherever there is power being mishandled. However, the nation we live in has laws against and penalties for many of the abuses still being tolerated in darker corners of the planet. It saddens me that today children are being forced into uncompensated labor for 12 hours a day, or sold into prostitution, or just left to the street to find food and survive.
This causes me to think through what Haugen has said and make logical connectiones. Yes, God is still capable of erasing the matter altogether and that He would watch and do nothing is not an option for a loving God. When I read the stories and the successes of God’s intervening justice on behalf of the abused and seemingly forgotten children created in his own image, I was aware of both eyes and heart opened afresh to the greatest truth of all–God cares for the forsaken, the abused, the oppressed and those countless numbers denied justice, and he is about making things right. We who believe Holy Scripture know that God will wipe away all tears–in that day. But he is already at work through the passion of those who want to see God’s good and fair justice implemented. Gary Haugen’s Good News About Injustice will break your heart, then will fortify and strengthen it with a desire to see people freed from tyranny and oppression.
Therefore, a biblical perspective maintains that injustice exists, although not desired, in the full knowledge of an all-powerful, loving God, but that He has chosen that the preferred plan was to work through the Church to bring change through justice. It is thus interpreted as more than a plan, a preferred plan, or plan “B.” There is no plan “B.” What Gary Haugen’s books clearly spells out time and again, is that the Scripture is saturated with His perfect plan. God’s perfect plan does not tolerate and navigate around an inactive church, but involves and employs it. Scripture tells us that by following God and the death of His Son, we can be led right into the base of injustice.