When we step up and join the struggle for justice in our world we help bring life and hope to those who have been victimized for far too long. That alone is worth the sacrifice…and the risk. But Gary Haugen, President of the International Justice Mission, unpacks a few other fruits that are born in the fight for justice in his inspiring little book Just Courage:
First, we help bring about an equilibrium in power that helps make justice sustainable. Bullies oppress people not because they are courageous, but because the powerless are vulnerable. When we stand with the powerless and empower them to exercise their voice and battle for justice, aggressors back down.
Second, we are changed. Haugen writes, “ Give me a Christian who has walked with Jesus in the struggle against aggressive, violent injustice, and I will show you a Christian who has been changed by the journey.” Far too many church-going people are near comatose with trivial pursuits and boring routines. We need to take risks. We need to stand up against people and systems that probably scare us for the sake of the victims and, as it turns out, for our own sake.
Years ago, in our relentless pursuit of safety, the cul-de-sac was inserted into the suburban landscape to address our anxieties about the danger that traffic presents to our children. The thought was that the cul-de-sac would both slow and reduce traffic and our kids would be safer. Ironically, we have since discovered that the cul-de-sac is far more dangerous to our children than through traffic because cars backing up injure far more children than cars moving forward. By trying to protect our kids we actually put them at much greater risk. We make that mistake in lots of ways with our kids and with ourselves as well. Haugen notes that as we have sought safety from a “dangerous world and threatening culture” we have “turned inward to the prosperous cul-de-sac, only to find spiritual atrophy, mediocrity, and boredom that is lethal to the soul.” We are created to fight for what is good, not to run from what is bad. God’s call to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow” is a divine antidote to our trivial pursuits. It is a pathway to personal transformation and courage.
And finally, the engagement of injustice adds integrity to our faith and makes following Jesus more compelling. Over the centuries the validity of the life Jesus offers has been expressed differently in different eras. In some eras it was most effectively expressed through acts of compassion; sometimes through non-violent resistance, and sometimes through proclamation. But today, the truth of what we say we believe might best be seen through acts of justice.
But just what is injustice? Scripture defines injustice as the abuse of power by taking away the good things God intended all people to have—namely their life, freedom, dignity, and the just fruit of their labor and love. So when a stronger person takes away what rightfully belongs to all people, the sin of injustice has occurred.
Where is dignity being taken from someone you know? Where are people working for wages that won’t be enough to feed their children? Where are the powerless being taken advantage of by landlords, governments, or employers? Probably not as far away as you might think. As we have befriended the powerless we have found the fight is often right nextdoor.