In recent years, evangelical Christians have begun joining tradition of seeking social justice that Catholics and others have long excelled at.  In doing so, they have often advocated protecting the poor, the orphan, and the widow on grounds that we ought have the same compassion and mercy that Jesus had.

Such grounds are, of course, true.  But for some who may have not yet cultivated the compassion that Christ demands, such appeals are insufficient.

In Just Courage, International Justice Mission’s Gary Haugen uses a different tactic, appealing not to our sense of compassion, but our desire for courage.  Haugen challenges us to recognize the dangers of seeking justice and to leave complacency, comfort, and our sense of security behind to risk protecting those in need.

At points, Just Courage feels like an extended appeal for IJM, which would be troublesome if IJM were not such a fascinating organization.  While I was familiar with the organization, Haugen’s book was helpful for my understanding of their mission in the world.  For Haugen (and IJM), social justice is only peripherally about feeding the poor.  At its core, it is about defeating the violence that keeps people in poverty:

We are calling Christians to address the distinctive problem of violence that lies beneath so much of the suffering of the poor–the suffering that tenaciously keeps so many of the poor in poverty…Almost every night, somewhere in the world, IJM undercover investigators are infiltrating the dark, violent underworld of sex trafficking to find the women and children who have disappeared into the blackness…And when we find the victims, we find they are suffering by accident.  They aren’t suffering because of bad luck or a bad storm or a bad harvest or a bad bacteria.  They are suffering because violent people want them to suffer.  Violence is intentional.

It is the intentionality of this violence that makes it so dangerous and that requires so much courage to overcome.  Haugen recounts numerous stories of IJM’s dangerous work around the globe, highlighting some of the successes they have achieved.

But Haugen’s work is not simply an advertisement for IJM.  It is a challenge to understand the work of justice and how it fits in with the character of God.  Haugen is intent on helping Christians open themselves to the will of God in this area and on sowing seeds of discontent among those who are currently uninterested in the work of social justice.  By positioning social justice within the desire for meaning and for courageous action, Haugen expands the appeal to those who may not (initially) be moved by appeals for compassion or mercy.

Haugen’s book is hardly heavy lifting.  It is light on theology and structured in haphazard fashion.  But the hour and a half that it takes to read is time well spent, especially for those who struggle to be moved to action by appeals to compassion and mercy.

*Disclosure:  I was provided a free copy of this book by IVP.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Matt,

    I’m curious: Is “violence” the hatred of one person towards another? Is it the perpetration of hatred?

    Jesus teaches that not only is murdering wrong, but hating someone in the heart is “murdering in the heart.” He connects hatred (internal) with violence (external).

    If Haugen is saying that “violence is the root of poverty and sex trafficking and suffering,” is that any different than saying, “Hatred and lack of love are the root of poverty etc.”?

    If he is saying that IJM is attacking poverty at its core, then that sounds like Christianity straight up. What is the antedote for hatred? Love and nothing but love. “They will know you are my disciples by your love.” “Love others as I have loved you.” “Little children, love one another.”

    It seems like the goal of social justice should not be the abolition of hatred (for who can cure the heart of man?) but the feeding of the poor and care of the suffering people who are being choked to death by hateful people in the mean time.

    Hateful people get their come-uppance, as Tom Sawyer would say. “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” And after death judgment is appointed to them. I am not worried about the justice of the evil getting their just reward, in the fullness of time. I am concerned about the innocent starving to death in the gap. I am concerned about women forced into vice by such evil people. They should be comforted, fed, and cared for.

    Let missionaries and pastors take care of the “root of poverty,” which is human hate.

    Am I missing something?


  2. Keith,

    While Jesus does suggest that one is culpable before God for murdering in one’s heart, I don’t think he then equates murdering in one’s heart with murdering with one’s body.

    I don’t think that Haugen thinks that by imprisoning those who inflict others IJM is therefore changing their hearts. Rather, they are removing the social causes of poverty, etc. You say, “I am not worried about the justice of the evil getting their just reward, in the fullness of time. I am concerned about the innocent starving to death in the gap.” I think Haugen would respond that, in fact, you can’t change a system that breeds poverty without removing those in power who have created the system. It is good to free one woman who has been put into sexual slavery–it is also good to imprison those (legally) who are putting those women into sexual slavery. In fact, by doing so you free many, many more women from the same fate.

    Hatred and lack of love may be the root of poverty, etc., but that doesn’t mean we should give them full dominion and only curing their effects. While hateful people will certainly get their eternal rewards, I don’t think that means we shouldn’t also pursue temporal justice as well, as I think you’re suggesting. But perhaps I’m missing something.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *