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.