Blog author: kschmiesing
by on Wednesday, October 1, 2008

“The struggle for justice always stands or falls on the battlefield of hope.” This is but one of a passel of pithy expressions found throughout Gary Haugen’s new book, Just Courage. Haugen is the president of International Justice Mission, a Washington D.C.-based organization doing outstanding work throughout the world, freeing people bonded in illegal labor arrangements, including forced prostitution.

Haugen’s is a practical rather than a theoretical treatise. He admits that a commonly agreed-to definition of justice remains elusive, but he can point to the way God and God’s people act justly in the scriptures, and that gives us enough direction. The book is a sometimes moving account of and reflection on Haugen’s experiences assisting some of the most powerless people on our planet.

He argues stridently against Christian apathy, insisting that it is possible for us to achieve progress even against some of the most severe of the world’s problems. This is why hope is pivotal. Those who are merely dismayed in the face of evil will not make the effort to fight it.

At the same time, Haugen is realistic, as anyone who encounters human slavery on a regular basis is bound to be. He understands the distinction between naivete and utopianism on one hand, and genuine Christian hope on the other.

This realism, at an even deeper level, links justice and hope. I suspect that Haugen would agree with another writer on these themes, Pope Benedict XVI:

I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing. (Spe Salvi, n. 43)

With this invocation of the pope, it might be appropriate to note that Just Courage seems intended primarily for non-Catholic Christians. Its modes of expression and descriptions of Christian life manifest an evangelical sensibility. Exhortations to think about the message of the gospel as social rather than merely individual will appear redundant to adherents of historical churches with long traditions of social instititution sponsorship.

Yet all Christians need to hear this message reiterated. Catholics and others, however much they recognize a vague obligation to social justice, will benefit from Haugen’s particular insistence that every one of us risk our personal comfort at the behest of “rescuing” someone in need. Haugen comes perhaps too near at times to underappreciating the ways in which most Christians will live the call to justice: handling the day-to-day tasks of family life; toiling away at a trade or business; volunteering at local soup kitchens or crisis pregnancy centers. Still, Haugen’s vision of more spectacular achievements in the cause of justice—such as liberating girls from the shackles of the sex trade—is invigorating and necessary.

IJM and its allies are the abolitionists of our age and they deserve our support and admiration. Some who read the book will be called to such work. Those who are not must find ways to be courageously just in our own lives.