Pivoting Toward the Faraway Neighbor
Gary Haugen is president and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), an international human-rights organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. IJM "is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators, and aftercare professionals work with local officials to ensure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators, and to promote functioning public justice systems." Haugen is author of Good News About Injustice, Terrify No More, and, most recently, Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian (InterVarsity, 2008). Stan Guthrie, CT managing editor for special projects, interviewed Haugen.
With your new book, Just Courage, what do you hope to accomplish?
I am hoping American Christians will be infused with a great sense of hope in trying to engage justice issues around the world. We are trying to equip and empower Christians to think about injustice with the eyes and hope of Christ, to be able to look at it with courage. What I see is Christians preoccupied and discouraged by their own fears.
Fears of what?
All manner of things: they are afraid of what's going to happen to their kids, what's going to happen in the culture, what's going to happen to their material situation.
With the financial crisis, that seems like a valid fear.
But Christians are not supposed to live in fear. What people seem to find in International Justice Mission, in the stories of what my colleagues are actually doing in the field, is a picture of Christian faith that is liberated from fear. They think, As a follower of Jesus, maybe I can be liberated both from fears and from the triviality of some of those fears.
Yes, there is a need for Christians to be engaged with courage in the world, because people are hurting and need our help. But there is just as much a need for Christians who have resources and capacities to be liberated from a prison of small fears and triviality. For a lot of American Christians, the beginning is to realize that so much of the limitations of my Christian life are really coming out of my fear.
How has Christian engagement on justice issues changed in the decade since you wrote your first book, Good News About Injustice?
It's a sea change. Historians will be able to look back and see that there was a Christian community that was largely disengaged from the struggle for justice in the world, but that over a generation it moved to engagement. It's not a movement IJM has led or made happen so much as one we have been riding in the wake of what God is doing among his people. There is this wave of conviction that I believe his Spirit has generated. It has changed the picture of what mission means.
The first era of missions very much focused on the proclamation of the gospel and ministries of evangelism and discipleship. Then in the 1950s, we started to see this tremendous hunger and lack of medical care and housing and great human suffering that made it difficult for the love of Christ, the love of God, to be believable. And then at the beginning of the 21st century is a third movement that says, "Yes, people are suffering because they don't have access to the gospel, because they don't have food or doctors or housing, the basics of life. But there's another category of people who are suffering from intentional abuse and oppression."
It is a different set of neighbors who have a different set of needs not met by the other two thrusts of mission. Those things don't get to the issues of slavery, widows being thrown off their land, sexual violence, illegal detention, torture, police abuse—the things that have their roots in violence. Christians were very much engaged in those things in other eras. Now, Christian mission is recovering that third thrust.